[Ppnews] The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat May 2 22:28:02 EDT 2009
The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard
By Hans Bennett, AlterNet
Posted on April 2, 2009, Printed on May 2, 2009
"My soul cries from all that I witnessed and
endured. It does more than cry, it mourns
continuously," said Black Panther Robert Hillary
King, following his release from the infamous
Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2001,
after serving his last 29 years in continuous
solitary confinement. King argues that slavery
persists in Angola and other U.S. prisons, citing
the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
which legalizes slavery in prisons as "a
punishment for crime whereof the party shall have
been duly convicted." King says: "You can be
legally incarcerated but morally innocent."
Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace
are known as the "Angola Three," a trio of
political prisoners whose supporters include
Amnesty International, Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Congressman John Conyers, and the ACLU. Kgalema
Mothlante, the President of South Africa says
their case "has the potential of laying bare,
exposing the shortcomings, in the entire U.S.
system." Woodfox and Wallace are the two
co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black
Panther Party (BPP) -- the only official prison
chapter of the BPP. Both convicted in the highly
contested stabbing death of white prison guard
Brent Miller, Woodfox and Wallace have now spent
over 36 years in solitary confinement.
The joint federal civil rights lawsuit of King,
Woodfox, and Wallace, alleging that their time in
solitary confinement is "cruel and unusual
punishment," will go to trial any month in Baton
Rouge, at the U.S. Middle District Court. Herman
Wallace's appeal against his murder conviction is
currently pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court,
and on March 18, he was transferred to the Hunt
Correctional Facility in St. Gabrielo, Louisiana,
where he remains in solitary confinement. On
March 2, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court heard oral
arguments regarding Albert Woodfox's conviction,
after the Louisiana Attorney General appealed a
lower court's ruling that overturned the conviction.
An 18,000-acre former slave plantation in rural
Louisiana, Angola is the largest prison in the
U.S. Today, with African Americans composing over
75% of Angola's 5,108 prisoners, prison guards
known as "free men," a forced 40-hour workweek,
and four cents an hour as minimum wage, the
resemblance to antebellum U.S. slavery is
striking. In the early 1970s, it was even worse,
as prisoners were forced to work 96-hour weeks
(16 hours a day/six days a week) with two cents
an hour as minimum wage. Officially considered
(according to its own website) the "Bloodiest
Prison in the South" at this time, violence from
guards and between prisoners was endemic. Prison
authorities sanctioned prisoner rape, and
according to former Prison Warden Murray
Henderson, the prison guards actually helped
facilitate a brutal system of sexual slavery
where the younger and physically weaker prisoners
were bought and sold into submission. As part of
the notorious "inmate trusty guard" system,
responsible for killing 40 prisoners and
seriously maiming 350 between 1972-75, some
prisoners were given state-issued weapons and
ordered to enforce this sexual slavery, as well
as the prison's many other injustices. Life at
Angola was living hell -- a 20th century slave plantation.
The Angola Panthers saw life at Angola as
modern-day slavery and fought back with
non-violent hunger strikes and work strikes.
Prison authorities were outraged by the BPP's
organizing, and overwhelming evidence has since
emerged that authorities retaliated by framing
these three BPP organizers for murders that they did not commit.
Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace
Both convicted of murder for the April 17, 1972
stabbing death of white prison guard Brent
Miller, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have
recently had major victories in court that may
soon lead to their release. In response, Angola
Warden Burl Cain and the Louisiana State Attorney
General, James "Buddy" Caldwell, are doing
everything they can to resist this and to keep
the two in solitary confinement. In sharp
contrast, Miller's widow, Leontine Verrett, now
questions their guilt. Interviewed in March,
2008, by NBC Nightly News, she called for a new
investigation into the case: "What I want is
justice. If these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out."
Woodfox and Wallace were inmates at Angola,
resulting from separate robbery convictions, when
they co-founded the Angola BPP chapter in 1971.
Woodfox had escaped from New Orleans Parish
Prison and fled to New York City, where he met
BPP members, including the New York 21, before he
was recaptured and sent to Angola. Wallace had
met members of the Louisiana State Chapter of the
BPP, including the New Orleans 12, while imprisoned at Orleans Parish.
On September 19, 2006, State Judicial
Commissioner Rachel Morgan recommended
overturning Wallace's conviction, on grounds that
prison officials had withheld evidence from the
jury that prison officials had bribed the
prosecution's key eyewitness in return for his
testimony. However, in May 2008, in a 2-1 vote,
the State Appeals Court rejected Morgan's
recommendation and refused to overturn the
conviction. Wallace's appeal is now pending in
the State Supreme Court, with a decision expected any month.
On June 10th, 2008, Federal Magistrate Christine
Noland recommended overturning Woodfox's
conviction, citing evidence of inadequate
representation, prosecutorial misconduct,
suppression of exculpatory evidence, and racial
discrimination. Then, on November 25, U.S.
District Court Judge James Brady upheld Noland's
recommendation, overturned the conviction, and
granted bail. Attorney General Caldwell responded
by appealing to the U.S. Fifth Circuit. In
December, the Fifth Circuit granted Caldwell's
request to deny Woodfox bail, but indicated
sympathy for the overturning of the conviction,
writing: "We are not now convinced that the State
has established a likelihood of success on the
merits." On March 3, oral arguments were heard by
appellate Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Carl E.
Steart and Leslie H. Southwick, and a decision
from them is now expected within six months. If
the three judge panel affirms the overturning of
Woodfox's conviction, the state will have 120
days to either accept the ruling or to retry
Woodfox. The state has already vowed to retry him
if necessary. If the Fifth Circuit rules for the
state, Woodfox's conviction will be reinstated.
Ira Glasser, formerly of the ACLU, criticized AG
Caldwell, writing that following the October 2008
announcement that Woodfox's niece had agreed to
take him in if granted bail, Caldwell "embarked
upon a public scare campaign reminiscent of the
kind of inflammatory hysteria that once was used
to provoke lynch mobs. He called Woodfox a
violent rapist, even though he had never been
charged, let alone convicted, of rape; he sent
emails to [Woodfox's niece's] neighbors calling
Woodfox a convicted murderer and violent rapist;
and neighbors were urged to sign petitions
opposing his release. In the end, his niece and
family were sufficiently frightened and
threatened that Woodfox rejected the plan to live
with them while on bail." In his Nov. 25 ruling,
Judge Brady himself criticized the intimidation
campaign: "it is apparent that the [neighborhood]
association was not told Mr. Woodfox is frail,
sickly, and has a clean conduct record for more than twenty years."
When the October 27-29 National Public Radio
(NPR) series on the case reported directly from
Angola, reporter Laura Sullivan observed, "a
hundred black men are in the field, bent over
picking tomatoes. A single white officer on a
horse sits above them, a shotgun in his lap
It's the same as it looked 40 years ago, and 100
years ago." Commenting that many at Angola today
"seem to want to bury this case in a place no one
will find it," NPR reported that Warden Burl Cain
and others refused to comment. However, Caldwell
told NPR he is convinced that Woodfox and Wallace
are guilty, and that he will appeal Woodfox's
case all the way to the US Supreme Court. "This
is a very dangerous person," Caldwell says. "This
is the most dangerous person on the planet."
As NPR documented, there is no physical evidence
linking Woodfox or Wallace to the murder. A
bloody fingerprint was found at the scene but it
matches neither prisoner's prints. Prison
officials have always refused to test that
fingerprint against their own inmate fingerprint
database. Caldwell vows to continue this policy,
telling NPR: "A fingerprint can come from
We're not going to be fooled by that."
Caldwell also told NPR that he firmly believes
the testimony of the prosecution's key
eyewitness, Hezekiah Brown, a serial rapist who
had been sentenced to life without parole. Brown
first told prison officials that he didn't know
anything, but he later testified to seeing Miller
stabbed to death by four inmates: Woodfox and
Wallace, and two others who are now deceased:
Chester Jackson (who testified for the state and
pled guilty to a lesser charge) and Gilbert
Montegut (who was acquitted after an officer provided an alibi).
Pardoned in 1986, and now deceased, Brown always
denied receiving special favors from prison
authorities in exchange for his testimony.
However, prison documents reveal special
treatment, including special housing and a carton
of cigarettes given to him every week. Testifying
at Woodfox's 1998 retrial, former Warden Murray
Henderson admitted telling Brown that if he
provided testimony helping to "crack the case,"
he would reward him by lobbying for his pardon.
Solitary Confinement for "Black Pantherism"
In early 2008, a 25,000-signature petition
initiated by ColorOfChange.org, calling for an
investigation into Woodfox and Wallace's
convictions and solitary confinement, was
delivered to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal by
the head of the State Legislature's Judiciary
Committee, Cedric Richmond. To this day, Jindal remains silent on the case.
In March, 2008, following a visit from
Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the US
House Judiciary Committee; Innocence Project
founder Barry Scheck; and Cedric Richmond,
Wallace and Woodfox were transferred from
solitary and housed together in a newly-built
maximum security dormitory for twenty men. This
temporary release from solitary lasted for eight
months, during which time Woodfox reflected: "The
thing I noticed most about being with Herman is
the laughing, the talking, the bumping up against
we've been denied this for so long.
And every once in a while he'll put his arm
around me or I'll put my arm around him. It's
those kinds of things that make you human. And we're truly enjoying that."
In April, following his visit, Conyers wrote a
letter to the FBI requesting their documents
relating to the case, stating: "I am deeply
troubled by what evidence suggests was a tragic
miscarriage of justice with regard to these men.
There is significant evidence that suggests not
only their innocence, but also troubling
misconduct by prison officials." The FBI
responded by claiming that they had no files on
the case, because, they had supposedly been destroyed.
In his deposition taken October 22, 2008, Warden
Burl Cain explained why he opposed granting
Woodfox bail and removing him from solitary
confinement. Asked what gave him "such concern"
about Woodfox, Cain stated: "He wants to
demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be
A hunger strike is really, really bad,
because you could see he admitted that he was
organizing a peaceful demonstration. There is no
such thing as a peaceful demonstration in
prison." Cain then stated that even if Woodfox
were innocent of the murder, he would still want
to keep him in solitary, because "I still know he
has a propensity for violence
he is still
trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still
would not want him walking around my prison
because he would organize the young new inmates.
I would have me all kinds of problems, more than
I could stand, and I would have the blacks
chasing after them. I would have chaos and conflict, and I believe that."
The only other known U.S. prisoner to have spent
so many years in solitary confinement is Hugo
Pinell, in California. One of the San Quentin
Six, Pinell was a close comrade of Black Panther
and prison author, George Jackson. Currently
housed in Pelican Bay State Prison's notorious
"Security Housing Unit", Pinell has been in
continuous solitary since at least 1971. The
recently freed Angola 3 prisoner Robert Hillary
King says Pinell "is a clear example of a
political prisoner." This January, Pinell was
denied parole for the next 15 years, which King
says "is a sentence to die in prison. This is
cruel and unusual punishment, which may be legal but is definitely not moral."
Robert Hillary King
The new book From the Bottom of the Heap: The
Autobiography of Robert Hillary King has just
been released by PM Press. This inspiring book
tells of King's triumph over the horrors of
Angola. Born poor in rural Louisiana, he was
raised mostly by his heroic grandmother, who King
recounts "worked the sugar cane fields from sun
up 'til sun down for less than a dollar a day.
During the off-season, she washed, ironed
clothes, and scrubbed floors for whites for
pennies a day or for leftover food. Her bunions
and blisters told a bitter but vivid tale of her travails."
King first entered Angola at the age of 18, for a
robbery conviction. In his book, he admits to
doing some non-violent burglaries at the time,
but maintains his innocence regarding this
conviction and every one since. Granted parole in
1965, at the age of 22, he returned to New
Orleans, got married, and began a brief semi-pro
boxing career as "Speedy King." He was then
arrested on charges of robbery, just weeks before
his wife Clara gave birth to their son. After
being held for over 11 months, his friend pled
guilty to a lesser charge and was released on
time served. Simultaneously, the DA dropped the
charges against King, but he was not released,
because his arrest, coupled with his friend's
guilty plea was deemed a parole violation.
Therefore, King was sent back to Angola where he
served 15 months and was released again in 1969.
Upon release, King was again arrested on robbery
charges, and was convicted, even though his
co-defendant testified that he had only picked
King out of a mug shot lineup after being
tortured by police into making a false statement.
King appealed, and while being held at New
Orleans Parish Prison, he escaped, but was
re-captured weeks later. Upon returning to
Orleans Parish he met some of the New Orleans
12--BPP members arrested after a confrontation
with police at a housing project. He was
radicalized and worked with the Panthers
organizing non-violent hunger strikes, and
engaging in self-defense against violent attacks from prison authorities.
In 1972, King moved to Angola shortly after the
death of prison guard Brent Miller. Upon arrival,
on grounds that King "wanted to play lawyer for
another inmate," he was immediately put into
solitary confinement: first in the "dungeon,"
then the "Red Hat," and finally to the Closed
Correction Cell (CCR) unit, where he remained
until his 2001 release. At CCR, King writes that
the Angola BPP chapter and others continued to
struggle, using the one hour a day outside their
cells (when they were allowed to shower and
interact in the walkway) to organize: "That was
how we talked, passed papers, educated each
other, and coordinated our actions."
King writes about the fight, started in 1977, to
end the practice of routine rectal searches of
prisoners: "Coming to a consensus conclusion that
this practice was a carryover from slavery
(before being sold, the slave had to be stripped
and subjected to anal examination), and after
months of appealing to our keepers, we decided to
take a bold step: we would simply refuse a
voluntary anal search. We would not be willing
participants in our own degradation." When King
and others refused, they were viciously beaten.
Woodfox hired a lawyer on the prisoners' behalf
and they filed a successful civil suit. The court
ruled to ban "routine anal searches." Another
victory came after a one month hunger strike that
stopped the unhealthy and dehumanizing practice
of putting the inmate's food on the floor to be
slid underneath the cell door, whereby food would
often be lost and the remaining food would usually get dirty.
In 1973, King was accused of murdering another
prisoner, and was convicted at a trial where he
was bound and gagged. After years of maintaining
his innocence and appealing, his conviction was
overturned in 2001, after he reluctantly pled
guilty to a lesser charge of "conspiracy to
commit murder" and was released on time served.
Kenny "Zulu" Whitmore
On June 21, 2008, Robert King attended the
unveiling of a 40-foot mosaic dedicated to Angola
prisoner and Angola BPP member Kenneth "Zulu"
Whitmore, launching the "Free Zulu" campaign.
King is working to publicize his case, saying
"Zulu is a true warrior, Panther, a servant of
the people. He has fought a good battle, for so
long, unrecognized, unsupported!"
The mosaic adorns the back of activist/artist
Carrie Reichardt's home in the West London suburb
of Chiswick. Reichardt says "we chose to base the
design around a modern day interpretation of the
Goddess Kali. She is considered the goddess of
liberation, time and transformation. We wanted to
use a strong, positive image of a female that
would give hope and encourage others to join the
struggle to bring about social change. Her speech
bubble says 'The revolution is now'."
Imprisoned since 1977, Whitmore met Herman
Wallace while imprisoned in 1973 at the East
Baton Rouge Prison. Whitmore was released but
then arrested and subsequently imprisoned at
Angola when he was convicted of robbery and
second-degree murder after he had returned to the
community and been a political organizer. Just
like the Angola 3, the case against him is full
of holes, and he is appealing his conviction.
Whitmore does not have a lawyer yet, so the
freezulu.co.uk website is raising money to support his appeal.
Angola: The Last Slave Plantation
Three court cases are now pending: the federal
civil rights lawsuit at the U.S. Middle District
Court, Albert Woodfox's appeal at the U.S. Fifth
Circuit, and Wallace's appeal at the State
Supreme Court. At this critical stage, a new DVD
has just been released by PM Press, titled The
Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave
Plantation. The DVD is narrated by death-row
journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and features footage
of King's 2001 release, as well as an interview
with King and a variety of former Panthers and
other supporters of the Angola 3, including Bo
Brown, David Hilliard, Geronimo Ji Jaga (formerly
Pratt), Marion Brown, Luis Talamantez, Noelle
Hanrahan, Malik Rahim, and the late Anita Roddick.
The perpetuation of white supremacy and slavery
at Angola is a central theme throughout the film.
Fred Hampton Jr., emphasizes that "we've got to
make the connection between these modern day
plantations, and what went down with chattel
slavery." Scott Fleming, a lawyer for the Angola
3, says: "That prison is still run like a slave
People like Albert Woodfox and
Herman Wallace are the example of what will
happen to you if you resist that system."
Longtime Japanese-American activist Yuri
Kochiyama says that Woodfox and Wallace "love
people and will fight for justice even if it puts
them on the spot. I think of them as real heroes
who hated to see people in the prison get
hurt." San Francisco journalist and former BPP
member Kiilu Nyasha adds that "it behooves us to
not forget those who were on the frontlines for
We need to come to their rescue because they came to ours."
The many years of repression and torture have
failed to extinguish the Angola 3's spirit or
will to resist, as Woodfox explains in the DVD:
"At heart, mind and spirit, we're still Black
Panthers. We still believe in the same principles
as the BPP, we still advocate the ten point
program. We still advocate that all prisoners,
black or white, are human beings. They deserve to be treated as human beings."
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/139222/
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