Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA


“Expert and well-reasoned commentary on the justice system. . . . His writings are dangerous.”—The Village Voice

In Jailhouse Lawyers, award-winning journalist and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal presents the stories and reflections of fellow prisoners-turned-advocates who have learned to use the court system to represent other prisoners—many uneducated or illiterate—and, in some cases, to win their freedom. In Abu-Jamal’s words, “This is the story of law learned, not in the ...

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“Expert and well-reasoned commentary on the justice system. . . . His writings are dangerous.”—The Village Voice

In Jailhouse Lawyers, award-winning journalist and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal presents the stories and reflections of fellow prisoners-turned-advocates who have learned to use the court system to represent other prisoners—many uneducated or illiterate—and, in some cases, to win their freedom. In Abu-Jamal’s words, “This is the story of law learned, not in the ivory towers of multi-billion-dollar endowed universities [but] in the bowels of the slave-ship, in the dank dungeons of America.”

Includes an introduction by Angela Y. Davis.

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s books include Live From Death Row and Death Blossoms.

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Editorial Reviews

Mischa Geracoulis
Journalist, activist, and author Abu-Jamal writes a startling expose' on otherwise shrouded subject matter, thusly inaugurating this book unto an exemplary class by itself. Indeed, the power of his truth upholds the long-neglected promise of transformation awaiting the domains of justice.
The Black House Blog
Z Magazine
"To borrow from an old African-American proverb, Mumia Abu-Jamal 'speaks truth to power' in his latest book on jailhouse lawyering, the American legal system, and the prison-industrial complex. . . . Abu-Jamal writes with incisive equanimity while presenting penetratingly disturbing facts, little known in mainstream society.--(Mischa Geracouli )
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection April 6 of Abu-Jamal's appeal for a new trial, he continues to fight for his freedom. This would not have been possible without the support of millions worldwide.
He reminds the reader of the more than two million Americans behind bars in similar situations to himself, and that those in the free world have a responsibility to those trapped 'in the bowels of the slave ship, in the hidden dank dungeons of America.'
Mumia Abu-Jamal points out in his latest book, his sixth from Death Row in Pennsylvania, that unfortunately jailhouse lawyers-prisoners who learn the law in the joint and help other prisoners with appeals and legal problems-have a reputation of freeing others while they squat. 'It's the bane of jailhouse lawyers. They seem to be able to help everybody but themselves.' That truth hit home earlier this month when the U.S. Supreme Court refused, without comment, to hear the former Black Panther's appeal for a new trial based on the prosecution's consistent exclusion of blacks from his 1982 jury pool. He turns 55 Friday, which means he has officially spent more than half his life in jail. Unless further appeals work, a new Philadelphia jury will eventually be composed, and it will give him life imprisonment or re-institute his death sentence for the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner, a white Philadelphia police officer. Then the state of Pennsylvania will try to kill him again.
—Todd S. Burroughs
Poor Magazine
Mumia chronicles numerous stories surrounding the experiences of those who faced incarceration, but narrowly escaped with the power of the pen, and the tongue of one (or more) like-minded individuals possessing self-invented legal minds. Like-minded individuals who were immensely unafraid, to divinely deter the injustices they faced in prison. . . Mumia deconstructs the entire corruptive constructs rooted in the contradictive, confusing force that is historically known as American Law. Its callous vulture-culture continues to clash its claws upon the working poor, and the poor in general.
—Marlon Crump
Heidi Boghosian
From his unique vantage point (he has been incarcerated for more than a quarter of a century, most of that on death row), Abu-Jamal aptly humanizes the individuals toiling behind bars to bring cases against enormous institutional, societal, and legal obstacles. . . . [The book] testifies to the character of many jailhouse lawyers, who, when treated with disdain or worse, quietly persist in reading, analyzing, writing, and fighting to do what is right — doing justice.
The Federal Lawyer
Kirkus Reviews
Profiles of prisoners who help their fellows in legal matters, by a Pennsylvania death row inmate. Convicted for the 1981 murder of a police officer, Abu-Jamal (We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, 2004, etc.) offers a hodgepodge of stories about imprisoned men and women who have picked up enough law to represent themselves and others, fight for prisoners' rights and challenge prison conditions. These advocates learned the law "not in the ivory towers of multi-billion-dollar-endowed universities," he writes, but "in the bowels of the slave-ship, in the hidden, dank dungeons of America-the Prisonhouse of Nations." This sort of radical polemic will limit his informal history's appeal to the already converted. Drawing on correspondence with two-dozen jailhouse lawyers around the country, Abu-Jamal discusses the lives and work of men and women-some educated, others barely able to read and write-who do legal research, file grievances and litigate cases, often earning reputations as troublemakers and dealt with accordingly by prison authorities. Thousands of such lawyers now work among the 2.3 million inmates of America's prison system, "to help, to uplift, and even to free others." Brief vignettes depict many of them, including legendary Pennsylvania inmate Richard Mayberry, noted for his bitter courtroom diatribes and celebrated here as a "testament to one man's power to resist, with intelligence"; Midge DeLuca, a New Jersey inmate with breast cancer who helps others with medical needs; Ed Mead, co-founder of Prison Legal News; and Dan Manville, co-author of the Prisoners' Self-Help Litigation Manual, who did time in Michigan, attended law school and now practices law on theoutside. Abu-Jamal details the legal strictures governing jailhouse law, including the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits by prisoners. Far from being frivolous, he argues, many such actions have led to significant prison reforms. Strident and scattershot.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780872864696
  • Publisher: City Lights Books
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 169,614
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and former Black Panther Party member, whose books include Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, All Things Censored, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party and Faith of Our Fathers. He has been living on death row in a Pennsylvania prison since 1982. Internationally renowned public speaker, author, activist, scholar and symbol of 1970s black power, Davis was the third woman to appear on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list and has authored eight books.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9

Foreword Angela Y. Davis 13

Note from the U.K. Publisher 21

Preface 27

1 Learning the Law 35

2 What "the Law" Is 51

3 When Jailhouse Lawyers "Represent" 73

4 What about Street Lawyers? 117

5 The Jailhouse Lawyering of Mayberry 151

6 A Woman's Work in State Hell 167

7 The Ruiz Effect: How One Jailhouse Lawyer Made Change in Texas 185

8 From "Social Prisoner" to Jailhouse Lawyers to Revolutionary: Ed Mead's Journey 191

9 Jailhouse Lawyers on Jailhouse Lawyers 205

10 The Best of the Best 217

11 The Worst of the Worst 233

12 The Social Role of Jailhouse Lawyers 243

Afterword 249

Appendix A 255

Appendix B 260

Endnotes 265

Index 279

About the Authors 288

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