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News & Politics

"The Angola 3": Ex-Black Panthers Kept in Solitary Confinement for Over Three Decades [VIDEO]

In the scheme of human rights and the U.S. criminal justice system, the case of the "Angola 3" is one of the great injustices of our time.
In the scheme of human rights and the U.S. criminal justice system, the case of the "Angola 3" is one of the great injustices of our time. In 1972, three black men, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, and Robert King Wilkerson, were prisoners at Angola State Prison in Louisiana when a guard was stabbed to death. The three Black Panthers were blamed for the murder on the flimsiest of proof and placed in solitary confinement. They would stay there for the next three decades, quite possibly the longest span of time any prisoner has spent in solitary confinement in the U.S.

At Angola, a sprawling complex that was once a slave plantation, solitary confinement means living in a 6-by-9 cell, 23 hours a day, seven days a week. It is an extreme punishment that is physically and psychologically dehumanizing. "The SPCA would shut this prison down if they had dogs up here like this," Herman Wallace says.

Angola has always had a reputation for racism and brutality, and the case of the Angola 3 has its own sordid back story. In the early 1970s, prisoners were, according to the Times-Picayune, "subject to being 'sold' to each other to be used as 'sex slaves' or prostituted out to other inmates in exchange for prison-brands of currency, such as cigarettes." The warden in those years -- a man who would later be jailed for trying to murder his wife -- acknowledged the existence of the sex trade in his memoir. According to the New Orleans-based defense attorney who continues to advocate for the Angola 3, the three Black Panthers had been "trying to stop the sexual slavery and rampant rage occurring there everyday." But organizing of any kind is frowned upon in a racist prison environment. In a very real way, the Angola 3 can be considered political prisoners.

The case of the Angola Three is legendary among prison activists, but the media has ignored it for decades, making any hope for justice elusive. In 2001, however, one of the Angola 3, Robert King Wilkerson finally won his freedom. All told, he spent 29 years in solitary confinement, an experience he calls "a nightmare." "I saw men so desperate that they ripped prison doors apart, starved and mutilated themselves. It takes every scrap of humanity to stay focused and sane in this environment."

Woodfox and Wallace are still behind bars. Last April, they marked 35 years in solitary confinement. Their incarceration is the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment. Enough is enough.
Liliana Segura is a writer and activist living in New York
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