The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard
By Hans Bennett
(Alternet.org, May 2, 2009)
(PHOTO: left to right; Herman Wallace, Robert King, Albert Woodfox)
"My soul cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It does more than cry, it mourns continuously," said Black Panther Robert Hillary King, following his release from the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2001, after serving his last 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. King argues that slavery persists in Angola and other US prisons, citing the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which legalizes slavery in prisons as "a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." King says: "You can be legally incarcerated but morally innocent."
Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace are known as the 'Angola Three,' a trio of political prisoners whose supporters include Amnesty International, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Congressman John Conyers, and the ACLU. Kgalema Mothlante, the President of South Africa says their case "has the potential of laying bare, exposing the shortcomings, in the entire US system." Woodfox and Wallace are the two co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP)-the only official prison chapter of the BPP. Both convicted in the highly contested stabbing death of white prison guard Brent Miller, Woodfox and Wallace have now spent over 36 years in solitary confinement.
The joint federal civil rights lawsuit of King, Woodfox, and Wallace, alleging that their time in solitary confinement is "cruel and unusual punishment," will go to trial any month in Baton Rouge, at the U.S. Middle District Court. Herman Wallace's appeal against his murder conviction is currently pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court, and on March 18, he was transferred to the Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabrielo, Louisiana, where he remains in solitary confinement. On March 2, the US Fifth Circuit Court heard oral arguments regarding Albert Woodfox's conviction, after the Louisiana Attorney General appealed a lower court's ruling that overturned the conviction.
An 18,000-acre former slave plantation in rural Louisiana, Angola is the largest prison in the US. Today, with African Americans composing over 75% of Angola's 5,108 prisoners, prison guards known as "free men," a forced 40-hour workweek, and four cents an hour as minimum wage, the resemblance to antebellum US slavery is striking. In the early 1970s, it was even worse, as prisoners were forced to work 96-hour weeks (16 hours a day / 6 days a week) with two cents an hour as minimum wage. Officially considered (according to its own website) the "Bloodiest Prison in the South" at this time, violence from guards and between prisoners was endemic. Prison authorities sanctioned prisoner rape, and according to former Prison Warden Murray Henderson, the prison guards actually helped facilitate a brutal system of sexual slavery where the younger and physically weaker prisoners were bought and sold into submission. As part of the notorious "inmate trusty guard" system, responsible for killing 40 prisoners and seriously maiming 350 from 1972-75, some prisoners were given state-issued weapons and ordered to enforce this sexual slavery, as well as the prison's many other injustices. Life at Angola was living hell-a 20th century slave plantation.
The Angola Panthers saw life at Angola as modern-day slavery and fought back with non-violent hunger strikes and work strikes. Prison authorities were outraged by the BPP's organizing, and overwhelming evidence has since emerged that authorities retaliated by framing these three BPP organizers for murders that they did not commit.
Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace