[Pnews] New documentary tells cruel story of men who spent 113 years in solitary confinement

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 15 10:46:29 EDT 2017


  New documentary tells cruel story of men who spent 113 years in
  solitary confinement

May 14, 2017

*THE tragic life of three men who spent a combined 113 years in solitary 
confinement has been revealed in a new documentary — including the 
terrible twist when one of them was released. *

The “Angola 3” — Robert King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox — were 
locked up at the Louisiana State Penitentiary when a corrections 
officer, Brent Miller, was killed in April 1972.

All three were members of the revolutionary black nationalist and 
socialist Black Panther Party and were accused of the murder and thrown 
into solitary confinement.

It would be a decade before anyone even started fighting for them. And 
29 years before the first of them, King, had his conviction overturned.

For Wallace and Woodfox, the wait for freedom spanned four decades: 41 
and 43 years respectively.

Now the documentary, /Cruel and Unusual/, tells their stories, with its 
English filmmakers fundraising to get it screened in New York and Los 
Angeles so it can qualify for Oscar consideration.


It’s hard to believe that three men could spend so long jailed in such 
inhumane conditions, for a murder they didn’t commit, but that’s what 
happened to the “Angola 3”.

The men were originally sent to Angola Prison in 1971 on other charges, 
but when Miller was killed, the men were targeted as Black Panther Party 
members, framed and forgotten, consigned to cells measuring 1.8 metres 
by 2.7 metres.

Woodfox and Wallace were convicted of the murder. King was said by 
authorities to be linked, but wasn’t charged, reports say. They threw 
him in solitary anyway.

That was 1972.

It would be a quarter of a century — 1997 — before a former Black 
Panther Party member Malik Rahim and a law student named Scott Fleming 
would discover the three were still in solitary.

Finally, the questions about their original trials, the appeals, and the 
exposure of their treatment in solitary confinement — whatever they had 
done — began.

The case brought against them fell apart with the discovery of tarnished 
eye witness statements, lost DNA evidence and alleged misconduct by the 
prosecutors. By now their plight had gained international attention. 
Amnesty International and a swag of other organisations campaigned for 
their release.


King was released in 2001 when the court reversed his conviction, 
following 29 years in solitary confinement, and he pleaded guilty to a 
lesser charge.

He spent almost three decades glimpsing the outside world through a tiny 
window from his cell, longing for the few hours a week he might feel the 
sun on his face, he told /The Guardian 

“We were caged up,” he told the publication.

“I don't think a person can go through that and come up unscathed.”

Reflecting on his time in solitary, King said he was shackled hand and 
foot whenever he was out of his cell. He could see and talk with a few 
of the other prisoners, but they had to be careful not to talk too loud, 
or they’d be “written up”.

Initially, there was no windows and no time outside. Eventually, he was 
allowed a few hours a week outdoors, and given a cell with a window.

When asked how he didn’t go crazy, he replied, laughing, “I didn’t say I 
wasn’t crazy.”

“It was bitter,” he said. “But there are some things that you can make 
out of lemons. I just tried every day to make lemonade.”

King has been instrumental in the making of /Cruel an Unusua/l, a 
project which took eight years.

In the years since his release, King has written a book, has become a 
prison reform activist and often gives talks on his experiences.

“I can tell you from experience: If you’ve done time in solitary 
confinement, you’ve been damaged. Even if you survive it, it has an 
impact on you,” he told a recent conference.


Wallace spent 41 long years in solitary, and authorities fought his 
release to the very end.

After being in solitary confinement for 41 years, Wallace had developed 
advanced liver cancer.

A district court judge threatened to hold the state in contempt, and 
ordered his release to a hospital on October 1, 2013. Wallace died three 
later, on October 4, 2013.


Woodfox continued to protest his innocence as holes in the cases 
continued to shock.

He said one eyewitness in the case who claimed to have seen him commit 
the murder was later revealed to have been blind

In 2014, judges upheld unanimously that his conviction had been secured 
as a result of racial discrimination.

He eventually entered a plea on a lesser charge and was finally released 
in February, 2016, after 43 years waiting for justice in a shoebox cell 
with a concrete bunk a metal toilet and bars on the front. At least, he 
said, he could hear other prisoners.

He is now 69 years old. He was in isolation for longer than any of 
American prisoner.

Five months after his release he went to Harlem, the place, he told /The 
New Yorker 
where during his last week of freedom, he met members of the Black 
Panther Party for the first time.

It was, he said, “the first time I’d ever seen black folk who were not 

Asked how he remained sane in solitary, he told /The Guardian 
in his first interview as a free man he made a “conscious decision”, way 
back in 1972, that he would survive, and the Angola 3 made a vow to be 

“We made a conscious decision that we would never become 
institutionalised,” he said. “As the years went by, we made efforts to 
improve and motivate ourselves,” he said.

“I promised myself that I would not let them break me, not let them 
drive me insane.”

He read newspapers and magazines for at least two hours daily. Watched 
news reports and documentaries on the small TV he was allowed.

He counted himself lucky to be able to read and write. But it didn’t 
mean he was spared claustrophobia and panic attacks. Sometimes the 
claustrophobia was so bad, he’d lean his mattress against the wall, wrap 
himself in a blanket and sleep sitting up.

He was in his cell 23 hours a day. The other hour he’d spend in the 
concrete box called the exercise yard. He’d walk around it, shackled, on 
his own.

He is now using the time he has left to end solitary confinement in America.

I get apprehensive when somebody asks me something I can’t answer, like 
‘What does it feel like to be free?’” he told /The New Yorker/.

“How do you want me to know how it feels to be free? Ask me in twenty 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20170515/979591b9/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: player
Type: image/png
Size: 111 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20170515/979591b9/attachment.png>

More information about the PPnews mailing list