Famed writer and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal may be in a coma after being rushed from his prison cell to a Pennsylvania hospital on Monday to be treated for complications related to diabetes.
His lawyer and family members spoke outside the Schuylkille Medical Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where his supporters say he is being watched around the clock by armed guards.
Abu-Jamal’s family members said his blood sugar was dangerously high and he could have slipped into a coma. Abu-Jamal, 60, is one of the nation’s most famous and closely watched inmates. A former Black Panther, Abu-Jamal was a respected journalist and former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists when he was convicted in 1981 and placed on death row for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
His case has been a cause celebre among liberals and Black nationalists for years, who claim he was the victim of a racist system, as there were many questions surrounding his guilt.
In a case that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Abu-Jamal was removed from death row in January 2012, but is still serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Abu-Jamal has written several books and hundreds of articles since he was placed on death row more than 30 years ago, and was called by the New York Times “perhaps the world’s best known death-row inmate.” Abu-Jamal has been made an honorary citizen of about 25 cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Montreal, Palermo and Paris, and even has a street named after him in Paris.
His voice has been heard for years doing commentaries for Pacifica Radio and he has even delivered commencement addresses by recording at several colleges.
Abu-Jamal’s attorney, Bret Grote, said his client is in the critical care unit. Grote said that he nor Abu-Jamal’s brother, Keith Cook, have been allowed in to see him.
Abu-Jamal’s longtime friend Johanna Fernández told Democracy Now! that she only learned he had been transferred when she went to visit him Monday morning at the state prison in Frackville. She said she was worried because he sounded sick when the two spoke by phone last week.
“Upon arrival I was told I could not see him,” Fernández told Democracy Now! “We were told he was in diabetic shock and taken to the hospital.”
She said he had been complaining to her for the past three months that he had had “extreme eczema outbreak” and his skin was “akin to that of an elephant’s.”
“He tried to access whatever healthcare was available to him and it was woefully inadequate,” said Noelle Hanrahan, producer of Prison Radio.
“Taking prisoners to outside hospitals is not standard operating procedure,” Hanrahan said. “You have to be extraordinarily sick.”