Political Prisoners

The Bo’ They Called “Bushead”

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

They called him “Bushead,” and he is no longer on death row.

That’s only because “Bushead” is no more.

He died on Sunday, June 29, 2008, in the early evening, after a long and valiant struggle against the ravages of Hepatitis C, which had wreaked havoc on his liver.

For those who have known him, they are undoubtedly sad at his passing, but as they remember him, perhaps they can’t help but snicker, for “Bushead” was a man gifted with a priceless sense of humor.

His jests and jokes were so keen, so sharp, that men often laughed until they cried, their sides gripped in delicious pain.

On the prison rosters he was recorded as Billy Brooks, but he was born Larry Shavers on April 1, 1958. On the mean streets of Philadelphia, and throughout the meaner halls of state and county prisons, he was known simply as Bushead.

Relatively short in height, of once stocky build, Bushead was, simply put, a hell raiser. He took no stuff from anyone, and would fight at the drop of a hat.

His fiery temper would send him to Death Row in the ’80s when he got into a conflict with a prisoner in Philadelphia county prison over a bathrobe. When they fought over possession of knife, he gained control, and he stabbed the other young man, which would’ve normally resulted in a voluntary manslaughter, or third degree homicide conviction, except the deceased was the son of a prominent state prison warden. The notoriety meant the State would seek and receive the death sentence against him.

Stories about him abound from all who knew him. One fellow on Death Row recalled:

“Once, me and Bushead was in the yard, and I was braiding his hair. A guard came out and said I had to stop doing this because it violated the rules. Bushead told the guard, ‘If you don’t stop that dumb stuff, I’m gonna ball your old ass up!’ Later, when we was at work, Bushead found a rule book, strolled into the office, and said, ‘Find that rule in the rule book!’ The Sgt. had to admit there wasn’t such a rule—and Bushead hollered, ‘I told ya’ll! I told ya’ll!”

That was Bushead; outspoken, loud, earthy, and wildly funny.

When he was housed at the state prison in Pittsburgh, he participated in the Scared Straight program, and spoke to young people coming into the prison, deeply impressing upon them the emptiness and loss of imprisonment. He did all he could to convince them to avoid this fate.

Bushead was 50 years old. He lived from the streets to the prison, a high octane, high energy, high volume life. His illness, which led to his long and tortuous suffering, was utterly debilitating.

His memory among many prisoners will evoke smiles, and hearty laughter, despite the manner of his passing., July 1, 2008