Mother and child re-union in Black America
By Diane Bukowski
ADRIAN, MI – During the 14 years from the time Nathaniel Abraham was 11 to the present, most of which he has spent in prison, the major media nationally has subjected him to unrelenting attacks. But the love and dedication his mother Gloria Abraham-Edwards has for her child has never wavered.
On Jan. 24, she stood firm, as did her son, during a court hearing on two counts of assaulting prison employees at the Adrian Correctional Facility in November. Each charge carries a sentence of two to four years on top of the four to twenty years he is already serving.
Mr. Abraham refused to waive his preliminary exam. It was scheduled, but not held, since court-appointed attorneys there appear to routinely advise their clients to bypass this crucial legal proceeding. A new date was set for April 13.
Ms. Abraham-Edwards, Mr. Abraham’s grandfather and a young relative drove 80 miles from Pontiac over dangerous snow-covered roads to be present.
“We are here for moral support,” Ms. Abraham-Edwards said. “I believe my son, he said he didn’t do it and he is not going to take a plea. I encouraged him to keep his head up. He is a strong young man and he has the prayers of his family and friends going up for him. He’s going to get through this just like he has everything else. I was so glad to see him on his birthday.”
Mr. Abraham, who turned 25 Jan. 19, was transferred to the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, 120 miles from Pontiac, and placed in segregation after the November incident.
“We had to see him behind a glass wall, and they had him in shackles,” his mother said. “The last time I went to see him, we could sit down together and I could buy him food. I don’t like seeing him in handcuffs. He had to talk to us on a phone, and it was hard for him to hold it up because of the shackles. I don’t like what’s going on, but the Lord is keeping us, and I give all credit to the Lord.”
Mr. Abraham drew national attention as the face of America’s war on Black children in 1997. He was charged with first-degree murder at the age of 11 for shooting and killing 21-year-old Ronnie Green in Pontiac, with an old gun that had no stock and could not be aimed, according to experts who testified at his trial. Green died as a result of what appeared to be random gunplay by a child.
But on front pages locally and nationally, a storm arose during which white America appeared united in calling for Mr. Abraham to be tried as an adult and even to face the death penalty. It was only after the Rev. Al Sharpton and others led marches in front of the Oakland County, Michigan courthouse and famed attorney Geoffrey Fieger took the child’s case, that the judge in the case exercised his option of sentencing him as a juvenile.
When Mr. Abraham emerged from detention at the age of 21, the media once again pounced.
He was photographed leaving prison dressed in what white reporters appeared to think was inappropriate garb—a white suit with a pink tie. Readers commented on newspaper websites that he looked like a “thug.”
Reporters then discovered that the state had made arrangements to pay the initial cost of an apartment for the young man, as part of a routine housing program for ex-offenders, and tuition costs at a community college, while he sought employment. The resulting publicity resulted in cancellation of those arrangements.
But Mr. Abraham forged ahead. While incarcerated, he had become a talented rapper. Supporters from churches and from the America Works! program helped him find employment utilizing those skills. A promising career was ahead.
“He is employed, he is the President and CEO of New Life Records, and has his first contract with a major recording company, Hits Entertainment Group, to bring out a debut album,” John Cromer of America Works! said in 2008. Links to Abraham’s recordings appeared in newspaper articles in the only positive coverage he ever received.
But other reporters, contacted by an anonymous informant, claimed that Mr. Cromer had taken Mr. Abraham to a nightclub to live the high life. Cromer said in fact they had gone there to meet a leading recording executive.
A short time later, in May, 2008, an army of 10 state troopers and Pontiac police officers arrested Mr. Abraham at a gas station where his car had broken down. They said they caught him with hundreds of Ecstasy pills and charged him with a 20-year felony, “delivery and manufacture of a controlled substance.” Among the troopers was Jay Morningstar, who had previously been tried and acquitted by a mostly white jury for gunning down a Black homeless man in Detroit.
Mr. Abraham eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced to four to 20 years for an offense that likely would have resulted in probation for a well-to-do suburban youth. He was due for his first parole hearing this coming August.
But in November, Mr. Abraham’s girl friend went to visit him at the Adrian Correctional Facility.
“She had had her visiting privileges suspended for three months until November 19,” Ms. Abraham-Edwards said. “She went all the way to see him on November 21, but they still wouldn’t let her visit, claiming there were some paperwork problems.”
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson John Cordell said in published remarks, “He allegedly assaulted staff at the Adrian Correctional Facility.”
Mr. Abraham’s former attorney, Daniel Bagdade, who visited him after the incident, told a different story in published remarks which he told this reporter to use.
“Nathaniel steadfastly denies he ever assaulted any prison guards,” Mr. Bagdade said. He said Mr. Abraham said the guards jumped him after isolating him. Numerous prisoners report that guards frequently create incidents to interfere with their chances for parole.
“I’ve known Nathaniel for years, and the one thing I can say with confidence is that Nathaniel is absolutely not an assaultive person,” Bagdade said. He said Mr. Abraham was injured by the guards and was frightened by the attack.
In court on Jan. 24, however, Mr. Abraham carried himself proudly, holding his head up as he informed the judge that he wanted his preliminary exam held. He steadfastly locked his gaze on the faces of his family members.
“Since our long ordeal, I have a different view of the media now,” his mother said afterwards. “They like to invade people’s privacy. They don’t know Nathaniel and they don’t know me. To damage someone like they have—they need to leave us alone.”