Saturday, April 18, 2015

Albert Woodfox Waits

On April 8th, I drove up to the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center to visit Albert Woodfox, the last member of the Angola 3 to remain incarcerated. I have now visited this dear brother of mine in three different institutions over a period of six years and it is always painful, though the joy of seeing his face and knowing I have helped release him from his closed front cell for sixty celebratory minutes made it worth it.

They have outdone themselves this time. Home to only fifty or so prisoners, the building is dirty and old and reeks of a lick and a promise. Most of the prisoners appear to be on "work release," which means they have actual jobs one place or the other in St. Francisville, a town even smaller than the one I live in. And because of the minimum security level of the "institution," I actually ran into a prisoner taking out a bag of garbage -- outside the fence, across the street, and down a ways. Not the kind of place I'm used to seeing Albert.

Somewhere back in the complex, though, cut off from everybody else, in a closed front cell (without bars) and with its own phone (for making prepaid or collect calls), its own shower, and even its own television, Albert Woodfox sits alone, only leaving three times per week to spend an hour in a "yard" -- where he is also kept alone.

This treatment may not seem on the surface so horrific. After all, there are upsides: showers whenever he wants them and being able to watch the type of tv shows he prefers without having to deal with other prisoners' often quite different preferences. But the almost constant isolation has increased and worsened his bouts of claustrophobia, which increases and worsens his level of generalized anxiety, and so it goes, while he (and his supporters) are helpless to do anything about it.

Our first visit ever (at Angola State Penitentiary) lasted all day and included ordering a superb fried seafood platter.  So, I was not happy when I had to start driving five hours each way and spring for a motel room to have four-hour visits two days running at David Wade Correctional Center. On the other hand, they were letting me visit, Albert's shackles were removed at the door, and we could now sit at a table eating and drinking vending machine products and talking like ordinary people.

Over time, however, that experience changed, as the administration added strip and anal cavity searches to Albert's pre- and post-visit regimen, put him behind a glass window in four-point shackles locked to the floor, and shortened our visits to two hours each. For no reason. Still, they were visits and we hung in there.

He got no notice before he was suddenly transferred in the wee hours of a morning to the little "facility" near Angola and it is still unclear why they moved him at all. He's still in solitary. Worse, visits are only allowed there on Wednesdays, a bad day for a teacher like me. So my first visit came more than two months after the move.

I perched like a kindergartner on a little steel stool with chains inexplicably attached to the wall on my side of the thick plexiglass window that was so filthy I dreaded touching it for our greeting and goodbye. All during the visit, prisoners and guards filed behind me close enough to touch. They didn't even check my I.D. when I entered.  And, when I signed in, following the example of previous visitors, I only gave my name, city, and state. Then, after precisely sixty precious minutes, we were told "Time's up!" and it was instantly over. Our visit had gone by so quickly that, as I walked out the door past a soda machine the guards were using and out into the sunshine, I felt for all the world as if I might have just dreamed the whole thing.

And now, I have to wait until the semester is over before I will have another Wednesday free to do it all again. To drive the ninety minutes each way, perch on the stool for an hour, and leave my brother there as I drive away once more. Unless, that is, unless Federal District Court Judge James Brady releases Albert Woodfox on bail.

Yesterday marked 43 years that Albert Woodfox has spent in solitary confinement for a murder not even the victim's wife thinks he committed. Amnesty International believes it may be the longest such punishment of any prisoner in the world. They call it "torture." Especially when you consider that his "conviction" has been overturned three times.

Attorney General "Buddy" Caldwell doesn't care if Albert Woodfox is guilty or not. He calls Albert "the most dangerous man in the world" because back in the 1970s, Albert challenged the White Supremacist system in Angola State Penitentiary, in Louisiana, and in America as a Black Panther Party organizer. His continued -- and successful -- challenges in institutions and in the courts even while locked in solitary confinement have turned him into a folk hero and an international icon. We must assume that Caldwell sees this as a far worse crime than murder because exculpatory evidence that would have identified a true killer four decades ago was never used.

If you haven't joined Albert Woodfox yet in his struggle for freedom, please consider doing so now. If you'd like to let him know you're standing with him or want to contact the Campaign to Free the Angola 3, you may find the information to do so here. And while we wait to see what happens next for this freedom fighter against racial oppression, Albert waits, as well.

I Wait

by Albert Woodfox

6x8 cell and I wait
I wait for revolution, and I wait
For Unity and I wait for Peace
I wait while people shoot up dope
And while people smoke down grass!
Yes, I wait, am i a fool?
I wait, I wait and I wait!
People party down and I wait
I wait while people do the boogey
Robot, Bus stop and hustle
Our Lives away!                                 
Education, agitation, organization
I'm still waiting

Justice! I'm waiting.

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