When Nudity Is Contraband

99 Problems but a BAN on Frances Goldin Ain’t One

By Greg Ruggiero

reclining nude
RECLINING NUDE WITH BOOK, Tamara De Lempica, c. 1927

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014

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, the prison system sent her a letter a few years ago declaring that she would no longer be permitted to visit SCI Greene, the super-max facility that incarcerated Abu-Jamal and three fellow inmates whom Goldin had befriended during her years of visiting the prison. The letter claimed that Goldin had 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 some reefer, weapons, or tools with which to break the hell out. According to Goldin, she had sent one of Mumia’s imprisoned friends a note that was inadvertently written on the flip side of a semi-nude photo of herself; she had thought she was writing the note on a scrap of paper, one of many on her desk. Taken when she was in her late 80s, the photo showed Goldin in bed, topless, reading a book.

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

According to Johanna Fernandez, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a renowned jailhouse lawyer, challenged the lawfulness of the ban against Goldin’s visits by submitting a grievance in the form of a brief citing 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.”

frances goldin protest
Left to right: Greg Ruggiero, Johanna Fernandez, Frances Goldin, Heidi Boghosian protesting in Union Square last month.

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 any physical contact with other people, including his wife and children; instead, all visits were conducted through a thick plexi-glass barrier. It was only in January 2012 when the death sentence against him was dropped that Mumia began receiving contact visits.

Frances Goldin says 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 guerilla virtue.

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

* * *

Greg Ruggiero is an editor for City Lights Books, founder of the Open Media Series, and publisher of two books by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jailhouse Lawyers and Writing on The Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, forthcoming in 2015, edited by Johann Fernandez.

Related posts:

This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.