[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 
one another 
 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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