Saturday, March 05, 2011

Happy birthday, Albert Woodfox!

I had heard of the Angola 3 before moving to Louisiana more than three years ago. Even so, I didn't immediately think to plug into the campaign to release Albert "Shaka" Woodfox and Herman "Hooks" Wallace, who were both still in solitary confinement in Angola when I got here. But when Albert's birthday rolled around the next February, I got it in my head to throw him a little party -- complete with cake -- and tell him so. And we've been communicating ever since.

The following fall, the sociology student club I advise decided to plan and execute a big two-day Angola 3 awareness event. They worked their butts off, plastering the campus with announcements for weeks in advance and even inviting Robert King (the third member of the Angola 3, who was released in 1991) to speak, as well as supporters and former Black Panther Party members from as far away as California. It put the club on the campus map for certain, but the turn out was disappointing, at best. Still, hundreds of postcards with information about the Angola 3 were distributed by sociology club members wearing handcuffs in the student union breezeway. And you can still see the Angola 3 t-shirts we had made at that time bobbing around the campus occasionally.

At the time (Fall of 2009), Albert Woodfox had been to court (again) and was waiting for the judge's decision, which would normally have come down by that time, nearly six months after the hearing. We all had high hopes that he would be released, since the lower court had said he should be, a decision the persecuters (er...Prosecuters) had appealed. Time dragged on for more than a year before the Court decreed that Shaka should continue to spend twenty-three hours per day in a nine by six foot cell alone after having already done so since 1972 for a crime not even the victim's widow thinks he and Herman Wallace committed.

We were crestfallen. Shaka and Hooks were devastated. The Powers-That-Be were jubilant and celebrated by shipping Hooks to Elayne Hunt Correctional Center near Baton Rouge so the men would no longer see each other occasionally in the visiting yard and lawyer's visits would be more inconvenient since they couldn't see both men on the same day.

Subsequently, Shaka himself was moved out of Angola to David Wade Correctional Center near Shreveport (in the far northern section of the state), making visits by folks from New Orleans a real ordeal in terms of distance. But a bit of good news developed recently when Judge Brady ruled in Shaka's favor, granting him an evidentiary hearing in the matter of discrimination in the selection of a Grand Jury foreperson who was clearly known to be biased against Woodfox. The ruling came so quickly after the judge was asked for it that we're rather expecting to be in court in Baton Rouge (with Shaka and as many of us as possible present) as soon as May or June.

In any case, Albert "Shaka" Woodfox turned sixty-four on February 19th, so the sociology club took another shot at a birthday party for him. We got special permission to show the new Angola 3 documentary, "In the Land of the Free", directed by Roger Vadim and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. And, quite by accident, we laid in enough birthday cake to feed a small army (which turned out to be a good thing.)

We set the party for 5:00 p.m. on the Tuesday after his birthday and, unlike previous events, somewhere in the vicinity of seventy people showed up -- Black, White, old, young, men, women, student and city-folk, some coming all the way from New Orleans. In a festive mood, they went through two large decorated cakes like marauding ants at a picnic, scooping up hundreds of items of informational material on their way back to their seats where they settled in to watch the film.

As they watched, they laughed at Robert King's story about being arrested as a kid, raged audibly at obvious travesties of justice, and wiped their eyes as the lights came back up. Their comments were declarations of love and support:

“Watching this film really changed my outlook on America.”

“When I actually heard the voices of these innocent men, voices that sounded tired, but not without hope, it dawned on me that this movie is more than just another documentary...It introduced me to reality.”

“Evidence is everything these days; how can it be irrelevant in this case?”

“I pay my taxes to keep jails going and they use my money to keep innocent men in prison for something [they] did not do?!?”

“[This film] made me feel...proud as a Black person. I would give my heart to the Angola 3 for what they have been dealing with for 40 years...This movie really inspired me to be more open about what I believe in.”

“If you think that one person can’t make a difference, these three men will tell you different.”

“Whether or not Wallace and Woodfox gain their freedom, they are fighting for a just cause. The time they’ve lost and the pain they continue to suffer will not go unnoticed and this will greatly affect societies all over the world for decades to come.”

“I never read or heard about the Angola 3 before, but now that I have, I feel as if it is my civic duty to help these men acquire justice, restore their lives, and get out of jail as soon as humanly possible.”

Which are my sentiments precisely. Happy birthday, Shaka. You're far from forgotten. In fact, you're in there for us and we're out here for you. Hang on, my brother. We're comin'.

David Wade Correctional Center
670 Bell Hill Road
Homer, LA 71040
CCR - D #11
Elayne Hunt Correctional Center
P.O. Box 174
St. Gabriel, LA 70776


Scott M B Gustafson said...

It is really exciting to see young students take an interest in such important social issues and to connect personally with Albert and Herman. If you are not familiar with it already, please check out The House That Herman Built project, a collaboration between Herman Wallace and Jackie Sumell.

changeseeker said...

I am aware of the Herman's House project, Scott. But I do recommend to any readers who haven't checked out those sites that they do so soon. In some of my old posts (with links in this one), I provide the Herman's House links, as well, but this is a great way to make sure they're seen. Thanks.