Letters From Friends

Text of a Letter from Norma Fleisher to UFSK Radio, Fisk University

c/o Gloria, J.R., and Sidney
U/FSK Radio
Fisk University
1000 17th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37208

January 12, 2001

My friend, Abu Ali Abdur'Rahman, who is on Death Row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, asked me to write to you folks. He wants me to convey to you my experience with him and my impression of him. He hopes that you will read the following to your listening audience.

I'm an elderly Caucasian woman, having lived in Nebraska most of my life. In 1991 at age sixty-five, I retired from the corporate world as a Certified Public Accountant and became a United Methodist missionary, assigned to Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville. In 1995 through a friend, TCask and Edgehill United Methodist Church I started writing to Abu. Much to the surprise of both of us, we found a common bond and have become close friends.

For three and a half years, I was able to visit him nearly every Friday evening. Then I retired for good and moved back home. Abu and I still correspond, and I am despondent to hear that the Sixth Circuit Court overrode Judge Campbell's decision to overturn Abu's death sentence.

When I first met Abu, I was suspicious and expected him to try to manipulate me and to ask me for gifts and/or money but instead what I found was his dignity. With each letter and visit, I asked uncomfortable questions that I expected him to refuse to answer, but he was extremely frank. When he told me that he had blacked out the day of the murder that he is to die for, I thought, "How convenient!". But later, speaking with professionals who work with children who are traumatized, I learned that when they are brutally abused, the children black out in order to escape, at least mentally, and as adults they continue to black out in severely stressful situations.

He said that he truly didn't know if he or someone else committed the murder. Later, when I attended his hearing in February, 1998, I heard in Court that the lawyer who defended him hadn't seen the forensic reports that were in the possession of the prosecution at the time. Those reports stated that no blood could be found on Abu's clothes that he had worn that day and that had been tested. Yet the killing was a stabbing and the walls were splattered with blood. The only witness was the man who accompanied Abu to the home of the drug dealer who was killed. This witness plea bargained and was freed after a few years. How's that for credibility?

Another reason I wonder if Abu actually killed the man is that his lawyer arranged for a hypnotist to interview him. The hypnotist reported that Abu described the happenings of the fateful day and as he revealed the actual killing, it was not he who committed the murder. The hypnotist confided that while hypnotism is not fool proof, it would be difficult to fake the expression of outrage on Abu's face as he described the happenings.

The man whom I write to and visited so many times, appears not to be a vicious killer, but a kind gentle man, who agonizes over the abuse and neglect of so many of our children in this country. He has an excellent knowledge of history, the Bible and the Koran. Again, when I first knew him and he quoted some bizarre event in history, I would check in my World Book and I have never caught him in an error or an untruth.

As a child, he was brutally abused and ill treated. His father, an M.P. in the Army, would hog-tie him and hang him in a dark closet. Sometimes the father would tie a wet leather thong to Abu's penis and the other end to a hook in the closet. As the thong dried it shortened. Once Abu was taken to the emergency room for ten stitches in his head caused by his father's beating him with a billy club. Most of what I am relating, I read in the research his lawyer had done. Teacher after teacher recommended that Abu receive counseling, but his parents refused to admit that anything was wrong. Rather than encouraging their child, his parents constantly harped that Abu would never amount to anything and that he was bad. They called him "Nigger" and every other dispicable name they could think of. He ran away from home repeatedly.

While I have doubts that Abu killed the drug dealer, he readily admits that he did kill an inmate in a federal prison. Again, reading the findings of his lawyer, a Correctional Officer in that prison stated that Abu had reported time and again that this man was raping him. Nothing was done to prevent it. Who knows how any of us would respond in these perverted and painful circumstances?

You probably wonder, as I did, why Abu was in federal prison. In 1979, at nineteen years of age, he was in the Army and was a member of the Black Panthers. A white soldier called him "Nigger" and a fight ensued. This was the period when Edgar J. Hoover was determined to annihilate the Black Panthers. So what probably would have earned him a few days in jail resulted in a federal prison term.

Abu is a serious, thinking man. Although having experienced a lifetime of violence, in the past fifteen years he has discovered that there are other ways to solve problems. He has become a peaceful influence. He knows now that love is stronger than fists, knives or guns. He wrote to the principal of a Muslim school and persuaded him to bestow a year's scholarship to a child of a man who couldn't afford it. He's shown me commendations of his work by supervisors. He was instrumental in producing a video for a fourth grade classroom, answering the students' questions about Death Row. He has written encouraging letters to my two teenaged great granddaughters in turbulent times in their lives.

Although I have always tried to follow Jesus' teachings and was a missionary for seven and a half years, Abu has taught me much about faith in God. His complete faith humbles me. I tend to think that I am responsible for everything and I am so inadequate, but Abu reminds me that God is in charge and he brings me back to reality. It's seems strange to find a spiritual advisor on Death Row.

From his Death Row cell Abu is a quieting influence. The state of Tennessee should not kill him!


Norma Fleisher

Reprinted with the permission of the author.