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Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party

–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

By Angola 3 News

This past July, students from Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project visited the infamous Louisiana State Prison known as Angola. While there, students landed an impromptu interview with Warden Burl Cain, where they asked him about an inmate at Angola named Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore, who has now been in solitary confinement for 28 consecutive years. This important interview was cited afterwards by Time Magazine in an article examining the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners’ health.

Zulu Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. In reply to the students’ question about Whitmore, Cain cited his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement.
Burl Cain’s characterization of the BPP as “advocating violence and racism” is reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert Woodfox’s second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox’s affiliation with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary confinement. Asked what gave him “such concern” about Woodfox, Cain stated: “He wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.” Cain then stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep him in solitary, because “I still know he has a propensity for violence…he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

The remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. “Until history is accurately told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a result of it,” argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil,” turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic terrorism.

In “Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained,” Prof. Bell concludes that the US government’s multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, was indeed the very definition of terrorism. Bell writes that “the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded justice.” As a result, “the FBI’s full-scale assault on the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong.”

Several pages of Bell’s new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind,” used the Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of solitary confinement in US prisons.

We interviewed Bell previously, following the release of her 2012 law journal article. Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization’s legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya BukhariCOINTELPRO and the Omaha Two, The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art, Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas, “We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,” Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party’s Living Legacy.

Angola 3 News: Let’s begin by examining the word ‘terrorist.’ How is this defined? Read the rest of this entry →

Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement

3:01 am in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan

Out of Control

Nancy Kurshan documents her lengthy battle against solitary confinement in prisons.

Author and longtime activist Nancy Kurshan’s new book, entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, has just been released by the Freedom Archives. Kurshan’s book documents the work of The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which she co-founded in 1985 as a response to the lockdown at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It quickly turned into a broader campaign against control unit prisons and human rights violations in US prisons that lasted fifteen years, until 2000.  The following excerpt from Out of Control details CEML’s origins:

I had been living in Chicago for about a year when I heard the news that two guards had been killed by two prisoners in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, 350 miles south of Chicago. Although it was an isolated incident with no associated riot conditions, the prison was immediately placed on lockdown status, and the authorities seized on the opportunity to violently repress the entire prison population. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, all of the 350 men imprisoned there were subjected to brutal, dehumanizing conditions. All work programs were shut down, as were educational activities and religious services.

During the initial stage of this lockdown, 60 guards equipped with riot gear, much of it shipped in from other prisons, systematically beat approximately 100 handcuffed and defenseless prisoners. Guards also subjected some prisoners to forced finger probes of the rectum. Random beatings and rectal probes continued through the two-year lockdown. Despite clear evidence of physical and psychological brutality at the hands of the guards, Congress and the courts refused to intervene to stop the lockdown…

… Although the terrible conditions at the prison were striking, what drew us to Marion in particular was the history of struggle of the prisoners and their allies on the outside. When the infamous Alcatraz was closed in 1962, Marion Federal Penitentiary was opened and became the new Alcatraz, the end of the line for the “worst of the worst.”

In 1972 there was a prisoner’s peaceful work stoppage at Marion led by Puerto Rican Nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda. In response to this peaceful work stoppage, the authorities placed a section of the prison under lockdown, thus creating the first “control unit,” essentially a prison within a prison, amplifying the use of isolation as a form of control, previously used only for a selected prisoner. That was 1972.

At this time, in 1985, after two years of lockdown, they converted the whole prison into a control unit. Importantly, because Marion in 1985 was “the end of the line,” the only “Level 6” federal prison, there were disproportionate numbers of political prisoners—those who were incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions. These included people such as Native American Leonard Peltier who had spent years there until recently, and now (in 1985) Black Panthers Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga, Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera, and white revolutionary Bill Dunne. These were people we knew or identified with, activists of the 1960s and 1970s incarcerated for their political activities. Marion, like its predecessor Alcatraz and its successor ADX Florence, was clearly a destination point for political prisoners.

Kurshan writes that during the 15 years of work, “CEML led and organized hundreds of educational programs and demonstrations in many parts of the country and tried to build a national movement against ‘end-of-the-line’ prisons. Along the way the Committee wrote thousands of pages of educational and agitational literature and pioneered new ways of analyzing and fighting against this national quagmire that morphed into the proliferation of the ‘prison industrial complex.’”

Out of Control’s online version features several dozen links to the literature CEML created, as well as further documents, pamphlets, audio and video segments. Asked to spotlight a few of her favorites, Kurshan recommended: The Myth That the Pelican Bay Control Unit Has Reduced Violence, a 1995 issue of the CEML’s newsletter Walkin’ Steel, the U.N. Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Bill Dunne’s 1988 34-page handwritten article about Marion, and an article by Kurshan herself, entitled Women and Imprisonment in the US: History and Current Reality.

In this interview, Nancy Kurshan discusses her new book and covers a variety of topics, including the growth of solitary confinement and its relation to mass incarceration, the connection between US militarism abroad and domestic prisons, concluding with the lessons that today’s human rights activists can learn from the history of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown.

Angola 3 News:         Your new book chronicles fifteen years of organizing against control unit prisons, from 1985-2000. Can you begin the interview by explaining exactly what a control unit prison is?

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Freedom for Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, After 40 Years in Solitary Confinement?

9:54 am in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Albert Woodfox: Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?
–Supporters of one of the Angola 3 tell The Root why he might be released this time.

(The first of two parts)
by Katti Gray (This article was originally on January 29, 2013, and is being reprinted here by Angola 3 News with permission from the author. Special thanks to Katti Gray, whose articles for The Root are archived here.)

After four decades of solitary confinement in the nation’s most populated maximum-security prison — and one of its most historically brutal — a member of the internationally known “Angola 3” has reasonable cause to expect that he will soon be released, his attorneys and supporters say. The request to set free Albert Woodfox, 65, is being heard by the same federal judge who in 2008 ordered that Woodfox be released, a ruling that Louisiana prosecutors successfully appealed and blocked.Woodfox and Herman Wallace, now 71, were placed in solitary confinement in 1972 — theirs is the longest-running solo detention of which human rights group Amnesty International is aware — after being convicted of killing a white guard at Angola prison, the slave plantation-turned-Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Both men have consistently said that they were falsely accused and that their conviction was the means by which prison officials punished the Angola 3 for their membership in the Black Panther Party. Also a member of that trio is Robert Hillary King, now 69, who was released in 2001 after plea-bargaining to a crime unrelated to the murder, a crime for which he was never officially charged, although prison officials insisted that he was involved.

As prison activists, the Angola 3 had challenged ongoing, unpunished rape of inmates — including a system of “sexual slavery” that prison officials eventually acknowledged — racial segregation and other adverse prison conditions. The three, who did not know one another before landing at the 18,000-acre prison farm — named for the town where it is located, roughly an hour’s drive from Baton Rouge — initially were convicted in the 1960s of assorted robbery charges that they do not contest.

Concerning Woodfox, his lawyers say that this time around, they believe they have unequivocally affirmed several points favoring their client:

* An all-white, all-male jury — seated in a jurisdiction where almost half the residents are black — was wholly disinclined to consider that the Angola 3, who are black men, were innocent of killing a white prison guard, 23-year-old Brent Miller.

* State prosecutors bribed the sole, alleged witness to the killing with a weekly pack of cigarettes and better living quarters in exchange for reversing his initial claim that none of the three was at the crime scene. Prosecutors and prison officials withheld details of that bribe and other essential information during the trial; have since contended that they lost evidence, including scrapings from the dead guard’s fingernails; and refused to release inmate fingerprints to compare with fingerprints left near Miller’s corpse that the Angola 3′s lawyers obtained.

* Subsequent court proceedings, including Woodfox’s 1993 retrial, were tainted by a pattern of excluding blacks from juries and of judges exclusively choosing whites as foremen of grand juries that decide whom to indict for trial. For that 1993 retrial, a white grand jury foreman with a high school diploma was chosen over a black candidate who had a college degree.

Racism’s Pervasive Influence

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Feb. 2: Michigan Journal of Race and Law’s anti-solitary confinement symposium w/ Robert King, John Conyers, James Forman, Jr. and others

9:38 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Solitary Confinement at Alcatraz

Solitary Confinement at Alcatraz

 

On February 2, 2013, the Michigan Journal of Race and Law is hosting a symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, entitled “Inhumane and Ineffective: Solitary Confinement in Michigan and Beyond.” As described by the flyer posted below and the Journal’s website, the all-day event will be held on campus in Room 1225, South Hall. The keynote address will be given by James Forman, Jr.Please help us spread the word about this important event!

 

View the flyer here:   http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2013/01/feb-2-michigan-journal-of-race-and-law.html

Announcing our 2013 Symposium!

Inhumane and Ineffective:
Solitary Confinement in Michigan and Beyond

February 2, 2013

Keynote Address by James Forman, Jr. Our 2013 Symposium page is now live.

For updates on MJR&L and our symposium follow us on Twitter @UmichRaceLaw
or Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichiganJournalRaceandLaw

Download our Symposium poster here!


In the fall of 1993, four third-year law students at the University of Michigan Law School resurrected the then-defunct minority scholarship reading group, calling themselves the Critical Race Theory Reading Group. The Reading Group gave its participants, individually and collectively, the opportunity to read many of the authors who inspired them and made meaningful their experiences in law school. The Reading Group also provided a forum—and even a home—in which to explore issues of racial inequality, issues that were pervasive in the minds and lives of the students, but strangely absent in the traditional law school environment.

By the following year, the Reading Group participants had come to recognize the monthly discussions of critical race scholarship as a necessary component of legal education. The students saw the need for a broader forum that would encourage open discussion of issues of race and law at the University of Michigan Law School and beyond. These students started by working with the publication center after-hours, putting in their own time and effort at first without official recognition. Students and staff at the University of Michigan came together to create the Michigan Journal of Race & Law, which officially debuted in the winter of 1996.

Since then, the Michigan Journal of Race & Law has been a platform for the exploration of issues relating to race, law, and Civil Rights. The Journal is recognized for publishing cutting edge scholarship on a wide range of Civil Rights issues from diverse perspectives. Race and law intersect in endless ways. This has allowed the Journal to cover a huge number of topics in-depth and with great effect, including topics such as critical race theory, law & economics, immigration, education, criminal law, and beyond. The Michigan Journal of Race & Law takes pride in the many perspectives it embraces, publishing the views of scholars, students, practitioners, and social scientists. Since the inaugural issue, the Journal has become nationally recognized as one of the leading Civil Rights Journals in the country. In 2010, it was ranked third by Washington and Lee University School of Law in the category of Minority, Race and Ethnic Issues Journals.

If you would like to learn more about the Michigan Journal of Race & Law, please feel free to contact us as directed on our Contact Page. We appreciate your interest, and encourage you to learn more by picking up a copy of our current publication.


Michigan Journal of Race & Law
University of Michigan Law School
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215

Telephone: (734) 763-4421
Fax: (734) 764-6043

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Wanda Sabir interviews law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell about the Angola 3 and the abuses of solitary confinement in the US

12:21 am in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Check out this new interview with Prof Bell about her new law journal article focusing on the Angola 3 and the broader human rights crisis in US prisons.

Read the earlier Angola 3 News interview with Prof Bell here.

Listen to Wanda Sabir’s new radio interview here .

Below is the full text from the original website, describing the show:

We are dedicating this broadcast to the women and men behind bars. Our first guest, Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell is Assistant Professor of Legal Analysis & Writing at Southern University Law Center in Louisiana. She speaks to us about the 40th Anniversary of Angola 3 inmates Albert Woodfox & Herman Wallace, stint in solitary confinement and the actions April 17, 2012 in Baton Rouge. She also gives us the context and results of Woodfox’s recent 3 day hearing and the momentum built to ensure his release this time.

The next hour we speak to Hamdiya Cooks, Assistant Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. She speaks about Georgia Horton, who is currently up for parole, and what it means to go to the board hearings. As former executive director of CCWP, Mrs. Cooks also updates us on the proposed conversion of Valley State prison, also in Central Valley, Chowchilla CA. Mrs. Beatrice Smith joins Mrs. Cooks to continue our conversation about Ms. Horton, long term incarceration and its impact on both the prisoner and her family. Mrs. Smith, a formally battered woman, left three young children when she was incarcerated. She talks about rebuilding or mending severed relationships. Both she and Mrs.Cooks talk about the CA Habeas Project.

Sabina Zuniga-Varela, “Medea,” speaks about her role in Luis Alfaro’s BRUJA at Magic Theatre, Ft. Mason Ctr., San Francisco through July 1, 2012. We close with the 2, 3, 4, part of an interview with Georgia Horton June 10, 2012. Because she is in a CA correctional facility she has to make multiple calls for us to complete the interview. I get almost to the end of the 4th. About 7 minutes is missing. Write   letters of support for her parole hearing July 11, 2012 to: Georgia Horton W33911, Central California Women’s Facility 512-20-3L, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508.

Senate Hearing Tues: Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial –An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial

–An interview with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

 

By Angola 3 News

 

A diverse grassroots movement confronting the widespread use of prolonged solitary confinement in US prisons appears to be gaining momentum. On the morning of Tuesday, June 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights is having an important public hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences,” presided over by Chairman Dick Durbin.

 

This Senate hearing comes on the heels of widespread prisoner hunger strikes that have made the use of solitary confinement a central issue. Last summer, a prisoner hunger strike at California’s infamous Pelican Bay State Prison sparked a state-wide strike that gained national attention. On May 31, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay, arguing that prolonged solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment.

 

A similar federal lawsuit that was jointly filed over a decade ago by Robert King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox, of the Angola 3, is expected to go to trial in early 2013. When King’s conviction was overturned in 2001, he was released after spending 29 years in continuous solitary. Wallace and Woodfox remain behind bars and have now spent over 40 years in solitary. The three have also jointly submitted a statement for Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

 

On April 17, 2012, exactly 40 years after first being placed in solitary, Amnesty International delivered a 67,000 signature petition to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office, demanding Woodfox and Wallace’s immediate release from solitary confinement. Robert King and Everette Thompson, Southeast Regional Director of Amnesty USA were joined by a delegation that included State Representative Patricia Haynes-Smith, Chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, Alfreda Bester-Tillman, Esq. from the Baton Rouge Chapter of the NAACP, Pastor Kathleen Bacon from the Slidell Chapter of the National Action Network,  and many others, but Governor Jindal refused to meet with them, and referred the issue to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. In response, Amnesty has launched a new online petition directed to Secretary James M. LeBlanc.

 

Another member of the delegation that joined Amnesty International on April 17 was Angela A. Allen-Bell, a law professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge. The newly released issue of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly features an article by Prof. Bell entitled “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Become Legally Blind.” A ten-page summary of her article’s key points has been submitted by Bell for Tuesday’s Senate hearing along with a link to the full article. On the eve of the hearing, we spoke with Bell about why she wrote this piece and what the case of the Angola 3 reveals about the broader human rights nightmare inside US prisons.

 

Angola 3 News: How did you first learn about the case of the Angola 3?

 

Angela A. Allen-Bell: Over ten years ago, I happened upon a newspaper article about the case. It caused me pause. I continued with my normal routine until the memory of that headline entered my mind in 2009. Work on an article about injustices in post-Katrina Louisiana made me recall that headline I had read years earlier. Once I finished that publication, I could not overcome the need to know the end of the Angola 3’s story so I began to research the case. To my complete surprise, the end had yet to arrive.

 

A3N: Why did you choose to focus on the Angola 3 case as “lens” to view the use of solitary confinement in US prisons today? What does their case tell us?

 

AB: It’s unfortunate, but there is no shortage of cases to choose from. I could have selected many other cases, but that was never a consideration. My article was born of a desire to understand the Angola 3 case, based on those lingering questions that remained after I saw the headline about the case years ago. Given this, I never entertained the thought of using any other case as a case study.

 

Now that the article is complete and the research is done, I am certain I made the right choice in using the Angola 3 case for a case study. I say this because there is nothing in their prison records that could hinder a reasonable mind from seeing the flaws in the current solitary confinement “process” (used for lack of a better word, but with no intention of legitimizing what is happening in American’s penal institutions today).

 

For example, there are some inmates in prolonged isolation who have recent disciplinary infractions or who have a history of repeated institutional violence or who have medical opinions supporting the housing assignment. In such a case, the average person would not give thought to a conversation about abolishing or modifying the solitary confinement system. In such a case, the average person would dismiss conversations about harm being done to the inmate as being deserved.

 

In contrast, the facts surrounding the Angola 3’s stay in solitary confinement compel action and challenge silence because there are no recent disciplinary infractions and no medical or psychiatric findings to justify or support the housing assignment. Prison officials have even said that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox are not physically dangerous to others and are not an escape risk. Because of this, the Angola 3 case makes for the perfect case study because there are no factual distractions. When you look at their case, you can see the issue without anything obstructing your view.

 

A3N: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox’s 40 years in solitary began after they organized a chapter of the Black Panther Party at Angola Prison. Shorty after acclaimed prison author George Jackson started a BPP chapter at San Quentin Prison in California, he was assassinated, and his closest known comrades were prosecuted as the San Quentin Six. The last of the Six behind bars is Hugo Pinell, now in solitary confinement for over 42 years—currently held at the notorious Pelican Bay supermax prison.

 

We know that Angola warden Burl Cain has justified Albert Woodfox’s continued placement in solitary by citing his practice and belief in “Black Pantherism.” What do you think it is about the Panthers and their legacy today that prison authorities find so threatening?

 

AB: The media very effectively taught the world that the Black Panthers were nothing more than a gun toting militia group. Schools have omitted meaningful lessons about the Black Panthers from their curriculum. The Government, through its COINTELPRO program, criminalized the Panthers and led a campaign to discredit them.

 

With all these competing forces, the average citizen is left to his or her own devices to investigate and reach a conclusion about the Panthers. I don’t think we are there yet as a society. And I especially don’t think most Louisiana, politically-appointed, prison administrators shape their viewpoints of those in their custody after engaging in a balanced study of issues concerning racial history and social change organizations.

 

Your question asks about “prison authorities.” I offer a more limited response because, in my view, the Louisiana prison experience, and certainly the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) prison structure, warrants a particularized response. This is said because the 13th Amendment, legalizing slavery in prison, means something very different in a former slave state than it does where slavery was not practiced. The 13th Amendment also takes on a different form on plantation land, which is what Angola is. In a former slave state, like Louisiana, free labor has always been a commodity in high demand. When there are opportunities to get free labor or to be compensated for housing human cargo, some act aggressively to capture the prey. In those cases, it’s the prey that is being hunted and not the politics that is being challenged.

 

In other cases, there is sheer ignorance about the fact that the Black Panthers wanted  much of what mainstream America wants. They wanted to see men be providers and leaders in their homes and communities and they wanted to see their communities be functional and not dysfunctional. They wanted to see children respect authority and aspire for academic excellence. The Panthers strongly believed in self-reliance and community empowerment as opposed to government dependence. The Panthers did so many positive things for the community, like escorting the elderly to the bank, protecting their neighborhoods, educating the ignorant and the lost, and feeding the hungry.

 

Many prison administrators, like the general public, do not know this history. What is etched in their minds is the image of the guns that that media shows in the same way the media showed the images of African Americans “looting” or “taking” (and not “finding” or “needing”) after Hurricane Katrina. With this limited understanding, one can see the basis for the perceived threat.

 

I will share one final perspective about the reaction of some prison officials to the Panthers. To some administrators, an African American man today is what the law named him yesterday: a piece of property. When such a person is confronted with a Panther, a non-pacifist type of African American, their innate and subconscious reaction is to do what is done to property that is misplaced. The inclination is to put it back in its proper place. Thus, many of the Panthers are being put in their places (solitary confinement) because what they represent as African American men is incomprehensible, intolerable and out of place. What is threatening about them is not the Panther affiliation necessarily, but the Panther mind and ideals. Some administrators are at their best without the fear of the consciousness that could be raised by such a person. As they see it, their regime would run more effectively with property because property doesn’t move or speak back.

 

To appreciate this point, you might consider a house when its inhabitants are away and the property is left all alone. Inactivity and calm prevails. When the inhabitants return, activity follows. Some prison administrators delight when the occupants of their home are away and only the property is left in their immediate view. These administrators falsely assume all activity is disruptive activity.  More importantly, these administrators dwell in a day gone by. Today, African Americans are no longer recognized as property. These administrators are actually guilty of creating the threat they say they fear.

 

A3N: With over 2.4 millions prisoners today, the US now has more total prisoners and a higher incarceration rate than any other country in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_incarceration_rate ). How does the use of prolonged solitary confinement fit into this human rights nightmare that is mass incarceration fueled by the criminalization of poverty? In this broader context, what role does it play?

 

AB: I alluded to the 13th Amendment in my earlier response. It is applicable here as well and it would be intellectually dishonest of me not to interject it into this discussion. A lodging facility is happier when you lodge for a prolonged period than they are when you lodge for a brief period. They are paid more for a longer stay than for a short stay. Such is the case with many institutions.

 

The 13th Amendment allows slavery or involuntary servitude when someone is incarcerated. If certain jurisdictions or corporations are paid for the amount of human cargo in their facility, then the longer the stay, the better. Inmates held in prolonged solitary confinement ensure maximum occupancy and they do not require the expenses related to compensating teachers or staff or expenditures for materials or supplies.

 

Once in solitary for a prolonged period, the average inmate will be robbed of the mental stamina to effectively challenge his stay. Even if the inmate could mount a challenge, it would be meaningless because, in most institutions, the review process one would employ to gain exodus from solitary confinement is constitutionally deficient. On this point, my article expresses: “A simulated process akin to a hearing, where formalities can be documented, but where no meaningful probing occurs, is unjust and unconstitutional. It amounts to nothing more than procedural automation in a legal assembly line where unfavorable reviews are mass-produced.”

 

In the end, the beds remain full and the payments continue coming. Before you know it, more prisons get built and more beds need to be filled. Going back to my earlier point about how, as a society, we are not investigating the things that are reported, this would be another such case. Some elected officials and some media outlets suggest we need prisons in order to be safe. We innocently accept that.

 

A3N: Let’s take a closer look at the title of your Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly article. How have “prison officials become judges?”

 

AB: A judge is charged with the task of imposing sentences, not a prison administrator. When a prison administrator places an inmate in prolonged solitary confinement (often after the inmate has not committed an infraction while in custody), that inmate has an increased risk of mental decline and death. Taking this at face value, one might contend that a sentence (possibly a death sentence) has been handed down.

 

My article notes: “When prison officials stop acting as administrators and effectively begin handing down sentences, they, for all practical purposes, become judges. The Separation of Powers Doctrine prohibits prison officials from acting with this authority.”

 

A3N: How do “judges become visually challenged?”

 

AB: Courts generally defer to prisons administrators and often limit their role to making sure that the inmate was afforded a process. In the case of prolonged isolation, courts do not review the substance of the process.

 

My article states: “When judges abstain from meaningful involvement in the periodic review process, they look, but fail to see the very thing they are uniquely positioned to see. They do not see the need for justice and interpretation of law–due process law.”

 

A3N: How does justice become “legally blind?” What do you mean by this?

 

AB: If a court does a “sniff test” and not a thorough review of the actual process afforded an inmate subject to prolonged isolation, the court’s view of the problem is challenged. What the court misses is the fact that the prison did not carry a burden of proof or the inmate was left with no way to mount a defense because the isolation robs the inmate of a way to show any reformation as the inmate is not allowed to work or attend school.

 

According to my article, “The judge, by his omission, renders justice legally blind as far as the inmate is concerned. The legally blind can innocently be a detriment to those around them.”

 

A3N: What legal processes to do you propose in your article for remedying the prolonged solitary confinement crisis in US prisons and making prison authorities more accountable?

 

AB: The article actually contains proposed legislation. It is my hope that legislators, courts and prison administrators all across the country will use it as written or in spirit to cause legislative and policy changes. I advocate:

 

  • An end to prolonged solitary confinement.

 

  • That inmates be given a case plan upon placement into solitary confinement.

 

  • That inmates be only placed in solitary when a specific, actual, and legitimate security or penological concern exists.

 

  • That inmates in prolonged solitary confinement have access to some programs

and services.

 

  • That a burden of proof be met during the periodic review process.

 

  • That, after one unfavorable review, a seven-member special review board be

empanelled.

 

  • That courts engage in a more substantive review.

 

A3N: Anything else to add for the interview?

 

AB: Yes, three final points.

 

If we are a Christian nation, shouldn’t we act like Christ? Christ was a defense attorney to victims of human rights violations, as well as to the poor and downtrodden. What is happening where solitary confinement is concerned is a “human wrong.” As a nation, we must give thought to this.

 

I was amazed to discover in my research the existence of standards governing how shelter animals must be housed and how research animals must be treated. The protections are greater than what is now in place for the HUMAN BEINGS that are subject to prolonged isolation. Where is the outcry?

 

In doing community outreach work on behalf of the Angola 3, people often offer prayers and express gratitude for the work that is being done in this regard. The prayers are valued. The expressions of support are appreciated, but they often leave me wondering what that individual is doing while other individuals are doing this work. I consider what their talent might be and wonder if it is the one I lack. I ponder if I could or would indulge myself in what it is that they do if I weren’t doing this work and ask if they would do this work if they didn’t feel safe that it was getting done by those of us who do it? Talent and commitment stacked side-by-side could circle the globe and bring social change with it. Talent unwedded to commitment creates an era of stagnation. If resistance is shackled away behind bars and stagnation is roaming free, we are left to discern who dwells in a cell and whose dwelling is, in fact, a cell.

 

–Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.