[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
by Katti Gray, The Root
/Monday Feb 4th, 2013 10:26 AM
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
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
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
*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.
*Trenticosta:*/ /OK. What is it about Albert Woodfox that gives you such
*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.
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
"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
"Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through
the Lens of the Angola 3 Case." "We're also pushing to change the status
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
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
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,
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.*//
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