Sunday, May 20, 2012

Angola 3 Newsletter: Time for Justice is Now!

International Coalition to Free the Angola 3
Albert Woodfox
Upcoming Court Date for Albert Woodfox

On Tuesday, May 29th, Albert Woodfox will begin a 3 day hearing that may result in his conviction being overturned for a third time. Proceedings will begin at 9am in Courtroom 1 at the US District Court in Baton Rouge and continue through Thursday, May 31st.

Albert will be present for the proceedings, and the hearing is open to the public. Please remember if attending that the Federal Court strictly enforces a more formal, conservative dress code (no short skirts or shorts of any kind, even with tights, no bare upper arms, sleeveless, or low cut shirts) and requires that observers don't react, either visibly or audibly, to anything the might see or hear in the courtroom. Also security is tight, so bring only your ID, car keys, and a pen and paper into the courthouse.

There is limited seating in the courtroom so if you arrive and are turned away, consider your show of support a success and try coming back the next day!

Unlike the first and second time that Albert's conviction was overturned based on judges who cited racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, and suppression of exculpatory evidence during his first trials for the 1972 murder of Brent Miller, this proceeding will seek to overturn based on apparent discrimination in the selection of a grand jury foreperson during his 1998 retrial.

The well known facts of the A3 case will not be debated; all that will be examined is whether or not people of color were discriminated against during the grand jury selection process. This means instead of murder mystery theatre, witnesses will mostly discuss compositions of the pool of grand jury forepersons in the Parish where Albert was indicted. Expert witnesses will discuss statistical analysis and methodology, the demographics of the community, and the sociological mechanics of how discrimination can play out in the criminal justice system. If successful, this claim could serve to overturn Albert's conviction for a third time.

Judge James A. Brady, the same judge who overturned Albert's conviction the second time in 2008, will preside. That ruling was ultimately reinstated on appeal by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals who cited AEDPA-gutted habeas protections that limit federal power that allowed them to defer judgment to Louisiana.

Although there are no time limits officially imposed by law, Brady is expected to rule before the end of 2012.

For more on the case, read A Crim Case 5 & 6. View/download a new A3 flyer updated to be used as an organizing resource here
Amnesty International delivers A3 petitions but Gov. Jindal refuses to meet with the delegation

  Photo of the delegation after delivering petitions.
On April 17, Amnesty International was joined by a delegation of supporters, holding a press conference at the Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge, LA, and hand delivering to Governor Bobby Jindal's office the petition initiated by Amnesty International demanding the immediate release of the Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement.

Governor Jindal refused to meet with the delegation despite several attempts made by Amnesty International to contact him in the weeks leading up to the petition delivery.

In a statement released that day, Everette Harvey Thompson, Southern Office Regional Director of Amnesty International USA, argued that "the 40-year isolated incarceration of these two men is scandalous. There is no legitimate penal purpose for keeping these men in solitary - Louisiana authorities must end this inhumanity." The day before, Thompson told Between the Lines: "We've contacted Gov. Jindal's office many times over the past couple of weeks, requesting a meeting to discuss the case of the Angola 3, to inquire about the use of solitary confinement in this case, and there's been no response. Gov. Jindal has the opportunity to stand on the right side of justice and order removal of Albert and Herman from isolation. We really hope he will take heed and make some moves."

Herman and Albert each prepared statements for April 17. Herman reflected: "Exactly 40 years ago today, April 17, we will have been incarcerated for 40 years in solitary confinement in the USA. This is nothing new to Albert and I, nor to hundreds of thousands in US prisons." Commenting on the effects of solitary, Albert said: "To be honest I am not sure what damage has been done to me, but I do know that the feeling of pain allows me to know that I am alive. If I dwelled on the pain I have endured and stopped to think about how 40 years locked in a cage 23 hours a day has affected me, it would give insanity the victory it has sought for 40 years."

That morning Robert King was interviewed live by Democracy Now! and many others have reported on the 40 year anniversary, including BBC, The Guardian UK, Mother Jones, and KPFA's Africa Today (1,2). Following the event, King writes that "standing on the State Capitol steps on Tuesday 17 April, I felt the power of the people, of 65,000 people and more - all those who have supported the Angola 3 over the years were also with us. We could not be ignored - the media were there and wanted to report on this, organizations stood by our side in support. Amnesty's presence was felt. For me the day was bitter sweet, bitter with a deep sadness that we were marking this day but sweet seeing the years of efforts and struggle culminating in this day. The tide is changing and the time for change is now. We have the wind at our back and we need to keep on moving."

We want to thank everyone who has supported this campaign! Among the powerful lineup of A3 supporters at the petition delivery and press conference were Alfreda Bester-Tillman, Esq. from the Baton Rouge Chapter of the NAACP, Pastor Kathleen Bacon from the Slidell Chapter of the National Action Network, US Representative Cedric Richmond and State Representative Patricia Haynes-Smith, Chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

Please stay tuned for our next action!
Join our new Facebook page for all the latest news.

View more photos from the State Capitol and read the full statements by Robert King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox here.

A3 supporters in front of Louisiana Capitol building. 
Angola 3 event with Robert King at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, California

On April 6, we organized a public forum, entitled "The Outer Limits of Solitary Confinement," co-hosted by the Hastings chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal. While marking the 40th year of solitary and the then upcoming Amnesty International petition delivery, the event also focused on the California Hunger Strikers. Special thanks to our co-hosts, speakers, and everyone attending! Read more about the event here.

Watch our edited, 24 minute video of the two-hour event here.
Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell speaks at the State Capitol press conference on April 17. 

Upcoming Law Journal Article on Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case

Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell, based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spoke at the April 17 press conference and was part of the delegation that delivered the petition. She has also written an article about the Angola 3, to be published in the upcoming Spring issue of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly. Bell's article is entitled "Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Become Legally Blind."

David A. Newton, the Editor in Chief of the Constitutional Law Quarterly recently spoke about Professor Bell's article at our April 6 event "The Outer Limits of Solitary Confinement." He announced that when published early this summer, it will be available online. Once published, Professor Bell can also be contacted for a copy via email:

Recently interviewed by KPFA's Africa Today show, she argued that the treatment of the Angola 3 is a violation of both federal and international law.
Among the many types of violations she described is under the US Constitution's 14th Amendment's due process clause. She explains that "in the case of a person subjected to prolonged isolation, the due process clause affords them a hearing on a periodic basis and in Louisiana that's every 90 days." Furthermore,"there has to be some legitimate penoligical reason to keep that inmate in isolation. What is happening in these hearings, not just with the Angola 3, but also universally across the country is institutions are treating them as formalities" where "the hearing lacks any substance. The inmate really doesn't have a meaningful voice in this, and the prison of course doesn't have to really meet any burden of proof," and "articulate what a legitimate penological reason is. They only have to say 'we have some evidence, we have some reason for doing this' and courts have deemed that acceptable."

"It amounts to nothing more than procedural automation in a legal assembly line where unfavorable reviews are mass-produced." This "completely undermines the due process clause because due process means" being "genuinely in search of a fair resolution," argued Bell. 
Parnell Herbert interviewed about Angola 3 play

After watching the important play entitled "Angola 3," reviewer Lloyd Dennis writes:  "I wouldn't call "Angola 3" entertainment, but Boo and I are both happy we went, and you will too. Herbert, whose work was done in conjunction with and with the full support of Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox the real Angola 3. Two of the great accomplishments of the production is the humanity it brings to men who are spending much if not the rest of their lives incarcerated, and the window into the inhumane and unjust situation we tolerate due to our insensitivity to that humanity."

Afterwards he interviewed Playwright Parnell Herbert and Director Chakula Cha Jua. Watch the interview, with footage from the play here.
ITLOTFRecent Documentary Films About the Angola 3
The Angola 3 Coalition welcomes and and is thankful to all those people who have taken an interest in the case of the Angola 3 and are using their skills to raise awareness of it.

The film In the Land of the Free tells the story of all 3 men and the circumstances which have led to Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox spending 40 years in solitary confinement.

The film The House that Herman Built tells the compelling story Herman Wallace's relationship with an artist named Jackie Sumell and the project they created together.
The state of Louisiana is the world's prison capital
On May 13, Cindy Chang of the Times-Picayune reported that "Louisiana is the world's prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's."

Chang writes further: "The hidden engine behind the state's well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash...Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes...If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars. Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings."
Read the full report here. Read the entire series "Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world's prison capital."
ACLU Campaign Against Solitary Confinement

The American Civil Liberties has created an important online resource for activist working against solitary confinement in US prisons. The organization's Stop Solitary website declares:

"The ACLU, together with our state-based affiliates, scholars, activists, mental health experts, and faith-based organizations around the country, is engaged in a campaign to challenge the use of long-term solitary confinement - in the courts, in the legislatures, in reforms of correctional practice, and in the battle for public opinion. The goal of the Stop Solitary campaign is to limit and abolish the use of long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers.
New Documentary Film About Solitary Confinement

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has released a new film about solitary confinement, entitled "Torture in Your Background." The filmmakers are asking for support in spreading the word about the film's release. Learn more about the project here.

There will be a film screening along with several guest speakers Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland on May 24 at 7pm. Read more about the event here.
New Campaign & Website: Birthing Behind Bars

Each year, thousands of pregnant women enter jail or prison, and many of them give birth behind bars. And as they struggle through the pain of labor and the stress of delivery, some find themselves wrenching at restraints. As of March 2012, only sixteen states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have passed legislation that limit or ban the shackling of women during labor and delivery. "I have never heard a woman tell the story of wanting to run during labor," says Tina Reynolds, co-founder and chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). "It's just not on their mind. Giving birth to our children in prison does not make them co-conspirators to our crimes."

To call attention to this gross injustice, WORTH is launching Birthing Behind Bars--a national campaign to address pregnancy and other reproductive justice issues in prison. Partnering with media justice group Thousand Kites, we've developed a website that shares women's experiences with prison pregnancies via video, audio and plain text.

The site,, also points to a hotline where visitors can record and share their own narratives. Check out the previous Angola 3 News interviews with co-founder Victoria Law here: 1, 2, 3, and a recent article reflecting upon the Mother's Day holiday, written by Law and co-founder Tina Reynolds, here
New Poem by Devorah Major:
The Power of the Angola 3

"If a cause is noble enough you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders"
--Albert  Woodfox

Forty years
Three life times bricked in, stunted-
cemented into Angola prison lies
boxed and hidden from light
denied all dignity
except that which they crafted
on their own, mostly alone

It is more than most of us can imagine,
infinitely more than most of us could endure.
Full of fire we chant of ongoing struggle
learn multiple ways to understand
and reveal  true revolution
stand up for the oppressed
and stand up against oppressors
openly walk our streets
and work through our days

And at night as we crawl into our beds
perhaps the scent of fresh sheets fills our noses
perhaps a loved one's arms
wrap around us and pull us close
perhaps we dream of flying

Inside those forty years I have birthed children
Seen grandchildren emerge into this world
bright and wailing from my daughter's womb
watched my hair become sprinkled with gray
amassed a wealth of laughter
and experience amidst my tears

Forty years

How many times has the world turned
while those three cleared shadows from their hearts
and pushed terror from their brains

Twenty-three hours each day housed in a box
one hour, three times a week a walk around
an outdoor cage to see a patch of sky-
Three hundred and six four days every year
to sharpen and redefine their cause, our cause
the cause

Revolution as more than slogan
freedom as more than catchphrase
justice as more than theory

Imagine pacing the measured space
they live in day after day, decade thru decade
I step and count each foot, six by eight
the size of a small bathroom

Legs fully stretched
I cannot walk four long full strides
that alone tortures, crazes
Cut that space with cot, metal bench
And commode without cover or seat

Add to that unsmiling, cold sentries
standing watch each hour, all days
Clenched icy steel

Sometimes a radio rasp, television spit
But hours of silence amidst the
never ending cacophony of cells and locks
prisoners and shackles

How can spirit glide inside this confinement?

For forty years these three men
have taught us-
the truth of revolution
the heart of struggle
the essence of strength
the depth of resilience
the weight of torture endured
for true ideals, for a just cause
for us and for all of our children

By Devorah Major

--Born and raised in California but traveling throughout the
United States and Europe, Asia and parts of the Caribbean,
Devorah Major served as San Francisco Poet Laureate 2002
through 2006. In addition to being a poet she is a performer,
lecturer, fiction and creative non-fiction writer, and editor. A
trained actress and former dancer, she approaches poetry as
both a written and performing art.

In 2009 she completed a historical novella and accompanying non-fiction essay Freedom's Harvest: The Peter Smith Story, that is now traveling the nation looking for a publisher. 2009 also saw the release of two new chapbooks, Black Bleeds into Green and Amour Verdinia/ Verdinia Amour, a two-poet flip book with Opal Palmer Adisa. That was also the year that she completed and gave her first performance of Black Classic: African American Voices from 19th Century San Francisco. In 2005 Trade Routes, a symphony commissioned by the Oakland East Bay Symphony composed by Guillermo Galindo, with spoken word and chorus by Devorah Major was premiered at Oakland's Paramount theater.

Devorah Major has performed solo, with jazz musicians, and as a part of Daughters Yam with Opal Palmer Adisa. In 2006 Ms. Major participated in an International Poetry Festival and
Conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 2007 she made a fourth trip to Italy to be a part of an international poetry festival presented by Casa della Poesia. 
Keep in Touch with Herman and Albert

Albert Woodfox #72148            Herman Wallace #76759
David Wade Correctional Center        Elayn Hunt Correctional Center
N1 A3                                                        CCR D #11
670 Bell Hill Road                                    PO Box 174
Homer, LA  71040                                  St. Gabriel, LA  70776

No comments: