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99 Problems But a Ban on Frances Goldin Ain’t One

When Nudity is Contraband

by GREG RUGGIERO

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Reclining Nude with Book, circa 1927, by Tamara De Lempica.

Every three months for over twenty years, legendary NYC literary agent and activist Frances Goldin would take a two-day trip to a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania to visit her client and friend on death row—black scholar, author, and freedom fighter, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Over the decades, Goldin has not only served as Abu-Jamal’s literary agent, but as one of the most vocal and relentless advocates for his release based on both his innocence and the denial of a fair trial in his case, the facts of which are well documented in a report by Amnesty International.

According to Goldin, several years ago the prison system sent her a letter declaring that she was no longer permitted to visit SCI Greene, the super-max facility that incarcerated Abu-Jamal and three fellow inmates that Goldin had become friends with after decades of visiting the prison. The letter claimed that Goldin violated prison rules by using the U.S. Postal System to send one of the men contraband.

No, she didn’t try and mail her friends a joint, weapons, or tools with which to break out. According to Goldin, she had sent one of Mumia’s imprisoned friends a note that she had inadvertently written on the flip side of a recent, semi-nude photo of herself. She thought she was writing the note on a scrap of paper, one of many on her desk. In her late 80s when it was taken, the photo showed Goldin in bed, topless, reading a book.

Prison censors quickly used the photo to enact a ban that has prevented the outspoken literary figure from troubling them with further visits to their super-max prison.

According to Johanna Fernandez, Abu-Jamal, a renowned jailhouse lawyer, challenged the lawfulness of the ban against Goldin by submitting a grievance in the form of a brief that cited a Supreme Court precedent. Fernandez says that early this morning, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, “Mumia was called in by one of the white shirts and told that he was right and that, if she wishes, Frances can have a contact visit beginning tomorrow.”

Mumia beat the ban.

“With sharpness of pen and mind, behind bars, Mumia’s effectiveness as a Jailhouse Lawyer has once again furthered the interests of justice,” says Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Spying on Democracy.

For the duration of his 28-plus years on death row, Mumia was denied visits where he came in physical contact with other people, including his wife and children. Instead, all visits were conducted through a thick plexi-glass barrier. Mumia began receiving contact visits in January 2012, after the death sentence against him was dropped.

Frances Goldin tells me that she plans to visit Mumia immediately, tomorrow. She learned that Abu-Jamal’s jailhouse lawyering beat the ban when he surprised her with an unexpected phone call from prison a few hours ago.

He broke the news to her by saying, “I can’t wait to give you the 23-years of hugs that I owe you. I love you.”

“Not more than I do you,” she responded.

Patience, a guerrilla virtue.

Frances Goldin will be 90 years old on June 22, 2014.

Greg Ruggiero is an editor for City Lights Books, publisher of two books by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jailhouse Lawyers and Writing on The Wall, forthcoming in 2015.