Preface from Life From Death Row Don't tell me about the valley of the shadow of death. I live there. In south-central Pennsylvania’s Huntingdon County a one-hundred-year-old prison stands, its Gothic towers projecting an air of foreboding, evoking a gloomy mood of the Dark Ages. I and some seventy-eight other men spend about twenty-two hours a day in six- by ten-foot cells. The additional two hours may be spent outdoors, in a chain-link fenced box, ringed by concertina razor wire, under the gaze of gun turrets. Welcome to Pennsylvania's death row. I'm a bit stunned. Several years ago the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed my conviction and sentence of death, by a vote of four justices (three did not participate). As a black journalist who was a Black Panther way back in my yon teens, I’ve often studied America’s long history of legal lynchings of Africans. I remember a front page of the Black Panther newspaper, bearing the quote "A black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect," attributed to U.S. Supreme Court chief justice Roger Taney, of the infamous Dred Scott case, * where America’s highest court held that neither Africans or their “free” descendants are entitled to the rights of the Constitution. Deep, huh? It’s true. Perhaps I'm naive, maybe I’m just stupid-but I thought the law would be followed in my case and the conviction reversed. Really. Even in the face of the brutal Philadelphia MOVE massacre of May 13, 1985, that led to Ramona Africa's frame-up, Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart, Clement Lloyd, Allan Blanchard, and countless other police slaughters of blacks from New York to Miami, with impunity, my faith remained. Even in the face of this relentless wave of anti-black state terror, I thought my appeals would be successful. I still harbored a belief in U.S. law, and the realization that my appeal had been denied was a shocker. I could understand intellectually that American courts are reservoirs of racist sentiment and have historically been hostile to black defendants, but a lifetime of propaganda about American "justice" is hard to shrug off. I need but look across the nation, where, as of December 1994, blacks constituted some 40 percent of men on death row or across Pennsylvania, where, as of December 1994, 111 of 184 men on death row-over 60%—are black, to see the truth, hidden under black robes and promises of equal rights. Blacks constitute just over 9 percent of Pennsylvania's population and just under 11 percent of America’s. As I said, it's hard to shrug off, but maybe we can do it together. How? Try out this quote I saw in a 1982 law book, by a prominent Philadelphia lawyer named David Kairys: "Law is simply politics by other means." Such a line goes far to explain how courts really function, whether today, or 138 years ago in the Scott case. It ain’t about “law”, it’s about “politics” by “other means.” Now, ain’t that the truth? I continue to fight against this unjust sentence and conviction. Perhaps we can shrug off and shred some of the dangerous myths laid on our minds like a second skin-such as the "right" to a fair and impartial jury of our peers; the “right” to represent oneself; the “right” to a fair trial, even. They're not rights—they’re privileges of the powerful and rich. For the powerless and the poor, they are chimera that vanish once one reaches out to claim them as something real or substantial. Don’t expect the media networks to tell you, for they can’t, because of the incestuousness between the media and the government, and big business which they both serve. I can. Even if I must do so from the valley of the shadow of death, I will. From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jama. Actin' Like Life’s A Ball Game When I hear politicians bellow about "getting tough on crime" and barking out “three strikes, you're out” rhetoric, several images come to mind. I think of how quickly the tune changes when the politician is on the receiving end of some of that so-called toughness, after having fallen from grace. I am reminded of a powerful state appellate judge who, once caught in an intricate, bizarre web of criminal conduct, changed his longstanding opinion regarding the efficacy of the insanity defense, an option he once ridiculed. It revealed in a flash how illusory and transitory power and status can be, and how we are all, after all, human. I also think of a young man I met in prison who was one of the first wave of people imprisoned back in the 1970s under new, tougher youth certification statutes that allowed teenagers to be sentenced as adults. The man, whom I'll call Rabbani, was a tall, husky fifteen-year-old when he was arrested in southeastern Pennsylvania for armed robbery. The prosecutor moved that he be judicially certified as an adult, and the Court agreed. Tried as an adult, Rabbani was convicted of all charges and sentenced to fifteen to thirty years in prison, for an alleged robbery with a CO2 air pistol. His first six or seven years in this man-made hell found him constantly locked in battles with guards, and he logged more years in the "hole" than he did in general population status. He grew into manhood in shackles, and every time I saw him he seemed bigger in size but more bitter in spirit. When we took the time to converse, I was always struck by the innate brilliance of the young man-a brilliance immersed in the bitterness, a bitterness so acidic that it seemed capable of dissolving steel. For almost fifteen years this brilliance had been caged in steel; for almost two of these years he tried, largely in vain, to get a judge to reconsider his case, but the one-line, two-word denials—"appeal denied”—only served to deepen his profound cynicism. For those critical years in the life of a male, from age fifteen to thirty, which mark the transition from boy to man, Rabbani was entombed in a juridical, psychic, temporal box branded with the false promise "corrections." Like tens of thousands of his generation, his time in hell equipped him with no skills of value to either himself or his community. He has been “corrected” in precisely the same way that hundreds of thousands of others have been, that is to say, warehoused in a vat that sears the very soul. He has never held a woman as a mate or lover; he has never held a newborn in his palm, its heart athump with new life; he hasn't seen the sun rise, nor the moon glow, in almost fifteen years-for a robbery, "armed" with a pellet gun, at fifteen years old. When I hear easy, catchy, mindless slogans like "three strikes, you're out," I think of men like Rabbani who had one strike (if not one foul) and are, for all intents and purposes, already outside any game worth playing.