By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
DETROIT–The Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry’s workshop held at the Cobo Convention Center offered a riveting panel discussion on biological warfare, expansion and outreach to Native American prisoners, and a special Saviours’ Day message from political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal.
James Muhammad facilitated the workshop, which featured Philadelphia-based Dr. Safiyyah Shabazz; Dr. Terra DeFoe, a faith-based and community leader in Detroit; and Gregory Muhammad, N.O.I. student Delaware Valley Region prison reform minister.
Prison reform is not just about getting brothers and sisters out of prison, but it’s about stopping them from ever coming in, James Muhammad said.
The panelists emphasized how discrimination and retaliation are running rampant throughout America’s Prison Industrial Complex, particularly through biomedical warfare.
Men and women are dying of Hepatitis C, an infectious liver disease, even though there is a cure, said Dr. Shabazz.
“It’s the only organ below the diaphragm that you cannot live without. … And hepatitis can go on for many years and be a chronic infection, and many people are living with Hepatitis C,” she said.
Very recently a cure surfaced via a regimen of one pill a day for 12 weeks, she said, however, the $1,000-a-day pill requires insurance. “It turns out that while in the prison system, while they are responsible, you don’t have the freedom to go and seek treatment somewhere else. … You have a cure for a contagious illness and it’s not being treated,” she said.
Dr. Shabazz argued, “We can have an ethical discussion about whether it costs so much … do we want to spend that much money on people in prison” but the significant number of Blacks, especially men, are in an ultimate form of slavery.
“Slaves really don’t have the freedom to seek treatment … I think this is something we should all be aware of. Many of these people leave the prison and they go home, so they can spread the infection,” she continued.
Speaking from his confinement at Mahanoy Prison in Northeastern Pennsylvania, political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, who suffers from Hepatitis C and diabetes, underscored the unethical treatment of inmates. He also highlighted the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s consistent teaching and warning of the evils of Satan.
“Happy Saviours’ Day,” Mr. Abu Jamal said, as he thanked Min. Farrakhan and Abdullah Muhammad, the National Prison Reform Minister, for the invitation to speak Feb. 19 to workshop participants; Gregory Muhammad for supporting the hearings on his behalf; Dr. Shabazz for her expert counsel, and the brothers of the Sunni community at Manahoy, who washed his sores and wretched skin.
They cared for him when he couldn’t care for himself, and were punished for it, he told the rapt audience.
Mr. Abu Jamal said he was speaking days after the Justice Department released under protest its secret protocol that decides when someone with Hepatitis C can be treated with the antiviral cures.
“State protocols require Hep C sufferers to have two symptoms before treatment … sclerosis of the liver and… bleeding from the esophagus (throat),” he said during a special radio commentary message to Min. Louis Farrakhan and the Nation.
That information came out in a federal court hearing. If he prevails, some 10,000 men and women will get timely cures for the disease across the state, the former Black Panther said.
He recounted how under Dr. Albert Kligman, doctors from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School experimented on hundreds of poor Black men in prison. The experiments were documented in the books “Acres of Skin,” and “Sentenced to Science” by Allen Hornblum.
“There are men today in their 60s and 70s who still carry scars and suffer crippling pain and diseases because of these experiments. Some men lost their minds and never came around,” Mr. Abu Jamal said.
After hearing his message, Dr. Shabazz remarked, “It’s funny how Allah has a way of bringing things full circle.” She attended the University of Pennsylvania on a full tuition scholarship.
During a dinner in honor of philanthropists who provided the scholarships, there she sat, right next to Dr. Kligman, a million dollar donor. “I didn’t even know about these experiments and things like that, but he was the person that invented Retin A,” she said and she shared more about their small talk about his son.
“I’m thinking, ‘Wow! This man is sitting here and he has a million dollars to give. … He’s paying for my education, and he might not have known my purposes,” she said.
“I pray that our suffering and the benefit that came back around to our people, that I’m able to provide something to help, because a lot of us have lost our lives, and we have to find a way to give back,” she said.
Gregory Muhammad, released four years ago after serving 33 years in prison, shared the N.O.I.’s journey with Mr. Abu Jamal, and highlighted his June 2015 lawsuit to thwart legislation (the Silence Act) that aimed to prohibit inmates from speaking to the public.
Their target was Mr. Abu Jamal’s prison commentaries, he said. “When they saw that he beat the death penalty, the Fraternal Order of Police and the wife of the officer who was murdered by someone that they need to find, worked together to find a way to stop our brother from reaching out into the community to try to save our children from ever coming to prison,” Gregory Muhammad said.
Dr. DeFoe detailed the hoops prison officials took her through to find out information on what happened to her son. It took the advocacy of friends in city government and ultimately the governor for her to get some answers, but what about parents without such political connections? She asked.
At 24 years old, her son was sentenced to a petty crime, and was killed while incarcerated, she said.
Despite many opportunities for advancement and to be anything he desired, he had been wilding out, Dr. DeFoe said. He had well established, successful mentors, had held down good jobs, but he was lured away by the promise he could earn more money than he was making.
His sentence was an answered prayer Dr. DeFoe thought, because he was headed in a direction she did not want him to go. She prayed, “Lord. Don’t let my son get killed in the streets.” But while serving a six to eight year sentence on a petty crime, in a level four facility because he stood up for inmates who had been bullied, her son died of an aneurysm while incarcerated.
“As a mother who comes from the legislative background and understands policy, I was more so mad about the mothers who don’t have somebody to call, and don’t know what to do when they get that call from corrections saying come pick up your child at a morgue that’s three-to-four-to-eight hours away,” Dr. DeFoe said.
There is so much suffering going on in prison, Min. Abdullah said, as he urged attendees to care for inmates. “We’re not going to escape suffering from Allah’s chastisement as he brings this country down, but your refuge is the knowledge and wisdom that you have been given of the time and what must be done,” he said, referencing Minister Farrakhan’s historic lecture series, “The Time and What Must Be Done.”
He announced the N.O.I. Prison Reform Ministry will expand outreach to Native American and Spanish-speaking inmates, and embark on a national tour to raise awareness about the plight of prisoners and drum up support for the ministry’s effort to open facilities to house males and females.
He urged those who desire to help to read The Final Call newspaper’s Prison Reform Ministry articles and join its advocacy efforts. Correspond with political prisoners and ask their families for clearance to send them literature, he said.
“Write them and let them know we at least care about them, and that we’re just finding out about their cases, if that is the case,” Min. Abdullah said.