Imagine the typical science-fiction starting point: A man comes back to earth after forty years (he was frozen or whatever) and assesses the state in which he finds the world now.
The man is Albert Woodfox, and the science-fiction genre could hardly come up with a story like his. The man spent 43 years in solitary confinement, most of it in Angola (Louisiana) an infamous Louisiana penitentiary and the largest maximum-security prison in the country. Woodfox fell through all of the cracks of the American justice system: racial prejudice, sloppiness and high tolerance for violence. He served most of his time in Angola with Herman Wallace, another Black Panther, who died right after getting out of prison in 2013.
Woodfox, along with Herman Wallace, Chester Jackson and Gilbert Montague were convicted for the murder of Brent Miller, a guard at Angola, on April 17 1972. There was no incriminating evidence, but a white jury delivered an expeditious conviction. God knows how one stands sane for more than forty years in a minuscule cell. Rachel Aviv, in her January 16 story in the New Yorker, “Surviving Solitary Confinement,” mentions a psychologist that was afraid of “how well Woodford had been adapting to painfulness.” From Aviv’s story, Woodfox’ survival stems from an extraordinary combination of strength of character, stringent discipline, rigorous control of his emotions and his desires, and sense of belonging to the Panthers and its ethos. Whatever the way he managed, what comes out Woodfox’s story is that he is a man, and a dignified one.
Freed at sixty-nine years old, Woodfox is now developing the relation he never had with his daughter, Brenda. He also happens to cast a stern look at the development of racial relations all the years he was locked up: “It’s the same old America…We have to protect Black Lives Matter like we did not protect the Black Panther Party.”
I am afraid that the seventy-year old child President of the United States, who claimed “that torture absolutely works” will give a thought to rescinding the practice of solitary confinement, let alone reforming the US justice system.