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Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis –An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France

By: Angola 3 News Saturday July 26, 2014 4:36 pm

Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis

–An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France

By Angola 3 News

Amnesty International France and La Boîte à Bulles have published a 128-page French language graphic novel entitled Panthers in the Hole. The book’s co-authors David Cénou and Bruno Cénou present with visual art what Amnesty France describes as “la tragique histoire des Trois d’Angola” (the tragic story of the Angola 3).
photo

Robert H. King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox are the trio of Black Panther political prisoners known collectively as the Angola 3. On October 1, 2013 Herman Wallace was dramatically released from prison after 41 years in solitary confinement. At the time of his release, he had been fighting terminal liver cancer for several months. Three days later, on Oct. 4, Herman was surrounded by loved ones as he passed on at a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to this day and with only temporary respite from routine body cavity searches pending an upcoming ruling by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 17, 2014, marking 42 years since Albert Woodfox was first placed in solitary,  Amnesty International renewed its call for his immediate release (view Amnesty’s statement and essay) and today continues their online campaign (sign the petition here).

Robert King spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001. Himself the subject of a recent Canadian film, King spoke in Paris, France this past May at an event celebrating the release of Panthers in the Hole and has traveled Europe many times while on earlier speaking tours.

To further discuss the release of Panthers in the Hole and Amnesty France’s broader support for Albert Woodfox and the Angola 3, we interviewed NicolasKrameyer, who is head of the Individuals at Risk / Human Rights Defenders Program for Amnesty International France.

Angola 3 News:         Can you please tell us about your recent work related to the Angola 3?

Nicolas Krameyer:    Amnesty France has made the Angola 3 (A3) a priority campaign.

We included Albert and Herman’s case as part of our biggest annual event, known as Write for Rights in December 2012. In just a few weeks, at least 50,000 supporters signed the petition for an end to their solitary confinement.

We also organized a solidarity campaign where activists sent Herman and Albert messages of support. The letter-writers quickly received very strong and moving answers from Herman and Albert, which we then shared among other activists.

A few months later, we invited Robert King for a two-week speaking tour in France and Brussels, which gave national media coverage to the A3 and the widespread use of solitary confinement in the USA. Both the A3 case and the issue of solitary confinement were totally unknown to the general public. Even the partners and institutions with whom we normally work on human rights activism were not familiar with these issues.

A3N:   What do you think are the main reasons for the French public’s interest?

NK:     Beside the widespread publicity, I think there are 3 key factors that explain why so many people feel now concerned about the Angola 3 case:

(1) The monstrous nature of the case. There are very few examples in the world of such a blatant human rights violation for such a long period of time: more than 4 decades!

(2) The audience could follow the different steps of the clear campaign of vengeance lead by the local Louisiana authorities, like when the prosecutor appealed Albert’s third overturned conviction, or in October 2013 when the State authorities did their most to impede Herman’s release despite his health. That clearly angered people here in France, and one indicator of this was that journalists were publishing articles every time something new happened, which is quite rare.

(3) Lastly, this has been made possible because of Robert’s presence and strength, which he clearly communicated to all types of audiences, from the media to French officials and activists.

A3N:   Overall, how do you think Amnesty France’s A3 and anti-solitary campaigning has impacted France?

NK:     Previously, solitary confinement was not really considered a big human rights issue, except for some rare experts or USA specialists here. Guantanamo and death penalty continue to be the two main public topics in regards to human rights violations known in France. The A3 and Robert King gave a face to that common practice of cruel and inhumane treatment in the USA.

Even if we can’t go into details here, we know that probably for first time, French and EU governments officially raised this issue with their US counterparts.

A3N:   Can you tell us more about the new graphic novel, entitled Panthers in the Hole? How has it been received since being released in May?

(PHOTO: Artwork displayed at Herman Wallace’s memorial service. See more photos of the memorial service by Ann Harkness.)
 

Albert Woodfox Speaks About 42 Years of Solitary Confinement

By: Angola 3 News Tuesday April 29, 2014 12:09 pm

The essay featured below, Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts, from the Why Am I Not Surprised? blog is reprinted in full with permission of the author. 

Now 42 years since Albert was first put in solitary, Amnesty International has renewed its call for Albert’s immediate release (view Amnesty’s recent statement and essay). If you have not yet done so, please sign the Amnesty petition today.

Changeseeker with Albert Woodfox

Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

This past weekend, I visited Albert Woodfox for the umpteenth time in the last five years. All but one of the visits have been at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana, five hours from where I live.  At the beginning, it was a grueling trip because I wasn’t used to it and I have to go up on Saturday and come back the following day for a total of ten hours behind the wheel in one weekend. Sometimes it rains and once, it poured all the way up and all the way back.

I know I could take someone else along, but visiting somebody that’s been in solitary confinement for what has now been forty-two years is emotionally draining and I don’t want to have to be nicer than I really am for two solid days when I’ve been visiting people in prison since 1971 and every visit eats my lunch.

So I load up on coffee and listen to music or audio books and, over time, I’ve gotten used to the trip. But I’ll never get used to the visits and all the fol-de-rol they put us through just because they can.

Originally, the “rules” allowed us to have two 4-hour visits in a weekend because I live so far away. Though Albert was shackled when he left his cell, the shackles were removed when he got to the visiting room and our visits were conducted sitting at a table where we could eat vending machine food and drink sodas or water. And on holidays, I could purchase a cake at the front door for us to share. The “rules” allowed us to hug at the beginning and at the end of each visit and, on one occasion, the “rules” even allowed us to have a bunch of photos taken, one of which can be seen above.

The most interesting thing about prisons, however, is that the “rules” change all the time, especially for individuals who ostensibly deserve extra punishment for whatever reason. I’m not talking about a prisoner who breaks a rule and goes through a due process that is the same for everyone. I’m talking about a prisoner — like Albert Woodfox — who has been continually tormented for more than forty years because he was one of three men who organized a Black Panther Party chapter in Angola Penitentiary back in the early 1970′s and has now become an international icon of resistance to oppression. Oh, yes. And let’s not forget all the legal suits he’s won and the legal precedents he has set during all those years.

Anyway, the “rules” keep changing for our visits. First, the visits went from four hours to three hours and then they went down to two hours each. So instead of driving ten hours to get eight hours of visiting time, I now drive ten hours to get two 2-hour visits. But it gets worse.

Hard Time: Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance

By: Angola 3 News Wednesday April 2, 2014 10:27 am

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance
–An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

A new 40-minute documentary film by Canadian History Professor Ron Harpelle, entitled Hard Time, focuses on the life of Robert Hillary King, who spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001.

Along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Robert King is one of three Black Panther political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Last October, Herman Wallace died from liver cancer just days after being released from prison. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to do this day, with the upcoming date of April 17, 2014 marking 42 years since he was first placed there.

When Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time in February 2013, his release was halted because the Louisiana Attorney General immediately appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court, despite an Amnesty International campaign calling on the AG to respect US District Court Judge James Brady’s ruling and not appeal. The Amnesty campaign (take action here) is now calling for Woodfox’s immediate release and last month released a new video interview with

In March, Amnesty released a new interview with Teenie Rogers, the widow of correctional officer Brent Miller, the man who Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were wrongfully convicted of murdering. “This needs to stop, for me and my family to get closure,” Rogers says. She expresses sadness that she tried but was unable to see Herman before he passed and explains: “I am speaking out now because I don’t want another innocent man to die in prison.”

In an email message sent out by Amnesty, Robert King said: “Teenie believes me. She believes that the Angola 3 had nothing to do with her husband’s murder. She believes that Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and I suffered years of cruel solitary confinement as innocent men…The state hasn’t done justice by her, either. She’s angry. We both are. Louisiana authorities are hell bent on blaming the wrong person. Well, I’m hell bent on setting him free.”

Hard Time was recently shown in Canada at both the Toronto and Montreal Black Film Festivals, following Robert King’s testimony in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier that month. On April 20, Hard Time will be shown in Paris, with French subtitles, at the Ethnografilm Festival.

The full, 40-minute version of Hard Time can now be viewed online, along with Ron Harpelle’s previous film, entitled In Security. Our interview with him is featured below.

Angola 3 News:   How do the issues examined by your earlier film In Security relate to your new film, Hard Time, about Robert King, the Angola 3, and the use of solitary confinement in US prisons? How did In Security lead you to Robert King and the eventual making of Hard Time?

Ron Harpelle:   I stumbled onto Robert King while working on In Security, a film about barbed wire. I’m a historian who happens to make documentary films and what really interests me is how things we see as a part of everyday life have evolved and shaped the society we live in. My film about barbed wire shows how a simple 19th century innovation in agriculture became a means of restraining the movements of people and a universal symbol of oppression.

One Year Later: Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 is still not convicted or released

By: Angola 3 News Thursday February 27, 2014 10:57 am

One year ago today, supporters of Albert Woodfox were elated when Judge Brady’s ruling on Albert’s criminal case was announced.  It was a THIRD overturning of his conviction!

How is it possible that an innocent man, who now stands unconvicted in the eyes of the law, remains locked in a solitary cage while he waits for the State’s endless appeal efforts to play out?

How can it be possible that an innocent man, who now stands unconvicted in the eyes of the law, remains locked in a solitary cage while he waits for the State’s endless appeal efforts to play out?  How many more appeals, how many courts will it take for the State to finally recognize that they’ve done enough to this man?

There are oceans of press – firsthand accounts, testimony, scientific reports, documentaries, videos, songs – all establishing the senseless torture that is solitary confinement in the U.S. today.  We are heartened by the significant solitary reforms agreed to by NY state this week and the Colorado guard who just publicly committed to eliminating solitary in Colorado. Yesterday’s second set of hearings called by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on solitary confinement were better attended with more spirited commentary than the first hearing last year (A written statement jointly submitted to yesterday’s hearing by Robert King and Albert Woodfox is reprinted below).  We see a major shift occurring in the perception and use of solitary in this country. You can watch video footage of the hearings at CSPAN.

Across the country in California a prisoner who has spent more than 42 years in solitary, Hugo Pinell, was recently moved to another facility where he has greater access to visits and a promise of eventual transfer out of solitary. On the East Coast, the long time struggle to move Pennsylvania prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz out of solitary succeeded just last week.  State by state, correctional departments are reviewing this punishment modality that has raised such an outcry and are making changes.  We can only pray that the State of Louisiana will join the rest of the country in recognizing that solitary confinement should be abolished, and begin by opening the gates for Albert.

Robert King Tours US & Canada to Speak Out for Albert Woodfox and Against Solitary Confinement

As announced in our last newsletter, the Angola 3′s Robert King has been traveling in the US, speaking in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in Canada alongside screenings of the film Hard Time. Featured below is a compilation of media coverage.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

BBC News: Scientists call solitary confinement ‘damaging and unnecessary’  II  Japan Times / AFP: In prisons, solitary takes toll on minds  II  VIDEO: Science Magazine Live Chat w/ Robert King; Is Solitary Confinement Torture?  II  CNN: 29 Years in a Box

Hard Time Screenings in Montreal and Toronto, Canada

Tout Le Monde En Parle  II  Interview by Canadian Prison Radio Show  II  Morning News Montreal Televison Interview  II  La Presse: En croisade contre le milieu carcéral américain  II  Montreal Gazette Interview  II  Le Devoir: 29 ans d’isolement en prison

Angola Three: 42 Years of Solitary, 42 Years of Cruel and Unusual Punishment  
–A statement submitted for the February 25 Congressional hearing on the use of solitary confinement in US prisons

Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz:

My name is Robert Hillary King.  I spent 29 years in solitary before I was freed in 2001 after proving my innocence.  Since then I have worked tirelessly speaking and traveling around the world  to raise awareness about prison conditions in the US, and to bring attention to the remaining member of the Angola 3-Albert Woodfox-who is still behind solitary bars in Louisiana after nearly 42 years  actively fighting to prove his innocence in federal court.

Albert Woodfox’s murder conviction was overturned for a 3rd time  in February of last year, and for a third time, the State of Louisiana appealed.  As Woodfox, now 67, prepares to enter his 42nd year in solitary confinement, he continues to maintain his innocence.

The third member of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace, was released  last October from 41 years of solitary confinement after his conviction was overturned,  but died 3 days later of advanced liver cancer at the age of 72.  A group of U.S. Congressmen saw fit to mark his passing by entering a tribute to Wallace into the Congressional record, describing him as a “champion for justice and human rights.”

Many people ask me to describe my nearly 3 decades in solitary. Here is an excerpt from my autobiography where I attempted to put these experiences into words:

Angola 3: Legal Update, Upcoming Events with Robert King, and Feb. 15 Vigil

By: Angola 3 News Tuesday February 4, 2014 9:34 pm

 

As we begin this month, we’ve learned the civil case jointly filed by Robert King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox has been frozen as the State once again appeals a federal decision not in their favor, and we all still anxiously word as to whether Albert’s conviction will be vacated once and for all.  On February 19th, Albert turns 67, and the 26th will mark one year since his conviction was overturned for a third time, but somehow, despite decades of struggle and mountains of evidence pointing to innocence, he still shivers in a solitary cell.

Rather than settling in and slowing down to wait out the new delays, we must instead follow Robert and Albert’s examples and use this down time to stand up!

After nearly a year of protests that ultimately brought him back into court on this issue he first took on in the 1970s, Albert succeeded on Friday in putting a stop to the invasive, dehumanizing routine strip searches he’s been forced to endure as often as 6 times a day since last Spring.  Meanwhile Robert has never been busier, touring around the world, gathering support for Albert and spreading the word far and wide about the many unjust consequences of a broken criminal justice system.

Judge Brady commented when reaching his decision to stop strip searching Albert day and night, that sometimes honoring fundamental Constitutional rights better serves the public interest than even well meaning security policies put in place to fight threats where none are likely to exist.  As supporters everywhere prepare to join together in quiet solidarity with Albert on February 15th to contemplate freedom for those wrongfully convicted and shut away in isolation, perhaps we should all take some time to reflect what it really means to “better serve the public interest”–and then, like the A3, waste no time transforming those reflections into action.

Fundamental Constitutional Rights: Albert Woodfox’s Routine Strip Searches Have Been Halted by the Court

On the night of January 31, Judge Brady granted Albert’s plea for a preliminary injunction-putting an end, at least for now, to the invasive, dehumanizing strip and cavity searches that Albert has been subjected to every time he leaves or enters his solitary cell since May of last year.

As you may remember, it was a lawsuit that Albert himself filed and won in 1978 which put an end to the demeaning practice if inmates were moving within the institution while restrained and under observation, unless specifically suspected of carrying contraband.  Rather than petition the state courts to uphold this decree, Albert’s legal team sought relief by entering their complaint as another particularized example of the cruel and unusual treatment that has characterized his nearly 42 years in solitary.

A prolonged legal battle ensued over whether a federal judge has jurisdiction to enforce a state issued consent decree – a line of reasoning that Brady did not find persuasive:  “The Defendants have asserted a whole host of arguments, most of them completely lacking in merit, contending that this Court lacks supplemental jurisdiction to enforce the state court issued consent decree.”

In his ruling Friday, however, Judge Brady sidestepped the jurisdiction issue altogether by finding that routine searches were not shown to be “necessary” or “justified” for security as is required constitutionally of such policies, and therefore “Woodfox’s human dignity [as] protected by his Fourth Amendment rights” outweighs the “legitimate penological interest” in this circumstance.

“Considering the facts presented, the Court finds that conducting visual body cavity searches of Woodfox based solely on his entering or leaving a segregated area is unnecessary given his age, housing in complete isolation under constant supervision, and clean disciplinary record. Furthermore, the Court finds that the response to fighting contraband is unnecessary given the infrequent reported incidents of contraband and the Defendants’ own expert’s conclusion that the incidents of contraband are miniscule.”

Judge Brady’s ruling provides a rare and striking statement of the gravitas that should be given to Constitutional protections, even while in prison, and especially while in a prison environment as restrictive as solitary: “While embarrassment or inconvenience standing alone may not rise to the level of irreparable harm, continued deprivations of one’s constitutional rights unquestionably does.”

He continues: “though the public interest is served by preventing the flow of contraband in our prison institutions, there is little to no risk that Woodfox would become a possessor or purveyor of contraband.” And therefore “the public interest would be better served by the preservation and protection of a person’s fundamental Fourth Amendment rights.”

The Court has given both parties 7 days to craft a new plan that both satisfies the need for searches in instances where contraband can more realistically be introduced (when returning from contact visits, trips outside the prison, or when there is “specific and particular showing of reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing), and passes Constitutional muster.

Although the State has no immediate legal avenues for appeal of this decision, which in theory bans such routine searches until the civil suit is settled, we do expect them to try their hardest to reverse it through every creative means available.  We will update everyone once the specifics have been worked out and at least some instances of this latest pernicious affront to his dignity have ended.

Judge Brady Grants Stay in Civil Case Pending State’s 5th Circuit Appeal

In less exciting news, Judge Brady has granted the State’s request to stay progress in the civil case until the 5th Circuit decides whether or not to uphold his ruling denying the officials at David Wade and Hunt Correctional Centers qualified immunity from prosecution for their role in continuing to subject Albert and Herman to extended solitary without meaningful review after being transferred from Angola to their prisons.

Last fall the Hunt and Wade defendants were officially added to the case, but they then quickly claimed immunity.  Judge Brady denied their claim, but they’ve appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit.  Albert’s team had hoped to proceed with discovery and trial prep while the 5th deliberates, but Judge Brady, while “sympathetic” to keeping the June 2014 trial date on track, ruled that the litigation must wait until the 5th makes their determination.

So here’s hoping for a swift, just decision from the 5th on this and Albert’s habeas!

Robert King Touring the US and Canada

(Below is a listing of upcoming events with Robert King. Click on the individual event’s date for more info.)

Feb. 11:  The California State Legislative Hearings on Solitary Confinement (Sacramento, CA)

Feb. 14:  The  American Association for the Advanced Sciences Annual Meeting (Chicago, IL) speaking on the panel “Solitary Confinement: Legal, Clinical, and Neurobiological Perspectives”

Feb. 16:  The Toronto Black Film Festival (Toronto, Canada), speaking at the screening of “Hard Time.”

Feb. 21:  Fade to Back (Montreal, Canada), speaking at the screening of “Hard Time.”

March 10:  The Clemson Institute for Ethics Presidential Colloquium at Clemson University (Clemson, SC) speaking on “Vulnerability and Responsibility.” When available, more information about this event will be posted at www.angola3news.com.

March 29:  Robert King at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT, “One Nation-Under Surveillance: A One-Day Conference about Building Networks of Solidarity in Defiance of NSA Spying & the Erosion of Democratic Rights.”

If the SHU Fits: February 15 National Prayer / Meditation Vigil, 5pm – Wherever You Are

Rev. Dr. Patricia Teel Bates, recently interviewed by Angola 3 News, is hosting a meditation/prayer vigil on February 15 at 5 pm, at 5221 hwy 79 in Homer, Louisiana for Albert Woodfox and the many other citizens affected by the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ excessive and inhumane use of solitary confinement. Rev. Bates extends the call for others in the US and around the world to join the spirit of the Homer vigil by taking a stance against the practice of solitary confinement where they live by having a meditation/prayer vigil in their own community, at 5pm on February 15.

Statement From Rev. Dr. Patricia Teel Bates

Louisiana leads the nation and the world in incarcerating its citizens per capita. Are we the worst of the worst? One of the State’s practices for “controlling” its so-called worst trouble makers is to confine them in solitary units. This practice of isolating offenders from other human beings has undergone study by other states including Mississippi, which has significantly reduced its use of solitary following the study. Other states such as New York are also questioning past practices relating to use of solitary.

As a member of the ecumenical faith community of Louisiana, I call on the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to examine its use of solitary units as other states have done.  Look at the record: How many suicides are committed or narrowly averted in solitary, compared to general populations of offenders?  Considering that the vast majority of offenders will reenter our neighborhoods and homes, how helpful is solitary/isolation in preparing them to become productive citizens and family members?

Look at the record of those in isolation for extended periods and consider the traumatic injury done to the offender and to society.  Louisiana has a program known as Victim-Offender Dialogue, which aids the victim in telling the offender the harm that has been done in order to promote healing for the victim and to help the offender make amends to the extent possible. How does the use of solitary contribute to the state’s VOD program?

If we believe in the sacred worth of every human being, no matter the wrongs committed, how can we justify treating any human being inhumanely, as solitary does? When we do, our own humanity is diminished. Our system of justice is flawed.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –MLK Jr.

Albert’s Birthday Reminder:
Send Love, but not CDs or Stamps

As Albert’s 67th birthday approaches, on February 19, we want to remind supporters that he is not allowed to receive stamps or cds.  Cards and messages are always the best gift, but if you want to send more, the best way is to give some funds to his www.jpay.com account (#00072148) so he can buy stamps, cds or other personal items from the prison store.

Through jpay, he can receive emails, although any photos sent will be black and white. If you send an email, jpay will ask if you want to pay extra for him to have money to respond via email. However, Albert is unfortunately not allowed to send email, so do not choose this option.

His mailing address is:

Albert Woodfox
#72148
David Wade Correctional Center, N1 A3
670 Bell Hill Rd.

 

A Moral Outrage: An interview with Rev. Dr. Patricia Bates

By: Angola 3 News Sunday January 12, 2014 1:14 pm

Albert Woodfox’s 41 Years in Solitary Confinement, Despite Three Overturned Convictions 

This past Fall, Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 made news headlines around the world when his conviction was overturned and he was dramatically released from prison after 41 years in solitary confinement. At the time of his release on October 1, 2013 he had been fighting terminal liver cancer for several months. Three days later, on Oct. 4, Herman was surrounded by loved ones as he passed on at a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana.

As reported by Democracy Now!, one of the final things that Herman said was, “I am free. I am free.” Twelve years previously in 2001, after 29 years in solitary confinement, Robert H. King was the first of the Angola 3 to be released. Today, Albert Woodfox remains the sole Angola 3 member still in prison. Currently housed in solitary confinement and forced to endure routine body cavity searches at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, LA, Albert’s conviction has now been overturned three times.

On Oct. 15, Amnesty International declared: “Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one.” Amnesty’s call to action quoted a message from Herman released during his final few weeks: “I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well … The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”

For several years, Amnesty International had already been calling for both Albert and Herman’s release from solitary confinement, culminating with the hand-delivery of a 67,000 signature petition at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, LA on April 17, 2012 (watch video). When Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time on February 26, 2013, Amnesty began an online campaign directed towards Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell, urging him to not appeal the overturned conviction. Not surprisingly, AG Caldwell appealed the overturned conviction. Somewhat unexpectedly, AG Caldwell also sent an email to each person that had signed onto Amnesty’s campaign audaciously claiming that both Albert and Herman “have never been in solitary confinement,” evoking responses from Amnesty International, Robert King. and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.

In their statement, Amnesty also cited “significant flaws in the legal processes that have kept both Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace behind bars. These flaws include inadequate legal counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, lack of physical evidence, potentially exculpatory evidence lost by the State, evidence that the key eyewitness testimony was paid for in bribes by the State, other eyewitnesses retracting their testimony, and now racial discrimination. To appeal this latest ruling would compound injustice and delay the legal process by years, as the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals would have to rule before justice could be served.”

Public pressure supporting Albert and Herman intensified on June 24 when we received the sad news about Herman being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. Amnesty responded by urging supporters to send personal letters to Herman, and by calling for his release from prison on humanitarian grounds.

On July 12, a letter citing the Angola 3 case was sent to the Department of Justice by Congressmen John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott,  and Cedric Richmond, calling for an investigation of the Louisiana prison system. That same day, just hours after the letter’s release, LA’s Hunt prison reduced Herman Wallace’s classification from maximum to medium security and transferred him out of solitary confinement into the more humane conditions of a 10-bunk dorm inside the prison hospital, where he had access to a day room, and did not have to wear leg irons. Because of the transfer, Herman’s quality of life was improved during his last few months.

On Oct. 7, just three days after Herman died, The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, called for Albert Woodfox’s immediate release from solitary, declaring that “four decades in solitary confinement can only be described as torture.” A week later, on Oct. 15, Amnesty International escalated their campaign supporting Albert by now calling for his immediate release from prison altogether. On Oct. 21, the petition first started by Amnesty in February, 2013 was hand-delivered with over 50,000 signatures urging the Attorney General to drop the appeal of Albert’s overturned conviction. This petition remains active today for those who have not yet joined Amnesty’s call to action.

At an unrelated hearing on Nov. 13, Albert testified before the same US District Judge James Brady, who has twice overturned Albert’s conviction. As Lauren McGaughy reported for the Times-Picayune, this hearing was for Albert “to argue against what he says are daily strip and cavity searches he undergoes at the hands of prison guards. Woodfox and his legal team say the searches are in violation of a 1978 consent decree issued by then-U.S. District Court Judge Daniel W. LeBlanc that ruled these searches violated the rights of inmates and must be curtailed and, in many cases, ceased.”

An editorial written for the Times-Picayune by Jasmine Heiss of Amnesty International, remarked that “in a strange twist of irony, it was Mr. Woodfox’s previous lawsuit against the state that set this precedent.” Heiss wrote further that the 1978 precedent resulting from Albert’s lawsuit, “which lasted more than 30 years, came to an abrupt end when Judge LeBlanc died in March, and the strip and cavity searches quickly resumed both for Mr. Woodfox and others housed on his tier at David Wade Correctional Center. Mr. Woodfox endures strip searches as often as six times a day. He and his attorneys tried to resolve this without litigation for months to no avail.  Now they have turned to the court to step in.” Judge Brady’s ruling on this matter is still pending, while Albert remains in solitary and the routine strip searches continue.

It was against this backdrop that Amnesty once again called for Albert’s release when on January 7, oral arguments were held before the 5th Circuit Court regarding Albert’s third overturned conviction. At the press conference held outside the court building, speaking on behalf of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) was Rev. Dr. Patricia Teel Bates, a professor emeritus of English who taught at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for 32 years. Additionally, she is an ordained United Methodist minister serving in Homer, Louisiana through Seeds of Light, a nonprofit prison ministry she founded.

Standing outside the Fifth Circuit Court building, Rev. Dr. Bates declared:

Albert Woodfox’s Hour in the 5th: A reportback on the Jan. 7 oral arguments

By: Angola 3 News Wednesday January 8, 2014 2:18 pm
Gavel

An update on the Albert Woodfox trial.

MEDIA:  Lauren McGaughy, Times-Picayune  II  Daily Journal / Associated Press  II  UPI

VIEW / DOWNLOAD:  A3 info flyer for Jan. 7  II  Listen to audio from the oral arguments  II  Rev. Patricia Bates / NRCAT statement

For those who were unable to attend, Albert’s oral argument in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, defending Judge Brady’s decision to overturn his conviction for a third time, is now complete (click here to listen).  As expected, the proceedings were brief and rather mystifying.  It was clear that most of the judges had already spent a great deal of time reviewing and considering the case, and were just tying up a few arcane legal loose ends.

The State’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell watched carefully as his team urged the Court to reverse Judge Brady’s decision and reinstate Albert’s conviction based on their now overruled version of the statistical story, and a misplaced deference to the broad powers given by the AEDPA.  As you may recall, the AEDPA is a federal law used as the primary reason for reinstating Albert’s conviction in 2010.  It allows Federal Courts to defer judgment to previous Louisiana rulings against Albert if those rulings were not “unreasonable” or “contrary to clearly established federal law” – an insidiously squishy standard.

Albert’s supporters filled the courtroom completely and his legal team deftly rebutted the State’s claims and fielded a handful of questions from the 3-judge panel, which included Judges Jolly and Higginbotham (both Reagan appointees), and Judge Southwick (a George W. Bush appointee).  Judge Jolly was tied up in transit so participated only by phone and did not ask any questions of either side.

A decision is expected in coming months.  Although it took the 5th Circuit almost a year and a half to rule last time, we are more confident than ever that a swift decision will soon come in Albert’s favor, finally releasing this innocent man from the solitary cell he was unjustly relegated to now nearly 42 long years ago.

The arguments were covered by the AP and in the Times Picayune both before and after.  We will update you as soon as we have any additional information.

With hope for freedom.

On the eve of Albert Woodfox’s 5th Circuit oral arguments, Amnesty International demands his release

By: Angola 3 News Monday January 6, 2014 1:14 pm

Featured below are statements released today by both Amnesty USA and Amnesty International’s Media Centre, on the eve of Albert Woodfox’s oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans on Tuesday, January 7.

If you have not yet done so, please join Amnesty International and sign the petition calling on Albert’s immediate release.

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(PHOTO: Artwork displayed at Herman Wallace’s memorial service, with Herman calling for Albert’s release. See more photos of the memorial service by Ann Harkness.)

 

Amnesty International USA Calls on Louisiana to Release Albert Woodfox

Contact: Natalie Butz, nbutz@aiusa.org, 202-675-8761, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On the eve of a federal court of appeals hearing on the case of Albert Woodfox, Amnesty International USA is calling on authorities in Louisiana to immediately release Woodfox from prison where he has spent over four decades in solitary confinement.

“Louisiana cannot extend the abuses and injustice against Albert Woodfox another day,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director, Amnesty International USA. “Louisiana authorities are leading a campaign of vengeance instead of upholding justice. Keeping Woodfox in solitary confinement for over four decades is a dark stain on human rights in the United States and globally. Louisiana must withdraw its legal appeal and allow the federal court ruling to stand. Should this not occur, the Court of Appeal should rule in the interests of justice and pave the way for Albert Woodfox’s release.”

On January 7, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal court that oversees appeals in Louisiana and other states) will rule whether to uphold a federal district judge’s ruling issued last February that overturned Woodfox’s conviction. The state of Louisiana has appealed asking for the federal court to reinstate the sentence.

“The state of Louisiana’s action is not in the interests of justice,” said Tessa Murphy, USA campaigner at Amnesty International. “Its insistence on keeping Albert Woodfox behind bars after decades in solitary confinement amounts to a campaign of vengeance, paid with taxpayers’ money. The conviction has been overturned three times in what is a deeply flawed case, yet Louisiana has opposed every remedy ordered by the courts.”

Albert Woodfox was placed in solitary confinement over 41 years ago in Louisiana State Penitentiary, known to many as “Angola.” During this time, he has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful social interaction and rehabilitation programs.

Prison records show that Woodfox has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for decades and that he doesn’t pose a threat to himself or others.

He and Herman Wallace were both convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment, and was eventually pardoned, for his testimony. The case against them was based on flawed evidence and riddled with procedural errors that have been extensively documented over the years.

Both men robustly denied any involvement in the crime. They believe they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

Herman Wallace was released in October 2013 just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge overturned his conviction on the basis of the systematic exclusion of women from the grand jury during his 1974 trial.

“A remedy to the injustice inflicted on Albert Woodfox by the state is long overdue,” said Murphy. “Herman Wallace gained his freedom only to die within days. Justice must not again be so cruelly delayed.”

After the death of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox’s co-defendant in the “Angola 3″ case, Amnesty International launched a campaign calling on the state of Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox from prison by means of withdrawing its appeal against the U.S. District Court’s ruling.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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USA: End four-decade campaign of vengeance and release Albert Woodfox
(Released by the Amnesty International Media Centre on January 6, 2014)