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Posted under: Social Justice

Pennsylvania Prison Guard Lies About Mumia Abu-Jamal Being Hospitalized With COVID-19 In Cruel Hoax

"You can imagine what we feel," his longtime ally Johanna Fernandez said. "We're angry. We feel like the joke’s on us. We feel powerless."

Advocates for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal were devastated upon learning that a Pennsylvania prison official relayed he'd been hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. 

He hadn't.

On April 15, a longtime ally and friend of Abu-Jamal, professor Johanna Fernandez, received a call from a fellow activist within The Movement To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal that Abu-Jamal was taken to the hospital with a breathing impairment. 

His 1982 conviction in the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner has been an international controversy for decades. Many believe the 66-year-old was wrongfully convicted, and he continues to fight to prove his innocence to this day. 

A number of the former Black Panther's supporters belong to the aforementioned movement. It was they who were shaken upon hearing what the prison official relayed to one of Abu-Jamal's ardent supporters, Santiago Alvarez. 

Fernandez had just finished teaching a class at the City University of New York's Baruch College. 

"I pick up the call and he can barely breathe and attempts to explain Mumia has been taken to hospital according to the guard," Fernandez, who has known Abu-Jamal for approximately 15 years, told Blavity. "At this point, I can barely breathe, I'm shaking in my boots and nervous. Immediately, I'm thinking, 'oh my God, Mumia was on death's door four years ago.'" 

Abu-Jamal has cirrhosis of the liver, a form of liver disease. 

"So I'm thinking if Mumia has COVID-19 symptoms, he’s not going to survive," Fernandez, who just lost her uncle to COVID-19 the previous week, continued. 

Eventually, one of Abu-Jamal's attorneys got in contact with the department of corrections and asked a guard to go to Abu-Jamal's cell.

"It was clear this was a hoax," Fernandez said. 

There was a Zoom meeting later that day with members of the movement. 

"You can imagine what we feel," Fernandez said. "We're angry. We feel like the joke’s on us. We feel powerless." 

"Everyone’s just crestfallen because we were all petrified. This, in many ways, was an act of terror against people in a particular segment of society," Fernandez explained. "This is not particular to Mumia. This is the kind of behavior deployed to prisoners and their relatives throughout the country." 

The cruel hoax wasn't the only incident which further illustrated the lack of regard for those in prisons and jails, which have been described as "petri dishes."

The family of one Los Angeles prisoner who died from the coronavirus didn't know their loved one contracted it until a prison official asked if they wanted 59-year-old Michael Fleming cremated, as Blavity previously reported

“They just left us all in the dark,” his son, who shares his late father's name, told the Associated Press. “We had to find out from the news what the actual cause of death was. It was kind of screwed up.”

In late April, over 70% of federal prisoners who'd been tested for the virus were found positive for it. In an attempt to curb the virus' outbreak, numerous prisons have released low-risk offenders. But some don't believe such operations are moving quickly enough.

"The only thing that can help control COVID-19 in prisons and prevent many elderly people who are in prison from dying is by releasing them safely to their communities," Fernandez said.  

Fernandez and the movement have yet to decide if they're going to see to it that the SCI-Mahanoy official faces consequence for the hoax. 

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Zahara Hill is the Assistant Managing Editor for Blavity.