Congress of the United States
House of RepresentativesOctober 10, 2013Dear Victory,
We extend our deepest condolences to you and your family on the passing of your brave brother.
Mr. Wallace’s courage and perseverance in fighting the inhumane treatment that he and his Angola 3 inmates were subjected to was an inspiration.
Attached to this letter is a copy of a tribute to Mr. Wallace that the three of us have included in the Congressional Record, which is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. This tribute will be a permanent entry in the Congressional Record, We hope that you will accept this as a small token of our respect and appreciation for his long years of bringing attention to the plight of prisoners held in unjust conditions.
John Conyers Jr.
Member of Congress
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
Member of Congress
Cedric L. Richmond
Member of Congress
The full text of the tribute to Herman Wallace follows:
United States of America; Congressional Record
PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 113th CONGRESS, FIRST SESSION
Vol. 159; WASHINGTON, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2013; No. 136; House of Representatives
SPEECH OF HON. JOHN CONYERS, JR. OF MICHIGAN IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, we rise to commemorate and celebrate the life and contributions of Herman Wallace, one of the bravest champions for justice and human rights whom we have ever met. Nìcknamed “The Muhammad Ali of Justice,” Mr. Wallace was a member of Louisiana’s “Angola 3” who spent 4l years in solitary confinement. Mr. Richmond and I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Wallace at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, justifiably called “the Alcatraz of the South” several years ago. I was impressed by his courage, determination, and dignity. We received word that Mr. Wallace passed away earlier this morning, only three days after he was freed pursuant to a federal judge’s ruling that he had not received a fair trìai in 1974.
Mr. Wallace began his struggle for justice back in the 1970s, when he, along with Robert King and Albert Woodfox, organized a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at the Angola prison. He worked to desegregate the prison, to end systematic rape and violence, and for better living conditions for the inmates.
Mr. Albert Woodfox, and Robert King spent decades in solitary confinement–confined in cells no bigger than a parking space for 23 hours a day–for murders they say they did not commit. No physical evidence links them to these crimes. Potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost, and the testimony of the main eyewitness has been discredited.
Mr. Wallace showed relentless courage and perseverance in fighting the injustice and inhumane treatment that he and his fellow Angola 3 inmates were subjected to. Even from the confines of solitary confinement, he filed lawsuit after lawsuit in an effort to bring attention to the conditions under which he and the others were being held.
The courts finally heard him this week, and some measure of justice was granted with his release. Mr. Wallace’s conviction has now been overturned. Mr. King’s conviction has been overturned. State and federal judges have overturned Mr. Woodfox’s conviction three times, yet Mr. Woodfox remains in prison–in solitary confinement–because of the State’s appeals.
On behalf of all who believe in fundamental fairness and justice, we commend Mr. Wallace’s courage and determination to keep fighting through 41 long years of solitary confinement. He is an inspiration to all of us.
Mr. Wallace had recently been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. With his release from prison, it was hoped that he would be able to receive the medical care that his advanced liver cancer required. Prior to his passing, Mr. Wallace’s legal team said, however, that his greatest hope was that his case would help ensure that others, especially his fellow Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox, would not continue to suffer the cruel and unusual confinement that he had suffered. Because of Mr. Wallace’s work, those of us in Congress who have called for his freedom will dedicate our future efforts to ensuring that no one anywhere in the United States is subjected to the unjust and inhumane treatment that he has endured.
Mr. Speaker, it was with great sadness that we learned of Mr. Wallace’s passing earlier this morning, nine days shy of his 72nd bìrthday. Mr. Wallace’s personal fight against injustice and the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement has ended for him. The larger fight against that injustice must go on, however, and his legacy will endure through a civil lawsuit that he filed jointly with his fellow Angola 3 members, Albert Woodfox and Robert King. That lawsuit seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment.
Mr. Speaker, we ask my colleagues to join me in honoring Mr. Wallace for his many-decades-long fight for the humane treatment of prisoners. We, and all of us, owe Mr. Wallace a debt of gratitude.
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Opening the Box: Sarah Shourd on Herman Wallace, California Hunger Strikers and the Horror of Solitary Confinement
(View new photo of Herman Wallace without leg irons, using an exercise bike, following his recent transfer from solitary confinement. Herman wanted to show supporters he is fighting to survive.)
Opening the Box: Sarah Shourd on Herman Wallace, California Hunger Strikers and the Horror of Solitary Confinement
By Angola 3 News
Last month, we were devastated to learn that the Angola 3’s Herman Wallace had been diagnosed with liver cancer, and that he was continuing to be held in isolation in a locked room at Hunt Correctional Center’s prison infirmary. Reflecting on his confinement while battling cancer, Herman said: “My own body has now become a tool of torture against me.”
On July 10, Amnesty International launched a campaign directed at Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, calling for Herman’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds (take action here). “After decades of cruel conditions and a conviction that continues to be challenged by the courts, he should be released immediately to his family so that he can be cared for humanely during his last months,” said Amnesty USA campaigner Tessa Murphy.
In recent years, Amnesty has initiated other campaigns challenging the over 41 years spent in solitary confinement by Herman and Albert Woodfox, also of the Angola 3, including the April 17, 2012 delivery of a 67,000 signature petition to LA Governor Jindal demanding Albert and Herman’s immediate release from solitary. Earlier this year, Amnesty called on Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell to not appeal the US District Court’s overturning of Albert’s conviction. More recently, accompanying their call for Herman’s release, Amnesty also expressed concern about “the worsening conditions of confinement” for Albert at David Wade Correctional Center, where he remains in solitary confinement. “For approximately two months, Woodfox has been subjected to additional punitive measures – including strip searches each time he leaves or enters his cell, being escorted in ankle and wrist restraints, restricted phone access, and non-contact visits through a perforated metal screen. Temperatures in the prison cells are reportedly extremely high, regularly reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit,” wrote Amnesty.
Public outrage intensified on Friday, July 12, when a letter citing the Angola 3 case, was sent to the Civil Rights Division of the US Justice Department by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the full U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, and Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.). The letter called for an investigation of the Louisiana Departments of Corrections for its “abysmal history of protecting the rights of its prisoners,” of which the “tragic story of the Angola 3 is a case in point.”
About Herman Wallace, the Congressmen wrote: “We have heard that he lost over 50 pounds within 6 months. Despite that dramatic weight loss, and at 72 years old, the prison did nothing to treat or diagnose him until he was sent to an emergency room on June 14. Given the late stage of his diagnosis, his treatment options are now limited. He is frail and ill, but is still being treated as if he is a threat to security, and we hear that he remains under lockdown conditions. This is unconscionable.”
Within hours of the letter’s release, Herman Wallace was transferred out of solitary confinement, when Louisiana’s Hunt prison reduced his classification from maximum to medium security. Herman is now staying at the prison hospital in a 10-bunk dorm, with access to a day room, and does not have to wear leg irons anymore. While celebrating the more human conditions, Herman and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 emphasize that the transfer from solitary is not enough. They are asking folks to continue supporting Amnesty International’s call for humane release. The Angola 3’s Robert H. King, himself released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary confinement, says, “The wind is at our back and with your continued help our objective will be realized – freedom is in sight.”
The case of the Angola 3 is at the center of a 42-day fundraising drive begun for a touring play, entitled Opening the Box, that will focus on the use of prolonged solitary confinement in US prisons. The choice of fundraising for 42 days is a tribute to the almost 42 years spent in solitary by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox. The writer and producer of Opening the Box, Sarah Shourd, is herself a survivor, having spent 410 days in solitary confinement while held as a political hostage by the Iranian Government from 2009-2010. After returning to the US, she successfully fought for the release of her now-husband Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fatal.
Conceived specifically “to add to the momentum of a burgeoning movement” against solitary, Shourd will be working with Solitary Watch to “collect real stories from a diverse spectrum of people living in solitary confinement today–immigrants, children, lifers and women. Then, I’m going to write a play about it and go on tour.”
“While watching this play, I want the audience to breathe along with a young man having a panic attack after being denied a visit with his mother, to crawl inside the skin of an immigrant detainee terrified of being deported and to travel with a lifer on a magic carpet of memory–only to be pulled back into the stark, implacable reality of the hole. By hearing these stories, my hope is that the audience will be able to relate to the men and women enduring this torture in our prisons, to their pain but also to their resistance to the dehumanizing forces around them, their incredible resilience…and their refusal to be institutionalized,” explains Shourd.
In this interview, which Shourd dedicates to Herman Wallace, we take a closer look at her project, Opening the Box, as well as the ongoing prisoner hunger strike in California, the Angola 3 case, and the politics of prisons in the US. Currently based in Oakland, California, Shourd is an author and Contributing Editor at Solitary Watch. Before being captured by the Iranian government, Shourd was living in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria, working as a journalist and teaching for the Iraqi Student Project. She’s written for The New York Times, CNN, Newsweek’s Daily Beast and has a blog on Huffington Post. Her memoir (co-authored by Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal) will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2014. To learn more visit sarahshourd.com and/or follow her on Twiiter @SShourd.
Angola 3 News: Why did you choose to spotlight the case of the Angola 3 with 42 days of fundraising?
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Reps. Richmond, Conyers, Nadler, and Scott ask DOJ to investigage Louisiana Prisons; Cite Angola 3 case
Below is the full text of the letter to the US Department of Justice and the accompanying press release issued today (view a PDF of the original letter).
For Immediate Release
Date: Friday, July 12, 2013 Contact: Andrew Schreiber (Conyers) – 202-225-6906
John Doty (Nadler) – 202-225-5635 David Dailey (Scott) – 202-225-8351
Monique Waters (Richmond) – 202-225-6636
Reps. Richmond, Conyers, Nadler, and Scott Lead Letter Calling for Investigation into Several Louisiana Prison Facilities
(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the full U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, and Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez calling for investigations into the alarming conditions in several Louisiana state prison facilities. Specifically, the Members expressed deep concern that the Louisiana Department of Corrections has, “engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the United States Constitution and federal law in its use of such confinement and detention practices.” In the letter the Representatives urge the Attorney General to begin an investigation into the use of solitary confinement, and other troubling detention practices, in numerous Louisiana prison facilities, especially in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana.July 12, 2013
Honorable Thomas E. Perez
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Assistant Attorney General Perez:
Under the authority granted to the Attorney General pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Prisoners Act (“CRIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997, we urge you to begin an in depth investigation into the egregious and extensive use of solitary confinement and other troubling detention practices in various Louisiana prison facilities, especially the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana (“Angola”). We have reason to believe that the Louisiana Department of Corrections (“Louisiana DOC”) has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the United States Constitution and federal law in its use of such confinement and detention practices. We believe that an investigation of conditions at Angola and other facilities under the control of the Louisiana DOC could yield evidence of knowing violations of the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, the 8th Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, as well as numerous additional violations of prisoners’ statutory and constitutional rights.
The Louisiana DOC has an abysmal history of protecting the rights of its prisoners, and the tragic story of the Angola 3 is a case in point. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were charged with murder and convicted with evidence that has been called into question by numerous courts and stakeholders, including the victim’s wife. Another inmate, Robert King, was also subjected to decades of isolation after a wrongful conviction. His conviction was overturned and he was released in 2002. Although held in isolation for being a purported threat to prison security, since his release he has toured the world speaking about his ordeal in isolation, and he was recently awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Cambridge University in England.
Since their convictions (which are currently under review in federal court), Woodfox and Wallace have endured over four decades of isolation. This is an unprecedented period of time by any standard, and quite possibly the longest any person has spent in solitary confinement worldwide. Within the last five years, Woodfox and Wallace have been transferred from Angola to other facilities in the Louisiana prison system, including the David Wade Correctional Center (“Wade”) and the Evalyn Hunt Correctional Center (“Hunt”), where we understand the very same complained-of constitutional and statutory violations have been perpetuated. We understand that upon their transfers, brand new Closed Cell Restricted (“CCR”) tiers were created at these facilities, and additional inmates are now also confined on these tiers. We have reason to believe that, as at Angola, many of the inmates housed in the CCR tiers of Hunt and Wade suffer from mental health and other serious illnesses. Woodfox and Wallace continue to be held apart from the general prison population, to the detriment of their mental and physical health.
Indeed, after years of what we have been informed was sub-standard medical care, Herman Wallace was diagnosed just weeks ago with liver cancer. We have heard that he lost over 50 pounds within 6 months. Despite that dramatic weight loss, and at 72 years old, the prison did nothing to treat or diagnose him until he was sent to an emergency room on June 14. Given the late stage of his diagnosis, his treatment options are now limited. He is frail and ill, but is still being treated as if he is a threat to security, and we hear that he remains under lockdown conditions. This is unconscionable.
We also have reason to believe that at the Wade facility, 68-year-old Woodfox, and all CCR inmates there, are being subjected to daily strip searches whenever they enter or exit their cells, even when there is no basis or reasonable suspicion that they might be in possession of contraband. We have been told that even when Woodfox is removed from his cell to go to the exercise yard, where he is being kept under surveillance of guards and apart from any other inmates or prison visitors, he is strip searched when he leaves his cell and upon return.
Moreover, we have reason to believe that the Louisiana DOC continues to knowingly engage in behavior that violates the due process rights of inmates held in solitary confinement. The requirements of the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause call for periodic, meaningful hearings on the question of whether a prisoner should be held for continued closed cell restriction. Yet, we are told that in many Louisiana DOC facilities, officials orchestrate sham 90-day reviews that take no consideration of a prisoner’s conduct while he was in solitary or the prisoner’s state of mind, and do not attempt to determine, by any defined standard, whether the prisoner should be released to a less restrictive cellblock or dormitory. We have been informed that there may be more than 100 inmates who have been subjected to these fictitious reviews.
In addition to the above-detailed due process violations, this use of prolonged isolation over a period of 40 years at Angola and other Louisiana DOC facilities is indicative of cruel and unusual punishment, and its blatant and persistent use suggests that this practice is pervasive and not confined to the Angola 3. We have reason to believe that there are other inmates who have received less attention from the press who have also been subject to such onerous, punitive periods of isolation.
We do not allege these apparently unconstitutional patterns and practices lightly. Over the past 6 years we have engaged officials, inmates and stakeholders in conversations about conditions at the prison, and most of what we have heard is alarming. Recently, lawyers representing inmates on Angola’s death row filed suit in federal court alleging that the conditions of confinement there are inhumane because the tiers are not air-conditioned, and the heat index goes as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit in summer months. On July 2, 2013, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Brian Jackson in the Middle District of Louisiana issued an order in that case directing that temperature data be collected for 21 straight days in advance of an evidentiary hearing set for August 5. Just as with the death row at Angola, the CCR tiers at Angola, Wade and Hunt have no air-conditioning in the scorching Louisiana summer heat.
Finally, we have reason to believe that Louisiana DOC employees have colluded with persons from the Office of the Louisiana Attorney General to fabricate violations of prison rules to unjustifiably punish inmates. Significant issues also exist related to prisoners’ personal safety, unhealthy environmental conditions, inhumane sanitary conditions and excessive use of force by prison staff. We have been told that e-mails between the Louisiana Attorney General’s office and Louisiana DOC employees document that, in the Fall of 2008, staff of the Attorney General’s office and Angola prison “joined forces,” as a February 10, 2010 Order of the federal District Court describes it, to search a year’s-worth of Wallace and Woodfox’s recorded phone calls for “‘sufficient justification for stiff disciplinary action.’” Wilkerson v. Stalder, No. 00-304 (M.D.La.) (Doc. No. 374 at 9, 10). This search coincided with proceedings related to Woodfox’s motion for bail after he was granted habeas relief by the federal District Court which was later overturned by a split Fifth Circuit panel. We are told that as a result of their efforts to find pretextual disciplinary violations—which involved staff of the Attorney General’s office requesting and listening to privileged attorney-client calls—Wallace and Woodfox were written up for phone call violations; sentenced to a removal from the dormitory setting where they had peacefully resided for eight months; and placed back into isolation, where they remain today.
In this day and age, the federal government simply cannot abide unconstitutional behavior of this magnitude from those who run corrections facilities. It simply cannot be that in this country, a state can subject men to inhumane solitary confinement conditions, for decades on end, with no standards for the review procedures in place to ensure that such profoundly harsh confinement is justified, without intervention by our federal government. As the Supreme Court found in Brown v. Plata, “prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons.”
In this spirit, we ask that the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section use the Department’s statutory CRIPA authority to investigate and ultimately take all appropriate action to ensure that Louisiana’s prison system fully complies with the mandates of the Constitution and all applicable statutes. The Division’s work in the Orleans Parish Prison and St. Tammany Parish Jail cases have sent a strong signal that the Department is serious about its obligation to protect the rights of institutionalized persons in the State of Louisiana. The situation at Angola, especially the treatment of the Angola 3, is ripe for investigation and immediate action. We look forward to your earliest response.Sincerely,Cedric L. Richmond, Member of Congress
John Conyers Jr., Member of Congress
Jerrold Nadler, Member of Congress
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Member of Congress
Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice
Jocelyn Samuel, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice
Peter J. Kadzik, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Justice
Jonathan M. Smith, Chief, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, Department of Justice
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte, Chairman, House Committee on the Judiciary