Sunday, July 07, 2013

For The Next Month, "Herman's House" Is The Place To Be

I have resisted writing this blog post for thirteen days. I know my readers have been waiting for a while now for me to suit up and show up again. I couldn't write about anything else until I wrote about this. And if I wrote about this, it would make it real. And I didn't want to face that.

So here I am up against a deadline and not taking no for an answer. Sigh.

The thing is: I've been blogging about the Angola 3 for five years now and visiting Albert Woodfox for four. In a nutshell, the Angola 3 are a trio of Black Panthers who organized the then infamous Angola Prison back in the early 1970's to stop the prisoner to prisoner violence there. They were successful, which meant to insiders that they had more power than the prison administration. Not something the warden was happy about. And the guards (whose corruption and criminality typically subsidized their meager earnings) were furious.

Then state legislators in Baton Rouge started looking into increasingly well-documented and well-presented prisoner complaints about the institution and the Powers-That-Be decided that something had to be done. So when somebody stabbed a White guard to death in April of 1972, it didn't take administrators a hot minute to recognize this as the opportunity they had been waiting for.

There were bloody footprints and fingerprints, but in an institution where everything is "handled" inside by insiders, those footprints and fingerprints were never matched to anyone. They were cleaned up and deep-sixed. And almost immediately, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were in solitary confinement charged with the murder, later to be joined by Robert King, who wasn't even in the prison at the time of the crime, but had the misfortune of also being a Black Panther and automatically deserving "special treatment."

Of course, there were "grand juries" called and multiple "trials" conducted and "witnesses" (one of which was legally blind, one of which eventually recanted, and one of which -- a serial rapist and acknowledged snitch -- was paid off and released from prison). Nevertheless, through it all, the Angola 3 have staunchly maintained their innocence. Yet, forty-one years later, Woodfox and Wallace are still in solitary. King was released a decade ago and has spent everyday since stumping around the world, raising awareness of his brothers still in torment.

Amnesty International has climbed on the bandwagon. Several films have been released. Mother Jones magazine, Democracy Now, and even MSNBC have made an art form out of covering the story. But Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell seems hell bent on personally keeping the key in these particular locks. One can only wonder what demons Caldwell is hiding that won't let him let them go. He means for Woodfox and Wallace to die in a 9 X 6 foot cell. And just now, Caldwell must be excited indeed.

On June 25th, the national headquarters of the Free the Angola 3 Campaign issued the following statement:

It is with great sadness that we write to share the news of Herman Wallace's recent liver cancer diagnosis. Today, our allies at Amnesty International and Solitary Watch released articles and statements reporting on Herman's condition and calling for increased public support at this critical time.

As Solitary Watch writes, two months ago Herman "complained of feeling ill. Prison doctors diagnosed his condition as a stomach fungus and put him on antibiotics. By last week, he had lost 45 pounds, and was sent to a local hospital, where he received the news that he has liver cancer. He was returned to prison after a few days."

"A team of lawyers, an outside doctor who has taken care of Wallace for years, and a psychologist briefly visited Wallace last week in a prison hospital room. Wallace was not manacled or shackled. The door was locked. There is no television and little contact with the outside world. Telephone privileges which were made available in the beginning have been revoked by the prison. According to one source, a warden ordered visitors out after ten minutes," reports Solitary Watch, quoting lawyer Nick Trenticosta, who reflected that this "level of inhumanity I am not used to."

In a statement of support released on [June 24th], Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty International USA's Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaigner said: "Herman's condition is grave and we are still waiting for details of his prognosis. Once we know more, we will ask you to make your voices heard to the Louisiana authorities so that our calls for justice ring from the state's northern border to the very end of the Mississippi river."

Until then, Amnesty is urging supporters to write letters to Herman and Albert "reminding Herman and Albert that they are not alone -- that there are hundreds of thousands of people standing with them, even as the state tries to keep them in total isolation. You can download cards to send to Albert and Herman here.

You should add a personal message and, if possible, also send pictures of your hometown, nature or animals to lift the two men's spirits. Albert and Herman are held in two different prisons, so please be sure to write to both of them separately -- Albert is struggling with the news of his friend's illness, so he needs your words of support just as much as Herman."

The importance of writing both Herman and Albert cannot be overstated. The Solitary Watch article reports on Albert's visit [June 22nd] with his brother Michael Mable, where Albert was very distraught over news of Herman's health. Exemplifying the punitive conditions that Albert continues to endure, "Mable was only able to see Woodfox through a glass partition, and Woodfox sat with his hands manacled and feet shackled while a captain and a lieutenant stood behind him, Mable said. Woodfox was strip searched, even though the interview was just a short ways from his cell. He is allowed one visit a month."

In another statement of support released on [June 25th], Amnesty International UK's Urgent Action Network wrote: "This is heart-breaking news and everyone associated with the campaign remains shocked. But, taking our lead from the Angola 3, we are determined to fight, and we desperately need you to stand beside Herman, Albert and Robert at this difficult time. We need to put our collective voices together, louder than ever, and link arms with these men across the ocean."

Further calling for letters to be sent to Herman and Albert, Amnesty UK declares: "One of Amnesty's roles is to shine a light on injustice wherever it takes place. So I'm asking you to please shine the brightest possible light upon Louisiana, and to write postcards (preferably with a picture of your home town) to Herman and Albert. Please let them know that you are standing beside them at this difficult time. These letters will not only give much-needed support to Herman and Albert, but it will also show the Louisiana authorities that the world is watching them."

We promise to keep you updated in the coming days as we learn more about Herman's health and further develop our approach for best supporting both Herman and Albert. For now, please heed Amnesty International's call to action and write to Herman and Albert today.

Address your cards to:

Herman Wallace #76759
PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776 USA

Albert Woodfox #72148
David Wade Correctional Center
N1A3 670
Bell Hill Rd. Homer, LA 71040

And while you're gearing up to do that, you may also want to watch "Herman's House", a 90-minute documentary on an art project about the house Herman Wallace dreams about and probably will never see now. It airs on PBS Monday, July 8th, at 10:00 p.m. EST, but it can be viewed online anytime from July 8th to August 6th. Watch. Get your friends and family to watch. Talk to your business associates and schoolmates about watching. And then ask yourself what else you might want to do about this travesty of justice.


Anonymous said...

I just turned 42 last week. They have been in solitary confinement as long as I've been alive.

Dear God.

Changeseeker said...

Dear God, indeed.