Author, educator, and activist Johanna Fernández joins the Beyond Prisons podcast to discuss a recent incident in which a Pennsylvania corrections officer perpetrated a hoax on supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal by claiming he had been hospitalized for COVID-19.

The conversation extends beyond this incident to discuss American attitudes about violence and safety, the weaponization of health and concern against prisoners, and more.

Johanna Fernández is the author of The Young Lords: A Radical History (UNC Press, February 2020), a history of the Puerto Rican counterpart of the Black Panther Party. She teaches 20th Century US history and the history of social movements in the Department of History at Baruch College (CUNY).

Dr. Fernández’s recent research and litigation have unearthed an arsenal of primary documents now available to scholars and members of the public. Her Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) lawsuit against the NYPD, led to the recovery of the “lost” Handschu files, the largest repository of police surveillance records in the country, namely over one million surveillance files of New Yorkers compiled by the NYPD between 1954-1972, including those of Malcolm X. She is the editor of Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (City Lights, 2015). With Mumia Abu-Jamal she co-edited a special issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, titled The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor (Routledge, 2014).

Among others, her awards include the Fulbright Scholars grant to the Middle East and North Africa, which took her to Jordan, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship of the Scholars-in-Residence program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library.

Professor Fernández is the writer and producer of the film, Justice on Trial: the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (BigNoise Films, 2010).  She directed and co-curated, ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York an exhibition in three NYC museums cited by the New York Times as one of the year’s Top 10, Best In Art.  Her mainstream writings have been published internationally, from Al Jazeera to the Huffington Post. She has appeared in a diverse range of print, radio, online and televised media including NPR, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Democracy Now!.

Fernández is the recipient of a B.A. in Literature and American Civilization from Brown University and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Columbia University.

Episode Resources

Teach In: US Empire v. Political Prisoners (April 24, 2020 from 6-9pm East)

Buy Dr. Fernández’s book, “The Young Lords: A Radical History”


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Hosts: Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein

Music: Jared Ware

Beyond Prisons

Beyond Prisons

Beyond Prisons is a podcast on incarceration and prison abolition that elevates people directly impacted by the system. Hosted by Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein.