God Bless You My Brother

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

A letter to PNN columnist, Leroy Moore, from Michael Manning, a Black disabled young man, who is serving a 12 to 30 year prison sentence on a self-defense case in a state prison in Pennsylvania.

by Michael Manning

To read more about Micheal's case; check out the article Fighting to Stay Alive on Illin-N-Chillin.

Dear Mr. Moore,

I don’t know how to begin to thank you for all your support and aid in my case. I just want to say may God bless you, and thank you so very, very much. Words could never express how very grateful and thankful I am to you. Your gifts could never repay you. You are appreciated my brother. I read the article, Fighting to Stay Alive and it touched my heart and I cried. I felt your concern and genuine care about this ongoing and growing injustice upon disabled people.

As you know I’m serving time on an unjust sentence for defending myself against an unprovoked attack by two armed men. You asked me in your letter to describe my feelings. To be quite honest I don’t even know where to begin. I have so many feelings. One is of devastation at being the victim of a violent attack, only to turn around and be tried as the perpetrator of a crime I did not commit. At times I’m angry because my life, dreams, family and freedom were taken away from me for trying to defend myself by fighting to stay alive. Other times I am perplexed at how all the evidence in my case points to my innocence, by showing self-defense. For example, the county’s own forensic scientist, Dr. Isadore Mahalikis, confirmed that the wounds I sustained in the attack were defensive wounds and that I was the victim. Furthermore the deceased had no defensive wounds on him. My clothing was ripped and torn from the struggle, proving that I was the victim, not the aggressor.

This forensic pathologist testifies 95 percent of the time on the county’s behalf, so he was not a freelance pathologist, nor was he hired by my defense attorney. The district attorney acquired him. When he rendered his opinion and facts in my favor he was dismissed as not being credible by the prosecution. At that time the county’s own coroner described the point of entry and direction in which the knife punctured the aggressor and it totally bolstered my version of how the stabbing occurred. My attorney demonstrated how the version I testified to was consistent with the coroner’s description, also pointed out that the prosecution’s theory was inconsistent. Then there is the testimony of a retired detective who testified that the second aggressor was two feet behind me with a baseball bat.

There are so many inconsistencies in the prosecution’s theory and it just amazes me that I was convicted. But, as I looked up to the jurors that sentenced me I notice that none were my peers; no one there was of my race or age group. An alternate juror was overheard making a remark stating, “Mr. Manning is lucky I’m not on the panel. I would have gave him 1st Degree murder just cause he is a ‘Nigger.’”

It’s a living nightmare how racism still plagues us. I had to sit on trial and defend not only my life, but my disability, as I was humiliated by the district attorney as he accused me of lying about my disability and being lazy, not a contribution to society. I was asked by my attorney to demonstrate how I walk without the aid of my cane. After I had done so, the district attorney remarked, and I quote, “I can pretend not to walk also,” persuading the jury to believe I was not disabled and able to walk.

The judge made a comment saying, and I quote again, “I think I know how this works. My wife is a physical therapist, if someone says you're in a pain you’re gonna believe it.” I was facing two prosecutors, one just wore a robe.

The prosecution’s witness testified that I was not the aggressor and that in fact Harry Bureley was, which by Pennsylvania law justifies my situation as self- defense. Plus the fact my fingerprints were not on the weapon, but the prints that were on it were never identified.

I’m just horrified at the gross injustice I’m suffering as well as the injustices others just like me are suffering. There is no justice in this system if you’re Black, poor or disabled. I can’t believe the numbers of disabled citizens in these prisons. I have heard so many horrific stories of injustice. It all comes down to economics; the state gets paid double for a disabled inmate versus a normal healthy functioning inmate. The rising number of disabled inmates is alarming. Something has to be done, people have to be informed of this inhuman treatment. This is why I’m so glad you published this informative, shocking and eye-opening article. We need more people on the outside to be informed and outraged at what’s happening to their follow citizens.

With respect to the recent tragic events in New York and Washington where my family and friends were killed, I pray this spirit of unity will open the public’s eyes to the injustice America inflicts on its own citizens. When America is attacked, it’s called justice when they seek retaliation or revenge on those suspected of attacking us. However, when I’m hacked or another citizen is, and we seek to protect ourselves in the best of battle and not by a revengeful retaliation some time later, I’m labeled a murderer and convicted of a crime I did not commit. It’s very painful to see how this country and system fail us where we are supposed to be protected.

It is really hard to stay focused when you’re wrongfully incarcerated. People can never imagine the pain, torment, frustration and stress you have, especially when your loved ones, family and friends have to come and see you in this type of environment. And then for them to have to leave without you really tears my heart apart. This particular institution I’m in seems to try to break your family bonds with all their restrictions on visits and phone use, not to mention the outrageous charges from the phone company. I’m blessed and praise God that I’m really close to home so my calls are not very expensive and visiting is not as much of a hardship as many of my friends face.

The more I’m here the more I see that this place is not about correction or rehabilitation, it’s purely economics and punishment. The programs here are pathetic and taught by people with no experience or solid education in any areas.

Most of the people here are very racist, not against one color or race, but in favor of their own religions and disability. I have had several peremptory remarks inflicted on me due to my disability. For example, I have been called a “handicap a–hole” and a “three-legged cripple” because I walk with a cane. There is an investigation on this particular institution for its racist practice of not paroling Blacks and Muslims. It’s truly a living nightmare. People who are wheelchair users as well as us who use canes and walkers are forced to walk about 3/4 of a mile for our meals. In the winter we’ve to battle snow and ice, hard rains and frigid tempatures just to be feed the slop they offer us.

I dream about the day I’m released and back with my family and friends. When I get out I want to join organizations such as Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization to help fight for disabled men. There are too many disabled men in these prisons wrongly and unjustly. There are not many Black disabled men here due to the location but there are a lot in the system who need to supported and heard from, so I would like to help as best I can.

My advice to anyone who is disabled and caught up in this system is to put faith in Christ and fight. Try to keep focused, though it’s very hard. You’ve got to keep praying and never cease and think positively and know you will come out of this. Most of all do not get caught up in the negativity these types of environments breed. Stay true to yourself and keep God first and everything else will fall into place. It’s a test of faith and a very hard one at that. When you can’t go on anymore and want to give up just let go and give it to God.


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