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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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
Yesterday Herman Wallace’s lawyer, Nick Trenticosta, was a guest on Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC TV show, where he explained the seriousness of Herman Wallace’s diagnosis with liver cancer: “He’s lost about 55 pounds in four months, and he is being treated completely negligently. I would say he’s being killed through intentional neglect.”–Watch the show here.
Given his critical diagnosis, his lawyers and organizations like Amnesty International are pushing for a compassionate release.Asked whether he thought there was any chance that Wallace would receive a compassionate release, Trenticosta’s response was telling. “I don’t think so, and part of the reason is the state of Louisiana in the past six years has spent $6 million dollars in lawyer fees to keep a 71-year-old man in solitary confinement.”
Please stay tuned at www.angola3news.comfor the latest news on Herman Wallace and our efforts supporting his immediate release.–A3 BASICS
41 years ago, deep in rural Louisiana, three young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000 acre former slave plantation called Angola.
Peaceful, non-violent protest in the form of hunger and work strikes organized by inmates caught the attention of Louisiana’s elected leaders and local media in the early 1970s. They soon called for investigations into a host of unconstitutional and extraordinarily inhumane practices commonplace in what was then the “bloodiest prison in the South.” Eager to put an end to outside scrutiny, prison officials began punishing inmates they saw as troublemakers.
At the height of this unprecedented institutional chaos, Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown into 6×9 foot solitary cells.
Robert was released in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain in solitary, continuing to fight for their freedom.
Despite a number of reforms achieved in the mid-70s, many officials repeatedly ignore both evidence of misconduct, and of innocence.
The State’s case is riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscations, and missteps. A bloody print at the murder scene does not match Herman, Albert or anyone charged with the crime and was never compared with the limited number of other prisoners who had access to the dormitory on the day of the murder.
Potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been “lost” by prison officials—including fingernail scrapings from the victim and barely visible “specks” of blood on clothing alleged to have been worn by Albert.
Both Herman and Albert had multiple alibi witnesses with nothing to gain who testified they were far away from the scene when the murder occurred.
In contrast, several State witnesses lied under oath about rewards for their testimony. The prosecution’s star witness Hezekiah Brown told the jury: “Nobody promised me nothing.” But new evidence shows Hezekiah, a convicted serial rapist serving life, agreed to testify only in exchange for a pardon, a weekly carton of cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and other luxuries.
“Hezekiah was one you could put words in his mouth,” the Warden reminisced chillingly in an interview about the case years later.
Even the widow of the victim after reviewing the evidence believes Herman and Albert’s trials were unfair, has grave doubts about their guilt, and is calling upon officials to find the real killer.
Albert’s conviction has now been overturned three times, most recently in February of 2013 due to a finding of racial discrimination in the selection of his grand jury foreperson. The first two times judges cited racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, and suppression of exculpatory evidence.
Herman’s conviction is similarly under Federal Court scrutiny after a State Judicial Commissioner recommended reversing his conviction based on new, compelling evidence exposing prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional violations.
Meanwhile, Louisiana prison officials refuse to release them from solitary because “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.”
We believe that only by openly examining the failures and inequities of the criminal justice system in America can we restore integrity to that system.We must not wait.
We can make a difference.
As the A3 did years before, now is the time to challenge injustice and demand that the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.
Amnesty International: Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 Diagnosed with Liver Cancer, Send Messages of Support
(Reprinted below is a statement of support from Amnesty International, who has also released an accompanying blog posting by Amnesty UK’s Urgent Action Network, and a customized solidarity card for Herman and Albert on their Tumblr page.)
Herman Wallace of Angola 3 Diagnosed with Liver Cancer, Send Messages of Support
By Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty International USA’s Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaigner
After 41 years in solitary confinement, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 have lived through a nightmare that no human being should have to endure. We work on their case with the hope that, one day, we can share the news that these men have been released from solitary and have seen justice.
But today is not that day. Today I am deeply saddened to tell you that 71-year-old Herman Wallace has been diagnosed with liver cancer, after spending the majority of his life isolated in a small cell, four steps long, by three steps across for 23 hours a day. I’ve often described the Angola 3 case as “injustice compounded” – that description has never rung more true than today.
Albert and Herman were convicted of murdering a prison guard at Louisiana’s Angola prison more than four decades ago. The two men were placed in solitary confinement and kept there, even as significant flaws in their trial rose to the surface from the dark, racially charged underbelly of the US prison system: potentially exculpatory evidence mysteriously “missing,” the retraction of eyewitness testimony and even compelling proof that the state bribed a key eyewitness.
On February 26, 2013, a federal district court ruled to put an end to this shameful legacy of injustice, overturning the conviction of Albert Woodfox for the third time. Louisiana’s attorney general appealed the ruling, however, so Albert’s case is still pending in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Herman’s case is also under Federal Court scrutiny on the basis of prosecutorial conduct and constitutional violations – but as the wheels of justice grind slowly, Herman’s time is running out.
Herman’s condition is grave and we are still waiting for details of his prognosis. Once we know more, we will ask you to make your voices heard to the Louisiana authorities so that our calls for justice ring from the state’s northern border to the very end of the Mississippi river.
But until then, please join me in reminding Herman and Albert that they are not alone – that there are hundreds of thousands of people standing with them, even as the state tries to keep them in total isolation.
You can download cards to send to Herman and Albert here. You should add a personal message and, if possible, also send pictures of your hometown, nature or animals to lift the two men’s spirits. Albert and Herman are held in two different prisons, so please be sure to write to both of them separately – Albert is struggling with the news of his friend’s illness, so he needs your words of support just as much as Herman.
Once you’ve written your message, take a picture of yourself with your card and join our solidarity tumblr. Help us show the Louisiana authorities that Amnesty International supporters around the world will continue to shine a light of hope, even when faced with the bleakest injustice.
Address your cards to:
EHCC PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776
David Wade Correctional Center, N1A3
670 Bell Hill Rd.
Homer, LA 71040
Angola 3′s Herman Wallace, Gravely Ill, Still Held in Isolation
By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
(Reprinted from Solitary Watch)
Herman Wallace, 71, has been diagnosed with liver cancer. He is being held in a locked prison hospital room at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center at St. Gabriel, Louisiana. The prognosis is grave, according to persons with direct knowledge of the situation. Wallace is one of the two members of the Angola 3 who, along with Albert Woodfox, is still being held in solitary after more than 41 years.
Tessa Murphy, U.S. Campaigner for Amnesty International, which has taken up the case, said in an email, “The tens of thousands of Amnesty International supporters worldwide who have campaigned over the years for justice in Herman and Albert’s case will be devastated by this sad news. Herman and Albert have been held in cruel conditions of confinement for over 40 years without meaningful review; neither of the men have disciplinary record to indicate that they are a threat to themselves, fellow prisoners or staff, and the Louisiana prison authorities have since 1996 broken their own policy to justify the men’s continued detention under these conditions.’’
Wallace and Woodfox were placed in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 1972, following the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. The men believe they were originally targeted for the murder, and have been held in isolation ever since, because of their association with the Black Panther Party. (The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, was freed in 2001 when his conviction for the murder of a fellow prisoner was overturned; he had spent 29 years in solitary.) Several years ago, the two men were transferred out of Angola and sent to separate, distant prisons, where they have remained in solitary.
Angola Warden Burl Cain has stated in a deposition that “Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace is locked in time with that Black Panther revolutionary actions they were doing way back when.” For this reason, he says, they must remain in solitary, because if he released them to the general population “I would have me all kinds of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.” Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell has likewise promised to keep Wallace and Woodfox behind bars. (Caldwell also claims they “have never been held in solitary confinement.”)
Both men have been fighting to have their convictions overturned by the federal courts, claiming they are based on highly questionable evidence. Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for the third time earlier this year, but he remains in prison while the state appeals. Wallace lost his latest challenge, but continues to fight in the courts. At the same time, a civil case has been filed challenging the men’s four decades of solitary confinement on First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.
For 41 years, Wallace and Woodfox have spent at least 23 hours a day in cells measuring 6 feet by 9 feet. They are sometimes allowed out one hour a day to take a shower or a walk along the cellblock. Three days a week, they may use that hour to exercise alone in a fenced yard. In their civil suit, their lawyers argue that both have endured physical injury and “severe mental anguish and other psychological damage” from living most of their adult lives in lockdown. According to medical reports submitted to the court, the men suffer from arthritis, hypertension, and kidney failure, as well as memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression. Even the psychologist brought in by the state confirmed these findings.
“The injustice of being held under such harsh, restrictive and inhumane conditions for over four decades is compounded by the serious legal concerns that have emerged in their cases over the years of litigation, Amnesty’s Murphy said. “Amnesty International will continue its fight for justice for Herman and Albert; with the terrible news of Herman’s health, this fight becomes more important than ever.”
Two months ago Wallace had complained of feeling ill. Prison doctors diagnosed his condition as a stomach fungus and put him on antibiotics. By last week, he had lost 45 pounds, and was sent to a local hospital, where he received the news that he has liver cancer. He was returned to prison after a few days.
A team of lawyers, an outside doctor who has taken care of Wallace for years, and a psychologist briefly visited Wallace last week in a prison hospital room. Wallace was not manacled or shackled. The door was locked. There is no television and little contact with the outside world. Telephone privileges which were made available in the beginning have been revoked by the prison. According to one source, a warden ordered visitors out after ten minutes. “The level of inhumanity I am not used to,” said Nick Trenticosta, one of Wallace’s attorneys in Louisiana. “I am used to bloodthirsty prosecutors who want to kill people, but not this sort of thing.”
For Albert Woodfox, 66, who lived in solitary nearby Wallace at Angola and still keeps in touch by letter, the news was shocking. According to his brother Michael Mable,who saw Albert over last weekend, his brother is depressed and “afraid of dying in this prison.” Mable was only able to see Woodfox through a glass partition, and Woodfox sat with his hands manacled and feet shackled while a captain and a lieutenant stood behind him, Mable said. Woodfox was strip searched, even though the interview was just a short ways from his cell. He is allowed one visit a month. Woodfox suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and hepatitis.
It is not yet clear what the next steps will be for Herman Wallace in terms of medical care. Because the prison medical record appears scant, doctors are anxious for Wallace to see an oncologist at an outside hospital. He may go there some time this week.
Asked whether the state would consider compassionate release or hospice care for Wallace, Pam Laborde, Communications Director for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said, “As you hopefully understand, I am not in a position to discuss an offender’s medical condition due to privacy concerns.”
In a 2006 letter to Jackie Sumell, an artist with whom he is collaborating on a project called The House That Herman Built (now the subject of a documentary film), Herman Wallace wrote: “I’m often asked what did I come to prison for; and now that I think about it Jackie, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what I came here for, what matters now is what I leave with. And I can assure you, however I leave, I won’t leave nothing behind.”
Read the rest of this entry →
An interview with Dan Kovalik and Bret Grote
By Angola 3 News
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, May 8, lawyers for Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz filed a federal lawsuit regarding his placement in solitary confinement for over 22 consecutive years. The written complaint, directed at Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and the Superintendents of SCI-Greene, where Shoatz was last held, and SCI-Mahanoy, where he was transferred to on March 28, 2013, states that this “is an action for injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”
Last month, when a 30-day action campaign was launched calling for Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz’s immediate release from solitary confinement, the campaign promised to file this litigation if Maroon had not been transferred into general population by the morning of May 8. On Thursday, May 9 the lawsuit was announced at a press conference was held in Pittsburgh, outside the City-County Building.
An update released on May 1 argues that the campaign “can already claim a victory” because “Maroon’s case and his work has received more attention over the past month that at any time during his incarceration.” One new article about Maroon was published by Solitary Watch and co-authored by Kanya D’Almeida and Bret Grote, who is also interviewed below. D’Almeida and Grote write that maroon’s “only time in the general prison population in the last 30 years was an 18-month stint spent at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth that ended in 1991.” Furthermore, they note that Maroon has had only one violation since 1989 and “his most recent violation was in 1999, when he covered a vent in his cell that was blowing cold air in an attempt to stay warm.”
Underscoring their argument that Maroon’s confinement is politically motivated, they write that “in 1982 he was released into the general prison population at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh. Upon return to the general population Maroon became involved with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers (PAL), a prison-approved organization that was supposed to further the interests of life-sentenced prisoners… Maroon’s reputation and the respect other prisoners had for him led to a dramatic increase in participation in the PAL. More than 100 prisoners would attend meetings in the early part of 1983. On the night that the old leadership was impeached and Maroon appointed interim president pending new elections, he and other new leaders of the PAL were placed in solitary confinement. The others were eventually released from solitary. Maroon remains in isolation to this day.”
Other recent media coverage includes a new interview with Maroon, published by New Clear Vision, and conducted by Vanderbilt University Philosophy Professor Lisa Guenther. “Ironically,” Maroon writes in the interview, “the segment of the population that presently has the most potential to effect change in the PIC is those who usually have no direct — bodily — connection to this system. That is the taxpayers among the ninety nine percent. Without their massive yearly outlays of billions in taxes (taxes they’ve been bamboozled into believing serve a good purpose, but instead serve [to] keep active a police state machine) the whole house of cards would collapse!”
Last month, in part one of our report on Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz, we interviewed activist Matt Meyer and Maroon’s daughter, Theresa Shoatz. Here in part two, we interview activist Bret Grote and Maroon’s lawyer Dan Kovalik, taking a closer look at the lawsuit filed on May 8, the broader use of litigation to confront human rights abuses in US prisons, and the political economy of what Grote identifies as the ‘imperial police state.’
Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. He was counsel for Maroon in his first federal case challenging his solitary confinement.
Bret Grote is an organizer with the Human Rights Coalition, the Executive Director of the newly founded Abolitionist Law Center, and a member of the legal team for Russell Maroon Shoatz.
Angola 3 News: An April 15 update reported on Maroon’s transfer from SCI-Greene to SCI-Mahanoy and accompanying statements from Secretary Wetzel that he was moved for the purpose of eventually being transferred into general population, where he will then, among other things, be able to physically embrace family and friends during visits. Have there been any more developments since the April 15 update?
Dan Kovalik: Yes, on May 2, Maroon was told that he would be released to general population within 90 days of his coming to SCI-Mahanoy, which was March 29. Therefore, if all goes well, and with continued pressure, Maroon could be in the general population by July.
A3N: At this point, following the 30-day campaign, how can our readers most effectively offer their support?
DK: We believe that continued calls and letter writing to Secretary Wetzel, as well as letters to the editors of local Pennsylvania newspapers could help to ensure that Maroon is finally released into the general population.
A3N: How have authorities officially justified keeping Maroon in solitary confinement all these years?
–An interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer
This month, a 30-day action campaign was launched demanding the release of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz from solitary confinement, where he has been held for over 23 consecutive years, and 28 of the last 30 years, in Pennsylvania prisons. On April 8, when the campaign began, Maroon’s legal team sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), demanding his release from solitary confinement and promising litigation against the PA DOC if he is not transferred to general population by May 8.
The action campaign describes Maroon as “a former leader of the Black Panthers and the Black freedom movement, born in Philadelphia in 1943 and originally imprisoned in January 1972 for actions relating to his political involvement. With an extraordinary thirty-plus years spent in solitary confinement…Maroon’s case is one of the most shocking examples of U.S. torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world. His ‘Maroon’ nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance—which twice led him to escape confinement; it is also based on his continued clear analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy.”
Writing that Maroon “has not had a serious rule violation for more than two decades,” the campaign argues that he has actually been “targeted because of his work as an educator and because of his political ideas; his time in solitary began just after he was elected president of an officially-sanctioned prison-based support group. This targeting is in violation of his basic human and constitutional rights.”
On March 28, just before the campaign was launched, Maroon was transferred from SCI-Greene to SCI-Mahanoy An update released by the campaign on April 15 reported that Maroon had been told by officials at SCI-Mahanoy that he had been transferred there with intent to move him into general population. Responding to the news, campaign co-coordinator Matt Meyer (also interviewed below) said: “We are encouraged by the words of the officials at Mahanoy, but we cannot rest until those words are followed by deeds: by the ultimate action which will end the current torture of Maroon.” Bret Grote, from the Pittsburgh Human Rights Coalition, who is himself a longtime legal and political supporter of Shoatz, added that, “while we are pleased that some of the concerns raised by the demand letter have been met,” including Maroon’s “access to his anti-embolism stockings and to a typewriter, we remain concerned that the timeline for release from solitary has been left vague.”
The April 15 update also reports that “the assistants at the office of PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel have confirmed that the Secretary personally ordered Maroon’s recent transfer from SCI Greene to SCI Mahanoy for the purpose of placing him in the general prison population. In conversations with some of the many people who have called in to the DOC central office on the first week of the 30-day pressure campaign, DOC personnel have suggested that Maroon supporters be patient as the process to get him into general population work its course. But Maroon and his family have been misled in the past about these issues.” While the campaign began by asking supporters to contact both Secretary Wetzel and SCI Mahanoy Supt. John Kerestes, it is now asking supporters to just focus on Secretary Wetzel, since he is the “ultimate decision-maker.”
This month also marked the release of the new book, entitled Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (PM Press), co-edited by Fred Ho and Quincy Saul, with a foreword by Chuck D. The collected essays examine a wide range of topics that are perhaps most striking for their honest self-criticism and for his commitment to confronting male supremacy and misogyny in all its forms. For example, in one essay entitled, “The Question of Violence,” after Maroon criticizes “the worldwide misogynist ‘gangsta’ genre of the hip hop culture” for being “a male, macho parody of exhibitionist violence,” Maroon writes:
More troubling is the fact that this male exhibitionist violence has also permeated the minds, practices, and circles of otherwise brilliant and well-meaning revolutionary thinkers. Such theorists as the renowned Frantz Fanon, icons like Malcolm X and Kwane Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and others have unconsciously conflated the necessary utilization of defensive revolutionary violence, in seeking meaningful revolutionary socioeconomic and cultural change, with what they believed was a need for males to use ‘revolutionary violence’ to also ‘liberate their minds and spirits’ subservience imposed on them by the vestiges of slavery and the colonialism /neocolonialism of their times. These individuals failed to recognize that their ‘revolutionary’ worldview would still leave in place the entire male-supremacist /patriarchal framework, an edifice that we can term the ‘father of oppression.’ The destruction of this edifice will signal the true liberation they sought. Otherwise, the ‘revolutionary violence’ they formulated must also be recognized for what it is: exhibitionist, ego-based male violence.
Featured below is our interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer. Theresa Shoatz is the daughter of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz. Theresa has worked for decades as a public advocate for her father and through the Human Rights Coalition, she fights for all prisoners in Pennsylvania and beyond. You can watch a video interview with Theresa Shoatz, released by Solitary Watch in 2011. This month, Theresa has been traveling around the US as part of a book tour promoting Maroon the Implacable, and this week she is in the SF Bay Area.
Matt Meyer, a native New York City-based educator, activist, and author, is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and a United Nations/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Now the co-coordinator of the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz, Meyer also has a long history in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. In 2009, Meyer edited Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners (PM Press), and in 2012, co-edited another book entitled, We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America (PM Press).
Please look out for part two our report on the 30-day action campaign, which will further examine the legality of Maroon’s placement in solitary confinement and take a closer look at his recently published book, Maroon the Implacable. In the meantime, you can stay updated on the campaign for his release from solitary here.
Angola 3 News: Political prisoners are often seen as symbolic of what is wrong with the US government, but we don’t usually hear about the actual person and how their imprisonment has affected their families. As fellow Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has commented, “I am a man, not a symbol.” To begin our interview, can you please describe your father, Maroon, for us, so we can better understand who he is as a person?
Marking 41 Years of Solitary, the Angola 3 Coalition launches campaign for a State Congressional Hearing to end prolonged solitary confinement in Louisiana
–By the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3
Today, April 17, 2013, marks 41 years that Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been unjustly incarcerated in solitary confinement in Louisiana. This is 41 years of living in concrete and metal cages of 6 x 9 feet; 41 years of being separated from their families and loved ones; 41 years of being wrongly accused of a murder they did not commit.
Over 41 years ago, prison officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka ‘Angola’), an 18,000-acre former slave plantation, were first confronted by the Angola 3′s challenge to the obscene human rights atrocities that were a daily reality for prisoners there. They responded to these efforts by fabricating a case against Albert and Herman for the tragic murder of prison guard Brent Miller in 1972. Shortly thereafter, when Robert King entered Angola, he was ensnared in the aftermath of that murder and joined Herman and Albert in solitary.
Although the flame for justice for the Angola 3 continues to burn bright these many decades later, words cannot express the profound rage and frustration we feel commemorating one more year of Herman and Albert’s confinement. But we will not lose hope or forget how much we have already accomplished and just how close we are to winning both Herman and Albert’s release. Solitary confinement’s daily assault on Herman and Albert’s mind, body and spirit has not been able to deter them. Inspired by their heroic resilience on the frontlines of the struggle, we too, will never give up our fight for their release.
Continuing this fight for Albert, Herman and all prisoners, today we are launching an action to kick-start the call for a State Congressional Hearing to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in Louisiana. Our friends at The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) have enabled this through their campaign calling “upon state legislators and departments of corrections to begin now to take steps to end prolonged solitary confinement” in all 50 states and the federal prison system.
We need only 500 people within a particular state to sign the statement and NRCAT will send these endorsements to that state’s governor, top corrections officials, and every member of that state’s legislature. When we hit 1,000 signatures they will do the same again. PLEASE spread the word to help us achieve our petition goal for Louisiana and in states across the country. Please sign this now.
The campaign for the Angola 3 grows in strength around the world, from local organizations to international NGO’s like Amnesty International (read their new statement marking 41 years) joining the call for justice. While Herman and Albert continue to live the hell that is solitary confinement, this cruel and unusual punishment is in the news more than ever before – with calls for its abolition from state congresses and increasing evidence of its violations to human rights.
Albert, Herman and Robert do not want anyone else to suffer the hellish torture they still endure today. Thank you all for your continued support. Without you the flame of justice would not burn so strongly. Please mark this day by taking action to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in Louisiana and the USA.
Events Mark 41 Years
This week you can also join us at one of the many events commemorating 41 years.
The new Canadian film Hard Time is screening this week in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
A 41-hour vigil on April 19-21, in New Orleans is being organized by the Angola 3 Movement, with Hard Time shown alongside more films and presentations.
In New York City, Herman’s House, the film, will premiere on April 19.
In Europe, Amnesty France is hosting a screening of In the Land of the Free in Paris on April 30.
A Defined Voice
–By Herman Wallace, 2006
They removed my whisper from general population
To maximum security I gained a voice
They removed my voice from maximum security
To administrative segregation
My voice gave hope
They removed my voice from administrative segregation
To solitary confinement
My voice became vibration for unity
They removed my voice from solitary confinement
To the Supermax of Camp J
And now they wish to destroy me
The louder my voice the deeper they bury me
I SAID, THE LOUDER MY VOICE THE DEEPER THEY BURY ME!
Free all political prisoners, prisoners of war, prisoner of consciousness.
There are only a few days remaining before Amnesty International ends their online action campaign urging Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell to not appeal the February 25 ruling by US District Court Judge James Brady that overturned Albert Woodfox’s conviction. Because Caldwell has already said that he will appeal the ruling to the US Fifth Circuit Court, this public pressure is badly needed for Albert, who is now just weeks away from his 41st year in solitary confinement. If you have not yet done so, please take action here.
Robert H. King responds to Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell
Many thanks to all of you who have aided our cause and added your voices to our quest to free Albert from an obviously unjust imprisonment of more than 40 years. Please continue to make your voices heard and your dissent known, especially in light of the recent email response by Louisiana’s Attorney General, James Caldwell. One wonders: Why in the face of so many mitigating facts and circumstances would the Attorney General persist in his unethical efforts to pursue the persecution of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace? Is it really justice he seeks, or is there something else he wants? The following may add some light to the subject.
When Woodfox was first granted a new trial in 1993, the Attorney General’s Office elected to retry the case, which is a rare occurrence. Twenty-three years earlier, John Sinquefield, a young and ambitious local assistant district attorney, prosecuted Albert and made repeated references/inferences to Albert’s political beliefs and militancy. Having had prior involvement in this case, Sinquefield could not (or chose not to) prosecute in his second hearing. However, this recusion (or self restraint) did not apply to his assistants. Enter Julie Cullen, an attorney working with Sinquefield. It was Cullen who declared to the press, that she would retry Albert as “a ‘Black Panther.” During that trial in 1999,when I appeared as a character witness for Albert, Julie Cullen made repeated references to Woodfox’s militancy as Sinquefield had done before her and Woodfox was again convicted.
Sinquefield, Cullen and Caldwell were all previously connected to this case by the thread of time and they have all used this case to further their careers. Sinquefield and Caldwell are well-documented boyhood friends, who went to school together, graduated together and became lawyers together. In Sinquefield’s own words, “We’ve been friends, allies ever since.” Julie Cullen has worked with and been very close to both men. As you can see, their careers have been protected at all costs, even accusing innocent men of murder or rape, as Caldwell in his recent email has done once again.
Buddy Caldwell has long done a great disservice to people of intelligence, especially lawyers…and jurists, in his attempt to sell this malicious and unsubstantiated rape lie. If, in 1969 there had been actual evidence of Albert committing rape, why would the system instead choose to try Woodfox on only the lesser charge of robbery? According to Caldwell, Albert was considered “a career criminal.” The logical question therefore remains…If Albert had committed all of these other alleged crimes and was in fact a career criminal, why was he not prosecuted? Just for the record – any young black man that was arrested became a suspect for unsolved crimes. This was a process so widespread that across the country the practice is known as “clearing the books.”
It is in this same context that Caldwell has wrongfully accused Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace of committing the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. The evidence linking Herman and Albert to the crime is nonexistent. The bloody fingerprint at the scene of the crime did not match Herman or Albert’s. A knife found at the scene of the crime had no fingerprints on it at all. Other DNA evidence that allegedly had Albert’s specks of blood on it was lost by the prison. Furthermore, multiple alibi witnesses testified that Albert and Herman were in other parts of the prison at the time of the murder. In contrast, it has been proven that state witnesses were bribed to lie under oath. Albert’s conviction has now been overturned three times, and Herman’s conviction is similarly under Federal Court scrutiny for evidence exposing prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional violations.
Read the rest of this entry →
Robert H. King: End 41 years of cruel and inhuman solitary confinement for Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3
My name is Robert H. King. I was released on February 8, 2001 after spending 31 years in prison – 29 of them in solitary confinement at the infamous Louisiana State Prison also known as ‘Angola’.
Confined there with me were Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, the other two friends who make up ‘the Angola 3′. Herman and Albert have now spent 41 years in prison. And though they are no longer housed at Angola, both remain in solitary confinement at another prison – a punishment Amnesty has described as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.
Prior to and since my release from prison, I have continued to campaign to free Herman and Albert. Last week, that campaign took a huge step forward with the ruling by a federal district court that there was racial discrimination in the selection of the jury foreperson prior to Albert’s re-trial in 1998.
Louisiana’s Attorney General has already filed his intention to appeal this against this ruling. But he can still do the right thing and end four decades of injustice by letting the ruling stand, clearing the way for Albert to be re-tried or simply walk free at last.
I know what being locked up in that cramped, dark cell does to a man, and I fear for my friend Albert whose physical and mental health is failing. The sense of how cruelly and unjustly Albert and the rest of us were treated still burns as strong as ever – as does my will to end their ordeal.
This isn’t the first or even the second time Albert’s conviction has been overturned. Previously judges have cited racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution and inadequate defense in their rulings. There is also troubling evidence that a key eyewitness against Albert had been bribed, and no physical evidence linking him to the murder has ever been found.
However, I also know how many of you share my sense of injustice and that we can count on your ongoing support. When I spoke to Albert last week he asked me to pass on his gratitude to his ‘legions of supporters’ across the world.
Wednesday, April 17 will mark the 41st anniversary of our incarceration in Angola. Please help ensure that this year it is a day of hope – or even freedom – for my friend, Albert Woodfox.
Power to the people!
Robert H. King
The only freed member of the Angola 3
**Please support Albert Woodfox by sending an email to Attorney General Caldwell, via Amnesty International’s online action page!