By Jeff C
In 2016, I had the privilege to meet and have lunch with Albert Woodfox and Robert King at the International & Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Prolonged Solitary Confinement Conference at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.
It had only been a few months since Mr Woodfox had been released from 44 years of solitary, more than any other human being in the history of the world. He was obviously stunned by his newly won freedom after so much extreme confinement, but his passion for justice, his humility and his strength of character were also evident. In reading his newly published book, I learned just how strong and determined these two actually are.
I warn you. Reading this book is a challenge. It is a dark tale of some of the most inhumane cruelty you will ever encounter. It is also a story about hope and determination, solidarity and success in the face of a seemingly all powerful and corrupt system.
Woodfox, King and Herman Wallace (deceased) were set up and wrongly convicted of killing a prison guard. They were targeted specifically for their political beliefs as members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
As the name suggests, BPP Chapters were never about revenge or hate. They were all about self defense, in this case at a very dangerous place, Angola State Prison in Louisiana. The three gentlemen ultimately became known around the world as the Angola 3.
The USA incarcerates more people than anywhere else on earth. Solitary confinement is torture and yet it is considered standard operating procedure throughout the USA. Often our prison administrators and staff punish the best prisoners brutally because they decry injustices. They reward the worst prisoners and give them parole in exchange for covering up official corruption. In such a hellish world, how can one keep one’s integrity and will to live, Albert Woodfox shows us how.
Today Albert Woodfox and Robert King are free and traveling the world, speaking out against the evils of solitary confinement. They are living proof of how evil our system is. For 44 years the System said the Angola 3 were too dangerous to release. They have now proven the System wrong. Truly those who run this System are revealed to have been the dangerous ones all along.
These humble, brilliant, compassionate, gentle men have demonstrated superhuman strength, both physical and mental, to get where they are today. But they didn’t get there alone. It took help from a whole network of activists and lawyers on the outside supporting the Angola 3 to get them out.
In this book Mr Woodfox expresses his heartfelt gratitude for all the sacrifices that were made to win their freedom.
But he will tell you. There are hundreds of thousands still locked up in solitary. Far too many of us don’t care. Working class people of all races need to wake up and realize that it could be any of us in there some day. One need not be guilty to become a victim of mass incarceration. One only needs to be too poor to afford a lawyer. That includes me. Does it include you?
The battle against mass incarceration is far from over. Its architects are still in positions of power. Its investors are counting on the continued growth of the industry. They have staked their fortunes upon it. They are not about to give up without a fight. This problem could get much, much worse before it gets better.
There is hope, though, in solidarity. Read this book. Open your eyes. Resist.
Jeff C is a professional fundraiser, a writer and an advocate.