Attempted Minister’s Visit to Mumia at Hospital

[ Latest updateWe just heard today, May 18, that Mumia phoned his wife, Wadiya, this morning. He confirmed that he is in this hospital where I visited last Saturday. He sounded stronger. The call was only for 15 minutes, and neither family, lawyers, nor anybody can visit him. So a press conference is being held to protest the lack of access this Wednesday. It will be held at the hospital. Also today, legal papers were filed to gain access to Mumia by family, lawyers and the doctors of his choice. Here’s my report from Saturday, below.]

On Saturday, May 16, 2015, I learned that no one had heard for Mumia Abu-Jamal for a week – 7 days. That seemed to me to be alarming. We know that guards often handle him with intentional roughness, even when he’s ill. Authorities have no interest in Mumia’s well-being. Family were told by phone of Mumia’s transfer to Geisinger Medical Center hospital (shown in photo), but they hadn’t heard from Mumia himself. No one had for a week. It was very unusual. Mumia did not make a call out to family on Mother’s Day, as he usually does. So we were all concerned.

I remember thinking, I can’t just sit here in Princeton after working for 20 years on Mumia’s case constantly, when nobody knows – not even his family (!) – where he is. That just struck me as outrageous.

So Saturday afternoon, I drove the 3 hours out there (and 3 hours back). It’s also a 3 hour trip from Philadelphia where many of Mumia’s family and friends are. I knew there was no real chance of seeing him, but I just wanted to make some kind of presence.

I borrowed a clerical collar from a colleague at the Seminary and decided I would perform my ministerial role. (I never wear a collar, but thought I would for this. So thanks to Greg Bezilla who leant me the gray shirt and collar.)

As I was driving out I learned that an environmental activist – working against fracking in PA – also had the idea of just showing up at the hospital to ask questions. He and a friend did that in the afternoon as I was driving up. In fact, after studying a floor plan of the hospital, and finding where the ICU was, they got in and walked around the hospital. They saw no signs of Mumia. Mumia, though, is reportedly not in “critical condition” so not in ICU , and the hospital is a huge complex. Later I learned that Claude Guillaumaud and the French delegation for Mumia went out to the hospital looking for him, too.

When I got to the hospital, as I say, I played the ministerial role. I asked the receptionist for Wesley Cook’s room, saying I wanted to do “evening prayers and devotions,” and “this would be meaningful to him and his family.” Of course they had no one by the name of “Wesley Cook” registered. I persisted with questions, finally mentioning that he was a patient from prison. She said, “Well you can call security on that special phone over there.” I did.

After waiting in the lobby for ten minutes, four security officers came down. I told them what I wanted to do – again, evening prayers and devotional readings with Wesley Cook . They said they had no way of knowing if he was in the hospital. “There might be ten prisoners here, but we don’t have their names and no way of finding out.”

“Aren’t you aware of any guarded rooms?” I asked.

“There might be several,” one said, “but we have no names.”

“Can you try to find out,” I asked. “No, you’d have to get clearance from the prison.”

“Well, the prison says I have to get clearance and observe policies of the hospital, so which is it?” I say. “I’m caught in the middle here.”

“Well, hmm, okay, I’ll help you call the prison.” So one security officer calls the prison on a wall-phone for me and hands me the phone.

I talk to a person manning the phones at SCI-Mahanoy on that Saturday. That person of course won’t give out any info. I asked if he can confirm that Abu-Jamal is in Geisinger. And he said “I do not confirm or disconfirm.” Then he hung up on me. Click.

I report this outcome to the hospital security, and again ask if they can walk up and check for guarded rooms. They won’t do this.

Then the “Evening Supervisor,” a fifth security officer comes down. I go through everything again. “We cannot give out any information or be of any help,” he repeats.

Next, I say, “I hear you have a 24/7 Chaplain on duty. Can I speak to that person about this?” So the supervisor calls the chaplain on the phone but doesn’t let me talk to her even on the phone. The security supervisor says that the chaplain says she doesn’t have access to any more information than they do. [I plan to phone chaplains at the hospital soon.]

Next I  say to the officers, “I’m seeing people just walking into the hallways. I’d like to walk around and see if I can find any guarded room.”

Smiles from security, “There’s no way I can let you do that.”

“I just want to stand and pray outside the room. I won’t try to visit. Just being there might be meaningful to the family.”

“No way,” replies the supervisor.

“This is so disappointing,” I lament. I brought some of his favorite poems and meditation readings. He likes some traditional scriptures, but mostly, I think, he likes some prophetic, nature-based meditations (I held up a collection of Tohono O’odom indigenous writer, Ofelia Zepeda’s Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert). I suggested Mumia’s freedom of religious expression rights might be involved.

They just looked at me, pitying my earnestness and apparent naiveté. “Can I just sit in the lobby and read this meditation book and pray for him?”


They walked me to the small vestibule right by the doors of the main entrance, “Well, can I stay right here and read and pray?”

“Okay,” says the supervisor reluctantly, “but you got only ten minutes.”

So I sit down on one of the chairs near the main entrance doors, too my ten minutes, reading quietly to myself, closing my eyes for prayer occasionally.(Actually I hadn’t read the book myself, just having grabbed the book out of my mailbox on the way out of the apartment. It was good reading.)

After 12 minutes, he says, “Okay Rev. that was more than ten minutes. I’m sorry but you got to be on your way.”

So off I went, saying to them, “You know, this is so wrong. Whether in prison or hospital, for the family it’s like this person doesn’t exist and everyone is silent and won’t help us.”

They shrugged.

I drove back – to write up this report.


May 21, 2015. After I went up to Geisinger Medical Center on Saturday, May 16, 2015, and was denied access to Abu-Jamal for the purpose of my sharing prayers and meditative readings with him, I was contacted by a former student who read my report. (see below)

She is a chaplain at a major outside hospital. She offered to phone the chaplain at Geisinger and ask that a pastoral visit be paid to Abu-Jamal. I thought that was a good idea, yet another way to try to be present to Abu-Jamal since neither his family nor lawyers have seen him for almost 10-days now. Here is the report back I got from this chaplain who works at another hospital:

I called this morning and spoke with a chaplain [at Geisinger Medical Center] to request spiritual support for Mumia. He said chaplains were typically allowed to see incarcerated patients and that he would attempt a visit. But he called back a few minutes later to report that there was something unique about this case and security would not allow it. He said he was not given any details.”

It seems to me that the isolation of Mumia continues, and so does “the Mumia exception.” Incarcerated patients can be visited, but not Mumia. (Of course, now, Mumia is back at the SCI-Mahanoy prison. Mumia’s wife Wadiya, as a result of popular and legal pressure, will reportedly visit Mumia at 10 am. A press conference will also be held at the prison at 1pm the same day, Thursday, May 21.

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