On Tuesday, April 17th, members of Amnesty International arrived in the Louisiana State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge to deliver a petition to governor Bobby Jindal on behalf of two men, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox. That day marked the 40th anniversary of their time in solitary confinement in the notorious Angola prison.
Wallace and Woodfox, along with Robert King, are known as the “Angola Three”– after the three were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972, they were placed in solitary confinement and remained there despite clear psychological and physical consequences. King’s conviction was overturned and he was released from prison in 2001.
According to the Guardian, “Since 1972, Wallace and Woodfox have been brought before more than 150 prison boards where their unprecedented duration in solitary confinement has been reviewed only for them to be sent straight back to their cells. The only explanation given: ‘Nature of the original reason for lockdown.’”
In what is surely unrelated news, all three men had been organizers in the Black Panther movement in the prison prior to the murder, hoping to mobilize enough inmates to demand humane treatment for African American inmates in Angola, one of the United States’ most notorious correctional institutions in the 1960s. Memoirs by both inmates and correctional officers present during that era admit that sexual slavery was rampant, and in some cases facilitated by guards. Thousands of inmates were still racially segregated.
There is still no physical evidence linking any of the three men to the murder of the guard, Brent Miller. All three maintain their innocence. Despite their innocence, the warden of Angola, Burl Cain, still feels they should remain in solitary confinement. According to Mother Jones:
In a 2008 deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, “Let’s just for the sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.” Cain responded, “Okay, I would still keep him in CCR [solitary]…I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them…He has to stay in a cell while he’s at Angola.”
Wallace and Woodfox are now 70 and 65 years old. Their lawyers cite a multitude of physical and psychological problems caused by nearly half a century of solitary confinement; nearly every scientific study on the subject bears this out. Solitary confinement can not only cause illness but permanent changes to the brain. It is often considered to be below the standards of detention under international law. And there are, at the very least, 20, 000 people in solitary in the United States today, in comparison to 40 out of 75,000 in the UK in 2004.
Today is the 14,612th day Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have spent in solitary confinement. Here’s how you can help.