[Ppnews] Freedom for Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, After 40 Years in Solitary Confinement?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 4 17:18:30 EST 2013


*Freedom for Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, After 40 Years in Solitary 
Confinement?*
by Katti Gray, The Root
/Monday Feb 4th, 2013 10:26 AM

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/02/04/18731336.php
/

    After four decades of solitary confinement in the nation's most
    populated maximum-security prison -- and one of its most
    historically brutal -- a member of the internationally known "Angola
    3" has reasonable cause to expect that he will soon be released, his
    attorneys and supporters say. The request to set free Albert
    Woodfox, 65, is being heard by the same federal judge who in 2008
    ordered that Woodfox be released, a ruling that Louisiana
    prosecutors successfully appealed and blocked.


*Albert Woodfox: Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?*
*--Supporters of one of the Angola 3 tell The Root why he might be 
released this time.*
/(The first of two parts)/
/by Katti Gray /

/(This article was originally published by The Root 
<http://www.theroot.com/views/freedom-after-40-years-solitary> on 
January 29, 2013, and is being reprinted here by Angola 3 News with 
permission from the author. Special thanks to Katti Gray, whose articles 
for The Root are archived here <http://www.theroot.com/users/kattigray>.)/
/
/After four decades of solitary confinement in the nation's most 
populated maximum-security prison -- and one of its most historically 
brutal -- a member of the internationally known "Angola 3 
<http://www.angola3.org/>" has reasonable cause to expect that he will 
soon be released, his attorneys and supporters say. The request to set 
free Albert Woodfox, 65, is being heard by the same federal judge who in 
2008 ordered that Woodfox be released, a ruling that Louisiana 
prosecutors successfully appealed and blocked.

Woodfox and Herman Wallace, now 71, were placed in solitary confinement 
in 1972 -- theirs is the longest-running solo detention of which human 
rights group Amnesty International is aware -- after being convicted of 
killing a white guard at Angola prison, the slave 
plantation-turned-Louisiana State Penitentiary 
<http://doc.la.gov/pages/correctional-facilities/louisiana-state-penitentiary/>.

Both men have consistently said that they were falsely accused and that 
their conviction was the means by which prison officials punished the 
Angola 3 for their membership in the Black Panther Party. Also a member 
of that trio is Robert Hillary King, now 69, who was released in 2001 
after plea-bargaining to a crime unrelated to the murder, a crime for 
which he was never officially charged, although prison officials 
insisted that he was involved.

As prison activists, the Angola 3 had challenged ongoing, unpunished 
rape of inmates -- including a system of "sexual slavery" that prison 
officials eventually acknowledged -- racial segregation and other 
adverse prison conditions. The three, who did not know one another 
before landing at the 18,000-acre prison farm -- named for the town 
where it is located, roughly an hour's drive from Baton Rouge -- 
initially were convicted in the 1960s of assorted robbery charges that 
they do not contest.

Concerning Woodfox, his lawyers say that this time around, they believe 
they have unequivocally affirmed several points favoring their client:

* An all-white, all-male jury -- seated in a jurisdiction where almost 
half the residents are black -- was wholly disinclined to consider that 
the Angola 3, who are black men, were innocent of killing a white prison 
guard, 23-year-old Brent Miller.

* State prosecutors bribed the sole, alleged witness to the killing with 
a weekly pack of cigarettes and better living quarters in exchange for 
reversing his initial claim that none of the three was at the crime 
scene. Prosecutors and prison officials withheld details of that bribe 
and other essential information during the trial; have since contended 
that they lost evidence, including scrapings from the dead guard's 
fingernails; and refused to release inmate fingerprints to compare with 
fingerprints left near Miller's corpse that the Angola 3's lawyers obtained.

* Subsequent court proceedings, including Woodfox's 1993 retrial, were 
tainted by a pattern of excluding blacks from juries and of judges 
exclusively choosing whites as foremen of grand juries that decide whom 
to indict for trial. For that 1993 retrial, a white grand jury foreman 
with a high school diploma was chosen over a black candidate who had a 
college degree.

*Racism's Pervasive Influence*

"We had a jury of angry white men in 1972," Nicholas Trenticosta, a 
lawyer from New Orleans who mostly handles death-penalty cases and is 
representing Woodfox, told /The Root./ " ... Pure, flat-out racism is 
driving this train."

To amplify what the Angola 3's supporters say was the prevailing racial 
climate at the prison, they point to a 2008 court hearing during which 
Trenticosta questioned Burl Cain, installed in 1995 as Angola's warden 
and widely viewed as a prison reformer who has overseen a decline in 
violence at Angola.

/(Transcript begins)/
*Trenticosta:*/ /OK. What is it about Albert Woodfox that gives you such 
concern?

*Cain:*/ /The thing about him is that he wants to demonstrate. He wants 
to organize. He wants to be defiant.

*Trenticosta:* Well, let me ask you this. Let's just, for the sake of 
argument, assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of 
[officer] Brent Miller.

*Cain:* OK. I would still keep him in [solitary]. I still know he has a 
propensity for violence. I still know that 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 kind of problems, more than I could stand. And I would have the 
[whites] chasing after them. I would have chaos and conflict, and I 
believe that. He has to stay in a cell while he's at Angola.
/(transcript ends)/

While Judge James Brady of U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, where 
Woodfox's request for release is on the docket, is prohibited from 
commenting on cases before him, court watchers say that he is keenly 
aware of the racial dynamics of the Angola 3's case and the 
constitutional issues it raises. (Brady issued the 2008 order for 
Woodfox's release.)

"In 2008 Judge Brady ruled they should release [Woodfox]. I have no 
reason to believe Judge Brady will not rule the same way today as he did 
back then," said attorney Angela Allen-Bell 
<http://www.sulc.edu/sulc-faculty/profiles/AAllenBell.html> of Baton 
Rouge's Southern University Law Center, a member of Free the Angola 3 
<http://www.angola3.org/>, a coalition of human rights groups -- 
including Amnesty International -- corporate moguls, philanthropists, 
grassroots activists and others who are helping to pay legal fees 
related to their cause.

If Woodfox wins his petition for writ of habeas corpus -- Latin for 
"free the body," a maneuver that does not address the question of 
innocence or guilt -- he could be retried. Or, as his lawyers are 
banking on, he could reach a settlement with state prosecutors, who 
retained a private New Orleans firm to handle the case, that would 
permanently end his incarceration.

The office of Louisiana Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell 
<http://ag.state.la.us/Article.aspx?articleID=1&catID=7> would not 
comment for this article.

*The Cruelty of Solitary Confinement*

As much as the Angola 3's case spotlights such concerns as racial bias 
in jury selection, it brings to the fore the broad subject of solitary 
confinement in a nation that, according to 2005 U.S. Department of 
Justice data -- the latest federal tally available -- holds 80,000 
prisoners under such terms on any given day.

"We're asking the federal court to consider what's taken place in the 
state, to consider that what happened with the jury is a constitutional 
violation and to set Woodfox free," said Allen-Bell, author of the 
article 
<http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2012/06/hastings-constitutional-law-quarterly.html> 
"Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through 
the Lens of the Angola 3 Case." "We're also pushing to change the status 
quo."

Published in the summer 2012 edition of the University of California's 
Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, that research takes aim at what 
Allen-Bell and others contend is the arbitrary choosing of whom to 
remand to solitary confinement in prisons across the United States, a 
process that lacks streamlined criteria for such decisions and places no 
limits on the duration of confinement.

That, said Amnesty International spokeswoman Suzanne Trimel, is blatant 
hypocrisy: "The 40-year isolated incarceration of [Woodfox and Wallace] 
... is a scandal that pushes the boundaries of cruel, inhuman and 
degrading treatment and flies in the face of international standards to 
which the United States is a party."

Being constrained in a 6-by-9-by-12-foot, windowless cell was 
inexpressibly difficult, Angola 3's King, who spent 29 years in solitary 
confinement, told /The Root./ "You've got an iron bunk, suspended on the 
wall, and an iron bench, a small table, a commode and a sink," said 
King, whose jailhouse lawyering, alongside that of Woodfox and Wallace, 
did eventually result in Louisiana's solitarily confined inmates being 
allowed one hour, thrice weekly, in the prison yard.

*Staying Strong in Isolation*

Assuming that Woodfox is released, that leaves behind bars, at least for 
now, Wallace. His attorneys are also preparing to request his release.

Roughly a year ago, Woodfox and Wallace were transferred to separate 
Louisiana prisons, where they remain in solitary confinement and under 
conditions, King says, that are harsher than those at Angola. April 2013 
will mark Woodfox and Wallace's 41st year in solitary confinement.

"There were some things in Angola that they don't practice at Wade 
Correctional Facility, where [Woodfox] is now," said King, now an 
Austin, Texas-based, world-traveling prison reformer and author of /From 
the Bottom of the Heap 
<http://www.amazon.com/dp/160486575X/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=root04c-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=160486575X&adid=1KFEXGNN21155XV4T07G>,/ 
a 2008 memoir that has been revised and expanded. "He says the food at 
Angola was better -- though food is generally bad in any prison -- and 
the condition of the yard at Angola was better.

"He is separated from people with whom he was familiar," King continued. 
"And he is 70 miles farther away from his brother, who he can see now 
only while shackled and handcuffed. There are no contact visits like 
what he had in Angola. So of course, Albert feels these are added 
punishments."

Until the mid-1990s -- when the Angola 3 drew moral and financial 
support from a wide swath of people, including global activist Anita 
Roddick, founder of the Body Shop -- the men represented themselves in 
court matters involving conditions at Angola and other concerns.

"We were motivated by what had us in confinement," King said, "and under 
those conditions, we had become politically aware and politically 
conscious of what was going on. We operated out of a sense of 
consciousness and the reality that there are flaws in this system that 
need to be fixed."

Their activism, he added, helped them maintain their sanity and focus.

"After being in there for so long, you're not desensitized to the 
situation, but you build up a resistance, so to speak, against the wear 
and tear. You're in there ... so you have to become inured to being in 
there," said King, who, postprison, has lectured and lobbied globally 
against solitary confinement, conferring with former South African 
President Nelson Mandela and actor-activist Harry Belafonte, among others.

According to King, who recently spoke by telephone with Woodfox, his 
friend's optimism regarding his pending court case is clear. "His 
spirits -- notwithstanding the pressures of all this -- seem pretty 
uplifted," said King. "He read the argument. He read the brief, both 
sides. He imagines that the lawyers did a good job. His expectation is 
high. Ask him if he'll be coming home and he tells you, straight up, 
'Yes.' "

Even amid that hopefulness, there's reason for caution.

Californian Marina Drummer -- a Bay Area nonprofit executive, 
coordinator of the Free Angola 3 campaign and co-founder of Solitary 
Watch <http://solitarywatch.com/support-solitary-watch-news/> -- said: 
"I can't say I'm [unequivocally] optimistic. We're dealing with the 
state of Louisiana ... It seems as if they'll do anything to cover their 
tracks. If we were going on the issue of justice, they'd all be out by now."

The state could, as it did previously, appeal to have a ruling in 
Woodfox's favor overturned, says attorney Allen-Bell.

After her own recent visit with Woodfox, Allen-Bell had this 
observation: "What I do not hear from [him] is anger or bitterness. I 
see them as civil rights icons, which they're very humble about ... They 
don't see themselves as anyone special. They were doing the human work 
that humanitarians do." She quotes Woodfox: " 'We were doing what 
Panthers do. This is the penalty you pay for doing this kind of stuff.' "

/--Freelancer Katti Gray specializes in covering criminal justice, 
health care, higher education and human resources. She is a contributing 
editor at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice in New York City./

//*--Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free 
the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the 
latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media 
projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 
3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement 
as torture, and more.*//
-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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