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Posts Tagged ‘Herman Wallace’

Alfred Woodfox (Photo Mark Hartman, The New Yorker)

Albert Woodfox (Photo Mark Hartman, The New Yorker)

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.

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Photo The Innocence Project

Photo The Innocence Project

There are some stories, that once you become aware of, you have to do something about it. Like Mumia Abou Jamal’s, or Florence Cassez’s; they just haunt you. Even if you don’t do much, you have to do something.  In the case of Herman Wallace, that’s too late for me. Herbert Wallace died on October 5 of this year of liver cancer.

Herman Wallace spent 41 years in jail for a crime he claimed he did not commit. Adding to the abomination, he served his sentence in solitary confinement: 41 years in 6 by 9 feet cell. One can find perhaps a superior level of horror in Louis XI (1423-1483)’s justice: the famously mean king of France is known for locking up political enemies in cells so small they could not stretch.

That Herman Wallace was able to live 41 years in such conditions is an hymn to life. Amnesty International, Democracy Now among others have denounced Herman Wallace’s detention conditions. The Louisiana justice system kept tottering until the end: on October 1, Wallace’s conviction was overturned, on the 4th, he was re-indicted.

One cannot but wonder if the best thing that can happen to Louisiana is a government shutdown that would prevent the justice system from functioning at all.  Or let’s dream: a UN mandate over the Louisiana justice system, until reforms are implemented, from top to bottom.

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Let's Get Honest! Blog: Absolutely Uncommon Analysis of Family & Conciliation Courts' Operations, Practices, & History

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?...' (posted 3/23 & 3/5/2014). Over 680 posts, Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.