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Brown University Exhibit on Mumia Abu-Jamal to Highlight American Prison System

An upcoming exhibition at Brown University will depict the incarcerated life of political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, through a collection of written papers and other materials, to educate people on the realities and inequalities of the American prison system.Mumia Abu-JamalMumia Abu-JamalPrison Radio

“Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Portrait of Mass Incarceration” will be on display from Sept. 28 to July 2024, across multiple campus sites. The exhibit will show viewers the life of a journalist imprisoned in Pennsylvania for 41 years and serving a life sentence for a murder conviction. He previously was given a death sentence, but that was overturned in 2011. The entire ordeal has prompted national debates about racial injustice and the death penalty.

Alongside the opening, there will be a two-day symposium, “Voices of Mass Incarceration,” about law enforcement, prison medical care, public art, incarceration’s effects on women and girls, and the history of incarceration. “Vampire Nation,” one of four music pieces Abu-Jamal composed in solitary confinement, will also be premiered there.

The event will take place Sept. 27-29 and will feature a variety of prominent activists and scholars including Dr. Angela Y. Davis, political activist Pam Africa, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Dr. Heather Ann Thompson.

“The exhibition and symposium both shed light on the daily realities of incarceration, foregrounding many of the persistent issues that millions of prisoners encounter with their health, their psychological well-being and their ability to advocate for themselves while incarcerated,” said Amanda E. Strauss, director of Brown’s John Hay Library, which acquired Abu-Jamal’s records, writings, and artwork last year together with Brown’s Pembroke Center.

“By offering a glimpse into Mumia Abu-Jamal’s papers, and by engaging scholars across the country in conversation, we hope to catalyze more scholarship and conversation about a topic that affects so many lives.”

Abu-Jamal’s papers will be available for research Sept. 27, and will serve as an important component of Brown’s collection on mass incarceration, Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States.

“Many people’s knowledge of incarceration is limited to statistics: Almost 2 million Americans are currently incarcerated, and one in three Americans is arrested by age 23,” said Dr. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, an associate professor of sociology professor at Brown.  “What the exhibition and symposium will do — and what we do in the Mass Incarceration Lab — is humanize this phenomenon. By showing people what incarcerated people read, what they go through to get access to health care and what their living quarters look like, we’re sharing a much fuller, much more nuanced idea of what mass incarceration in America really looks like, and that could influence research for generations.”


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