Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). That was one of my. Mom and my aunts made sure that all of us could cook and clean the house. Ostensibly, the punishment was meted out to Woodfox and his fellow member of a group of solitary prisoners who became known as the Angola 3, Herman Wallace, after they were accused and convicted of murdering a prison guard, Brent Miller. , The state of Louisiana refused to release Woodfox, pending their decision as to whether to pursue a new trial against him. On October 1, 2013, Wallace was granted immediate release by U.S. District Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ending Wallace's forty-year incarceration in solitary confinement. I love hip hop. Im used to Black women getting in that kitchen, and all the old recipes start coming out and the whole house is filled with the aroma. How Albert Woodfox maintained his compassion and sense of hope throughout his ordeal is both amazing and inspiring." Stamped from the Beginning, winner of the National Book Award "Sage, profound and deeply humane, Albert Woodfox has authored an American testament. ", State officials continued to strongly oppose the inmates' release. And my aunts cooking, you know? Every morning for almost 44 years, Albert Woodfox would awake in his 6ft by 9ft concrete cell and brace himself for the day ahead. In April 2015, his lawyer applied for an unconditional writ for his release. (Image: Courtesy of Albert Woodfox). He organised maths tests and spelling bees, played chess and checkers, shouting quiz questions and board moves through the bars of his cell to fellow solitary prisoners down the tier. In fact, physical evidence was abundant at the crime scene, including a fingerprint, and nothing was linked to the men. Smith asked Woodfox a simple question: Whats the cost of freedom? The resulting conversation, according to Smith, was life-changing.  "If they did not do this," she says, "and I believe that they didn't, they have been living a nightmare. I went outside and just walked and walked. Photograph by Judi Bottoni/AP. Two prisoners and Black Panthers Mr. Woodfox and Herman Wallace were immediately targeted as suspects, despite a lack of evidence, and convicted. They gave me a second chance, and since that time Ive been working hard to earn the trust they put in me, he said. Please avoid sharing any personal information in the comments below and join us in making this a hate-speech free and safe space for everyone. Nothing has changed other than technology I learned that after three weeks of being back in society. Albert Woodfox, photographed here in 2016, was imprisoned for 43 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In 1971, when Woodfox formed the Panther chapter, the prison continued to operate a system of slave labour in all but name. His goal was and continues to be to leave the world a better place for his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all the generations after him, just as he believes his African ancestors did for him. At the age of 69, after having his conviction overturned three times, and enduring a trial and retrial, he entered an Alford plea. ", Civil rights attorney and former NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill called Woodfox "one of the most extraordinary human beings I've ever met. Before going to trial, the prosecutor offered him a plea deal, with the sentences for the lower charges to be offset by the time he had already served. "And we lived on what we call an organized tier along the principles of the Black Panther Party, developing unity among the other guys on the tier. I never saw all that racist society had done to her. While serving his time, Woodfox, together with two other inmates, formed a Black Panther Party chapter with permission from the group's Central Committee,per The New Yorker. Im 74, so Ive seen a lot of upheaval in this country, and the Capitol insurrection was a defining moment in American society. Albert Woodfox was the first inmate to be interrogated as authorities believed that the murder was a political gesture carried out byBlack Panther inmates. More than anything, it made me realise that the person I had become was not determined by me, but by the institutional racism of this country. Echoes of footsteps taken in the past, Another brother had earlier served as a prison guard. But, I always tell people, I grew into my moms wisdom. In a legal declaration made in 2008,. I still have problems understanding how they could forget the history from 1619, when the first slaves were brought to this country, until now. For four decades, Woodfox would spend 23 hours a day alone in a 6-by-9 foot cell. Although he was allowed to have an hour in the yard, he remained shackled during this time. In 2000, the Angola Three filed a civil suit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections "challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement". Woodfox spent the next 43 years inside a 6-by-9-foot cell for 23 hours per day, enduring claustrophobia, gassings, beatings and other forms of torture. "My people. Robert King and I, wherever we went to speak, always asked the inviting body to let us meet with some of the young leaders of the Black lives movement. 9045 Algeroma St is a 2341 square foot property with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. He remained an eternal optimist. Albert Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement at Louisiana's Angola prison for 43 years. Not just to survive, but prosper as human beings. How could I make amends?. The state chose to prosecute Wallace again for the murder of Miller, although he was dying of liver cancer. Theyre also one of the motivating factors of why Im still active in social struggle. "It never ever came close to breaking my spirit. Having Wallace and King as not only his comrades, but his best friends, also helped him endure the isolation, he said.  Initial imprisonment [ edit] Wallace and Woodfox were each sent to Angola Prison in 1971: Wallace was convicted of bank robbery, and Woodfox was convicted of armed robbery. And thats what solitary confinement is designed for to break people. He helped found a non-profit, Louisiana Stop Solitary, to press for reform in Angola and other state prisons. When returned to Louisiana, Woodfox was incarcerated at Angola. Woodfox (left) pumps his fist as he arrives on stage during his first public appearance after his release from Louisiana's Angola Prison earlier in the day in 2016. As he looks back today on his five years as a free man, and the 43 years in a concrete cell that preceded them, he finds himself thinking more and more about her. King's 1973 conviction, on charges unrelated to Miller's murder, was overturned in 2001 on appeal. Artist Jackie Sumell asked Wallace what his dream home would be like, and expressed his response in various media. Through the injustice he survived, Mr. Woodfox said he liberated himself intellectually and spiritually despite his physical confinement which is why he considers today, the fifth anniversary of his release, the anniversary of his physical freedom. It also happens to be his 74th birthday. The rulings by the federal district court were overturned by the federal Fifth District Circuit Court of Appeals. So where does all that optimism come from? "I've been asked a lot: 'What would I change in my life?' After decades of cruel conditions and a conviction that continues to be challenged by the courts, he should be released immediately to his family so that he can be cared for humanely during his last months. His experiences as a former Black Panther in Angola, Louisianas notorious state penitentiary and the largest maximum-security prison in the US, tested his mental fortitude to the limit and beyond. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace in Angola prison. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. , In 1997, Malik Rahim, a community activist in New Orleans and a former Black Panther member, together with young lawyer Scott Fleming, who had worked as a prisoner advocate while a law student, learned that Wallace, King, and Woodfox were still incarcerated in solitary confinement. Those qualities that I had, she had instilled in me by example: internal strength, fortitude, determination, strong sense of loyalty. She continued, "He's had 42 years of maintaining his innocence in solitary confinement, and if his last few breaths are as a free man, we've won.". King took the plea in order to gain release after 29 years in solitary confinement, but he said that he was innocent of the charges. Echoes of a motherhood gentle and near, Its a statement: It means here I am My African pride. He had been separated so long from his family, and he was apprehensive too about his childhood neighborhood of Trem, which as a teenager he had plagued with acts of petty crime and fighting. Address: The Law Offices of Melody Z. Cox, PO Box 2282, The Hartford, Brea, CA 92822-2282 Phone: 714-674-1000 | Fax: 877-369-5801 Woodfox protested and organized strikes on the prison's deplorable conditions, racial injustice and exploitative work hours. During 44 years and 10 months in a prison cell, and being actively involved, organizing, and resisting, I had a lot thrown at me. ", "One of my inspirations was Mr. Nelson Mandela," Woodfox told Democracy Now! ", The family added that Woodfox was a "liberator" who inspired Americans to "think more deeply about mass incarceration, prison abuse, and racial injustice.  Wallace and Woodfox served more than 40 years each in solitary, the "longest period of solitary confinement in American prison history".. Woodfox uses the power of his story to press for an end to solitary confinement, which nationally still holds 80,000 US prisoners in its brutal grip. "I do not have the words to convey the years of mental, emotional, and physical torture I have endured. "I spent a lot of time reading, writing self-education. Once he was in the bleachers at a sports stadium watching his great-niece and nephew compete when he started having telltale signs. And the community. There have been a lot of first-time experiences that were both exciting and scary: first flight on a plane, first visit to a university to speak about solitary confinement, and the one we all share first time on Zoom. The Angola Three are three African-American former prison inmates (Robert Hillary King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace) who were held for decades in solitary confinement while imprisoned at Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola Prison). In society there are so many more distractions, so many more demands made on you. However, Louisiana's attorney general at the time, James "Buddy" Caldwell, appealed the ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found Brady had acted erroneously. 9045 Algeroma St is located in Bellflower, the 90706 zipcode, and the Bellflower Unified School District. Woodfox's 2019 memoir Solitary, which he co-authored with his partner Leslie George, became a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist. With this deal in exchange for his immediate release Mr. Woodfox maintained that, while the evidence against him might be sufficient to convict again, he was innocent.*. hide caption. Over the past five years, he has ticked every single item on his list. So anytime you challenge inhumane treatment or you challenge unconstitutional conduct, they would gas you," he told NPR's Scott Simon in a 2019 interview. Woodfox is remembered for his optimism and resilience throughout those many years of torture. (Image: William Widmer for the Innocence Project), Update (8/4/22): On August 4, 2022, Albert Woodfox, with an unbreakable spirit, passed away. On February 12, 2015, the state indicted Woodfox for a third time for the 1972 murder of Brent Miller, the prison guard. Since his release, King has worked to build international recognition for the Angola Three. It never has, it never will. most proud of helping Charles Goldy learn how to read in Angola. He replied without hesitation. lbert Woodfox may have survived 43 years in solitary, but it came at a price. [Laughs] Oh I love gumbo I love Soul Food. I think he set the mold for what being an African American male really is, . The old saying fried, dyed, and laid to the side doesnt apply to me. I never saw a moment when she had just resigned herself to the status quo, she always fought. , Burl Cain, the former warden of Angola, repeatedly said in 2008 and 2009 that Woodfox and Wallace had to be held in CCR because they subscribed to "Black Pantherism". I went into prison as a kid and emerged almost 70, this patriarchal figure. Taking on institutional and individual racism and white supremacy. I used the time to teach myself both criminal and civil law," Woodfox said. " He was referring to learning via the Black Panthers and reading while in prison about his history as an African American and racial inequities in the US. In his 2019 book Solitary, a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, Woodfox describes how he managed to stay sane. He was Americas longest-serving solitary confinement prisoner, and each day stretched before him identical to the one before. His lead counsel included Carine M. Williams, who is today the Chief Program Strategy Officer of the Innocence Project. , The day after a prison guard was burned to death in 1972, 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller was found dead of multiple stab wounds. Claustrophobia was something he wrestled with throughout his four decades in solitary.  Woodfox died from COVID-19 complications on August 4, 2022, at the age of 75. His brother Michael, a master chef by trade, comes regularly to his house to cook him stuffed crab, hot sausage or his favourite, smothered potatoes. Kenny recalled one time that Woodfox told him to stop reading "trash-a** pimp books" and instead read Richard Wright's "Native Son," per The New Yorker. Albert Woodfox may have survived 43 years in solitary, but it came at a price. That was a surprise I didnt know you could be in a stadium with a couple of thousand people and it happen to you.. The Washington Post via Getty Images Woodfox, the last of the group to be released, spent 43 years in solitary confinement after the 1972 . It never ever came close to breaking my spirit. I saw a lot of change. Help us advocate for the innocent by sharing the latest news from the Innocence Project. Some of the hardest things have been the least expected. We had members in tribes whose responsibility to the village was to record their history and to remember their history. How can I come out in society, and realize that the same forces that oppress my ancestors are still here active as ever? Immediately after Woodfox's first appeal hearing in November 2008, both men were moved out of the maximum-security dormitory, separated, and returned to solitary confinement. In March 2009 Wallace, along with a group of 15 inmates from Angola, was moved to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and placed in a newly created closed-cell isolation tier. In 1972, a white correctional officer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola prison) was killed. "Our cells were meant to be death chambers but we turned them into schools, into debate halls." "And depending on the severity of the confrontation, they would open up your cell, and they would come in and beat you down and then shackle you and bring you to the dungeon, and you probably would stay there a minimum of 10 days," he added. And since that time, solitary has become a discussion nationwide now, worldwide. Black people.". It took him about three weeks, he said, to appreciate that the apparent improvements in Americas approach to race since he had been in prison were purely cosmetic. Albert Woodfox, a former inmate who spent decades in isolation at a Louisiana prison and then became an advocate for prison reforms after he was released, died Thursday of complications from COVID-19. Albert Woodfox spent almost 45 years in solitary confinement in a cell barely the size of a bathroom, for a crime he maintains he didn't commit, and despite his conviction being overturned four times. Angola was built on the site of an old cotton plantation where slaves were bred and put to work in the fields. In Angola prison, there have been some changes. Echoes of wisdom I often hear, But it was still there. , Herman Wallace was the subject of an ongoing socio-political art project entitled The House That Herman Built. Some of my favorite things during my childhood was playing ball on neutral ground. He was anxious for quite a while about how he would fare in the outside world. They were not changed in their opinions by the wavering of witnesses and lack of physical evidence in the case. None whatsoever. Imagine my surprise when the historian referred to the Black Panther Party as a gang, rather than a political organization. Solitary confinement is one of the most brutal punishments an inmate in prison can experience. Quality journalism. Supporters mounted new challenges by appeals in court. All three maintained their innocence for decades. Albert Woodfox was a former member of the Black Panthers who was put in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for over 43 years. (He said he was accused of acting as a "prison lawyer" for other inmates. Eventually, Woodfox and Wallace, together with another prisoner named Robert King, who was also a Black Panther, became known as the "Angola Three." Despite the grave injustice of his wrongful conviction and the horrors of sustained solitary confinement, Mr. Woodfox emerged an activist whose spirit remained unbroken. He was released based on time served, on February 19, 2016, his 69th birthday. Albert Woodfox, who was held in solitary confinement longer than any prisoner in U.S. history, has died at the age of 75 due to complications of COVID -19. It can induce panic, depression, hallucinations, self-harming and suicide and should not extend under international rules set by the UN beyond 15 days. ) The two men initiated an investigation of the case, challenging the conclusions of the original investigations at Angola about the murder of guard Miller, and also raising questions about the conduct of the prisoners' original trials in 1972. Or might this be the day when he would finally lose his mind and, like so many others on the tier, suddenly start screaming and never stop? There was ample forensic evidence at the scene of the murder, including a bloody fingerprint, yet none of it implicated Woodfox and Wallace. The latter two were indicted in April 1972 for the killing of a prison corrections officer; they were convicted in January 1974. , Miller's family continued to oppose Woodfox's release, believing that he was guilty. Woodfox said the guards particularly hated him and Herman Wallace because they would talk back to them for their racist comments and rattle their jail bars if the guards beat other prisoners. Over the past five years, he has observed in himself the long-term damage inflicted by conditions that the UN has denounced as psychological torture.  The Angola Three were the subject of two documentaries: Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation (2006), produced by Scott Crow and Ann Harkness; and In the Land of the Free (2010), directed by Vadim Jean and narrated by Samuel L. , King had also been convicted of robbery, but he was not assigned to Angola until after Miller's murder. He died three days after leaving prison. Thank you, Mr. Woodfox for you courage, strength, stamina and beautiful soul. (Image: Alicia Maule/Innocence Project). One of Woodfoxs techniques for surviving years alone in a 6ft by 9ft cell was to compose a list of what he would do were he to be set free. to understand it was in a gentle kiss. Woodfox was set free on his 69th birthday in 2016 after a plea deal to lesser charges.