Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Angola Three - 38 Years in Prison Hell

Friday, May 07, 2010

by Stephen Lendman

On March 30, 2010, an Amnesty International (AI) Public Statement read:

"USA: Amnesty International calls for immediate end to nearly 73
years of solitary confinement endured by Louisiana prisoners Herman
Wallace and Albert Woodfox."

Both men are at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (called Angola and
The Farm) - in terms of acreage, America's largest prison, a maximum
security one with over 5,000 inmates and 1,800 staff members on
18,000 acres. Once a slave plantation, it's the same now as then, and
it's legal under the 13th Amendment stating:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment
for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall
exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Except for brief intervals, Wallace has been there for 38 years,
Woodfox for nearly 35 - confined for 23 hours a day in 2 x 3 meter
cells with little natural light, and "allowed outdoor exercise in a
small cage, for one hour, three days a week, contrary to (what's)
specified in the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners. Restrictions are imposed on their personal property,
reading materials, access to legal resources, work and visits." Their
cages are unprotected from rain or oppressive heat. Overall, they're
treated like animals, not human beings.

Until March 2009, both were at Angola. Wallace was then transferred
to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel and remains in
solitary confinement. They and Robert King are the "Angola 3,"
convicts since 1972, for the murder of white prison guard Brent
Miller that year. No physical evidence linked them to the crime,
their convictions based solely (as later documentation revealed) on
bribed inmate testimony in return for leniency. Another witness later recanted.

Although not at Angola at the time, King was blamed but never
charged. In 1973, he was bogusly accused of murdering another
prisoner, freed only in 2001 after pleading guilty to "conspiracy to
commit murder" as a condition for release on time served.

The three men have a civil suit pending against the state of
Louisiana, one the US Supreme Court ruled has merit based on claims
that their Eight Amendment "cruel and unusual punishment" rights were
violated. It will be heard in the US Middle District Court in Baton
Rouge, but don't look for any more justice this time than earlier,
especially for poor and disadvantaged blacks.

King's autobiography was published in 2008 titled, "From the Bottom
of the Heap: The Autobiography of a Black Panther." He's a member of
the Common Ground Collective, a decentralized NGO network formed
post-Katrina to help New Orleans residents. He's also an
international speaker at colleges and community centers in America
and before parliaments in the Netherlands, South Africa and Portugal.

Still in isolation, Wallace and Woodfox are reported to be in poor
health, the result of decades of mistreatment. AI says Wallace's
"osteoarthritis is aggravated by inadequate exercise, functional
impairment, memory loss and insomnia."

Woodfox suffers from "claustrophobia, hypertension, heart disease,
chronic renal insufficiency, diabetes, anxiety and insomnia."

Both men are victims of racism, retribution for their activism,
prosecutorial injustice, and a state prison system the Louisiana ACLU
calls "the most abhorrent in terms of violence and horrible living conditions."

Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration in the world, the
ACLU getting over 80 complaints a month about guard beatings,
overcrowding, poor medical care or its denial, mistreatment of
mentally ill prisoners, squalid living conditions, and denial of
access to lawyers.

The Bill of Rights grants constitutional protections to everyone,
including persons in custody, regardless of their crime. Especially
abhorrent are rigged trials, judicial complicity, wrongful
convictions, and appellate unfairness to keep innocent victims incarcerated.

Angola's Horrific History

Angola has always been hellish, especially in the 1970s when it
wreaked of corruption and abuse. It was segregated with horrific
rampant rage, frequent murders, and sexual bondage - inmates sold to
each other as sex slaves or in exchange for favors. No wonder it was
called America's worst prison, a distinction as true today, including
chain of command encouragement of widespread, systematic violence,
including guard beatings, sexual assaults, other abuses amounting to
torture, and use of solitary confinement as punishment for activism
or any other reason arbitrarily.

Today, Angola prisoners are 75% black under a compulsory 40 hour or
longer workweeks (eight hours or longer a day, five days a week) plus
weekends for bad disciplinary reports, often fabricated for more labor.

They till fields for 4 cents an hour, under constant watch as virtual
slaves. In the 1970s, it was 96 hours (16 hours a day, six days a
week) for 2 cents an hour at what was called the "Bloodiest Prison in
the South" because of endemic guard-inflicted and
prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

The Angola 3 fought conditions with nonviolent hunger and work
strikes. Prison authorities retaliated by framing them for murders
they didn't commit, Woodfox and Wallace for Miller's death, King for
another prisoner.

Today Angola's mission statement says:

"The philosophy of Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) is to provide
services in a professional manner so as to protect the safety of the
public, staff, and inmate population. Consistent with this, it is
LSP's responsibility to provide meaningful opportunities to enhance,
through a variety of education, work, social service and medical
programs, the individual's desire to become a productive member of
society, while providing a safe, stable work environment for employees."

Inmates see it otherwise, calling reforms "cosmetic." Former prisoner
and now Executive Secretary of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of
Louisiana calls Angola a "sophisticated plantation (where) cotton is
king" and inmates near slaves - "given enough food, clothing and
shelter to be a financial asset to the owner," but little else.

Louisiana's entire prison system is no different, Angola the
preeminent example, a de facto slave plantation, preventing its
inmates from ever "becom(ing) a productive member of society" because
long sentences without parole deny it - the idea being once
incarcerated, free them only for burial on Angola's expansive acreage
after extracting a lifetime of forced labor.

"The Case of the Angola 3"

For more information, visit

In the late 1960s, Wallace and Woodfox were incarcerated for
unrelated robberies, founded a Black Panther party chapter to improve
prison conditions, and were targeted for their activism.

In 2008, a federal judge overturned Woodfox's conviction after a
state judicial magistrate found damning evidence, including:

-- "inadequate representation;

-- prosecutorial misconduct;

-- suppression of exculpatory evidence; and

-- racial discrimination in the grand jury selection process."

Nonetheless, he's still in solitary because Louisiana officials want
him held for life.

In 2006, a state judicial commissioner recommended reversing
Wallace's conviction, again because of compelling prosecutorial
misconduct. No matter. He's also in isolated confinement after a
district court denied him, upheld by appellate level refusal to
review without explanation.

A habeas petition is now pending in federal court that may prove as
constitutionally futile, given their extremist right wing judges,
showing little sympathy for oppressed minorities or the poor, and a
reluctance to reverse local authorities.

On March 10, The London Guardian's Erwin James' article headlined,
"37 years of solitary confinement: the Angola three," saying:

" (Angola's) an inhumanity that would make Jesus
weep," two of the Angola 3 enduring "the longest period of solitary
confinement in American prison history."

Having spent 20 years imprisoned himself, James:

"attest(s) to the mental impact that (isolation) inflict(s). My first
year was spent on a high-security landing where the cell doors were
opened only briefly for meals and emptying of toilet buckets. If
decent-minded prison officers were on duty we were allowed to walk
the yard for 30 minutes a day. The rest of the time we were alone....

As the days, weeks and months blur into one, without realising it you
start to live completely inside your head. You dream about the past,
in vivid detail - and fantasise about the future, for fantasies are
all you have. You panic but it's no good 'getting on the bell' -
unless you're dying - and, even then, don't hope for a speedy
response. I had a lot to think about. When the man in the cell above
mine hanged himself I thought about that a lot. I still do. You look
at the bars on the high window and think how easy it would be to be
free of all the thinking."

The film, "Land of the Free" tells their story, three men growing up
poor in New Orleans. They feared police, "who would regularly 'clear
the books' of crimes in the area," King explaining that they'd pin
them on disaffected black youths.

"If I saw the police, I used to run," said King, admitting he
committed petty crimes, but "nothing vicious." Eventually he was
bogusly arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to 35 years.

Woodfox also bogusly got 50 years for armed robbery, escaped from the
courthouse, returned to Harlem, and got involved with the Black
Panthers. After being caught, he was taken to New York's Tombs, was
called "militant," and returned to New Orleans "where he joined King
on the parish block, known - due to the high concentration of Panther
activists - as 'the Panther tier.' There (he) became a member of the
Black Panther party."

Woodfox and Wallace extended it, "establishing classes in political
ideology and exposing injustices." They worked to improve prison
conditions, but their activism made them targets. At the time, guard
Miller was killed. Two days later, four "black militants" were
accused, including Wallace and Woodfox. One of the four was a plant.
Charges against him were dropped. "Another, Chester Jackson, admitted
to holding Miller while the guard was stabbed to death," Jackson
turning state's evidence to cop a plea for a lighter sentence.
Wallace and Woodfox were convicted by an all-white jury, sentenced to
life without parole, and taken to Angola's CCR (Closed Cell
Restricted) block - solitary confinement.

"King was brought to Angola from the parish prison two weeks after
Miller's killing, as part of a roundup of black radicals. He never
met Miller and was in a prison 150 miles away" when it happened. Yet
he was identified as a "conspirator" before being held in CCR with
Woodfox and Wallace.

The next year, a prisoner named August Kelly was murdered on the
tier. Prisoner Grady Brewer admitted sole guilt, saying it was in
self-defense. He and King were tried together, the only evidence
against King "came from flawed prisoner testimony." He and Brewer had
little counsel consultations before trial. After protesting, the
judge ordered their hands shacked behind their backs and mouths
gagged with duct tape during trial. They were convicted and got life
without parole, King later released on appeal as explained above.

New lawyers later discovered "obfuscation after obfuscation" during
trial, the state using a number of jailhouse informants who gave
contradictory accounts of what happened. "One was registered blind.
The key witness" was Hezikiah Brown who testified he saw the murder.
He initially said he saw nothing.

"Three days later, when he was taken from his bunk at midnight by
prison officials and promised his freedom if he testified, he agreed
to say that he saw Wallace and Woodfox kill Miller." At the time, he
was serving life without parole for multiple rapes.

Wallace and Woodfox persisted. In 1993, Woodfox won an appeal for a
new trial that was just as bogus as the first one - an all white
jury, a local author (Anne Butler) convinced of his guilt its
chairperson, no witnesses called, evidence concealed or not properly
investigated, so as expected he was again convicted.

It took King 26 years for his successful appeal after earlier
witnesses recanted, and a federal court ordered the district one to
reconsider. A deal followed, King pleading guilty to conspiracy for a
crime he didn't commit, his price for freedom as explained above.

Then in 2008, Woodfox's conviction was overturned after a federal
court ruled his constitutional rights were violated at trial.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell contested. As a result, he,
like Wallace, remains isolated in confinement, victimized by
prosecutorial injustice under a system giving disadvantaged blacks
none. Decisions are seldom reversed by higher courts, the fate
Woodfox and Wallace still contest after decades of prison hell.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with
distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the
Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and
Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

posted by Steve Lendman @

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