Free Albert Woodfox! Take Action with Amnesty Intl: "Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one."

Please take action for Albert Woodfox here!

(FLYER: Amnesty Intl actions for Albert Woodfox on Oct. 19 in New Orleans and Oct. 21 at the Capitol in Baton Rouge)


RELATED:  UN statement on Albert Woodfox

Today, Amnesty International kicked off a new campaign in support of Albert Woodfox. The email action alert and a separate press release are both reprinted below, in full:

——
Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one.

Herman Wallace died nine days before his 72nd birthday. The famed ‘Angola 3′ prisoner succumbed to liver cancer on Friday, 3 days after being released from prison. 

Herman survived more than 41 years of isolation, becoming a fierce activist calling for an end to the cruel, inhuman use of solitary confinement. 

He died a free man, but the search for justice is far from over. The third member of the Angola 3, Albert Woodfox, is STILL being held in solitary confinement.

Enough is enough — call on Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox. 

Albert was placed in solitary after a 1972 murder that he maintains he did not commit. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. 

Albert’s conviction has already been overturned three times — most recently by a federal district court — but the state obsessively appeals every time the court rules in his favor.

Tell the Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox today.

Before he died, Herman said this about Albert and their struggle for human rights: 

“I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well…The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”

I never met Herman, and yet I will always remember him as larger-than-life — a symbol of resistance to human rights abuses and injustice who refused to be silenced. More than 110,000 people like you rose up to free him — Now it’s time to shine the light for Albert — take action. 

In solidarity,

Jasmine Heiss
Campaigner, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

(End of email alert. The Oct. 10 Amnesty USA press release begins.)

Louisiana Must End Campaign of ‘Vengeance’ Against Remaining Angola 3 Prisoner Albert Woodfox

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Following the death of Herman Wallace, who was held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years, Amnesty International today launches a campaign demanding the release of his co-defendant Albert Woodfox, who also has been held in cruel conditions of isolation following a deeply flawed trial.

‘Enough is enough,’ said Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive director. ‘Nothing can justify the cruel treatment that the state of Louisiana has inflicted on Albert Woodfox. It’s simply unconscionable for the state to hold him one day longer. His trial was flawed and his conviction has been overturned three separate times. Authorities must let the most recent court ruling stand and release Woodfox from prison. At this point, Louisiana officials seem to be out for vengeance; instead, we call on them to act in the interest of justice and see that he is released.’

Woodfox and Wallace were both convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment in return for his testimony.

Both men have robustly denied any involvement in the crime. They believe they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

Earlier this year a federal judge overturned the conviction. However, Woodfox continues to languish in prison after the state of Louisiana appealed against his release.

During a legal process that has spanned four decades, Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times.

‘Were it not for the state of Louisiana’s dogged determination to appeal against these rulings, Woodfox would almost certainly be a free man by now,’ said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty campaigner.

Wallace was released last week just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge who overturned his conviction said it would hold the state in contempt of court if it attempted to appeal the case.

For most of the last four decades, Woodfox has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful human interaction and rehabilitation.

Prison records show that Albert has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for years and that he doesn’t pose a threat to himself or others.

Take action: Demand the release of Albert Woodfox.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Free At Last! Herman Wallace Has Finally Been Released

 From: Angola3News

http://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2013/10/2/after_4_decades_in_solitary_dying

MEDIA COVERAGE:  Oct. 2 episode of Democracy Now (embedded above)  II  NY Times  II  CNN  II  Times-Picayune (with photos of Herman’s release)  II  NBC  II  ABC / AP  II  South China Morning Post / AFP  II NY Daily News / Reuters  II  Huffington Post Live TV (w/ Robert King)  II WAFB CBS News Baton Rouge (video)  II  CBS National News  II  UPI  II  Catholic Online (w/ WGNO ABC video of Herman’s arrive at LSU)  II  The Independent, UK  II  Medical Daily

(Herman upon release, on route to the LSU hospital. 
You can click on the photo above to enlarge.)

–View A3 Coalition photos from Herman’s release at Flickr and Indybay.

After a long, dramatic day, we are humbled to report that the indomitable, irrepressible Herman Wallace has just been released after spending over 4 decades in solitary confinement.

Even after Judge Jackson’s late evening ruling denying the State’s attempt at a stay and again ordering his immediate release, the State continued to stall.  Once notified of the continued delay, Judge Jackson stoically refused to leave his quarters until Herman was released, and just minutes ago, Herman was driven away from the prison a free man, awake and able to revel in this miraculous turn of events.

The State will likely still appeal to the 5th Circuit and attempt to have the order reversed, and may even re-indict him, but it seems that Herman, against all odds, has won.

Despite all the exciting drama of the day, this is obviously a deeply bittersweet moment for all those involved in the campaign as we know Herman may not have much longer amongst us, but thanks to the unwavering commitment to justice that those on this list have demonstrated over the years on A3’s behalf, he will not die in prison behind solitary bars.

Now we must resolve collectively to harness this rediscovered energy and excitement and dedicate ourselves to getting Albert the same result without delay.

If you happen to be in New Orleans, supporters are holding a vigil tonight starting in just a few moments at 8pm. Everyone is welcome to come and celebrate this incredible news. Coliseum Square was the original location, but it has been changed to LSU, outside the hospital emergency room, at 2021 Perdido St New Orleans, LA 70112.

With awe, bewilderment, and a renewed optimism, we will keep supporters updated.

Herman Wallace, April 2013: All Power to the People!

Herman Wallace of Angola 3 ill: Plz send messages of Support to Herman and Albert!

Photo of Herman taken in April 2013

Today, our allies at Amnesty International and Solitary Watch released articles and statements reporting on Herman’s condition and calling for increased public support at this critical time.

As Solitary Watch writes, two months ago Herman “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,” reports Solitary Watch, quoting lawyer Nick Trenticosta, who reflected that this “level of inhumanity I am not used to.”

It is with great sadness that we write to share the news of Herman Wallace’s recent liver cancer diagnosis.
In a statement of support released on Monday, Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty International USA’s Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaigner said: “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.”

Until then, Amnesty is urging supporters to write letters to Herman and Albert “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.”

The importance of writing both Herman and Albert cannot be overstated. The Solitary Watch article reports on Albert’s visit last weekend with his brother Michael Mable, where Albert was very distraught over news of Herman’s health. Exemplifying the punitive conditions that Albert continues to endure, “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.”

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, 2002

In another statement of support released on Monday, Amnesty International UK’s Urgent Action

Further calling for letters to be sent to Herman and Albert, Amnesty UK declares: “One of Amnesty’s roles is to shine a light on injustice wherever it takes place. So I’m asking you to please shine the brightest possible light upon Louisiana, and to write postcards (preferably with a picture of your home town) to Herman and Albert. Please let them know that you are standing beside them at this difficult time. These letters will not only give much-needed support to Herman and Albert, but it will also show the Louisiana authorities that the world is watching them.”

We promise to keep you updated in the coming days as we learn more about Herman’s health and further develop our approach for best supporting both Herman and Albert. For now, please heed Amnesty International’s call to action and write to Herman and Albert today.
Address your cards to:

Herman Wallace
#76759 SNU/CCR
EHCC PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776
USA

Albert Woodfox
#72148
David Wade Correctional Center, N1A3
670 Bell Hill Rd.
Homer, LA 71040

Network wrote: “This is heart-breaking news and everyone associated with the campaign remains shocked. But, taking our lead from the Angola 3, we are determined to fight, and we desperately need you to stand beside Herman, Albert and Robert at this difficult time. We need to put our collective voices together, louder than ever, and link arms with these men across the ocean.”

41 Years Locked Up Unjustly and in Solitary Confinement

From: Angola 3 News:

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.



41-hour vigil on April 19-21, in New Orleans is being organized by the Angola 3 Movement, withHard 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.

–Below are two new photos of Herman Wallace, taken this month:


Louisiana Attorney General Says Angola 3 “Have Never Been Held in Solitary Confinement”

By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella on SOLITARYWATCH
March 21st 2013

Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace in the early 1970s, when they were placed in solitary confinement. (Photo from “In the Land of the Free.”)

James “Buddy” Caldwell, attorney general of the state of Louisiana, has released a statement saying unequivocally that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, the two still-imprisoned members of the Angola 3, “have never been held in solitary confinement while in the Louisiana penal system.”

In fact, Wallace, now 71, and Woodfox, 66, have been in solitary for nearly 41 years, quite possibly longer than any other human beings on the planet. They were placed in solitary following the 1972 killing of a young corrections officer at Angola, and except for a few brief periods, they have remained in isolation ever since.

The statement from Caldwell follows on the heels of a ruling by a federal District Court judge in New Orleans, overturning Albert Woodfox’s conviction for the third time–in this instance, on the grounds that there had been racial bias in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana at the time of his indictment. Subsequently, Amnesty International, along with other activists, mounted a campaign urging the state of Louisiana not to appeal the federal court’s ruling. In the absence of an appeal, Woodfox would have to be given a new trial or released.

Caldwell’s statement–which was rather mysteriously sent out to an email list that included numerous prisoners’ rights advocates who have supported the Angola 3–begins: “Thank you for your interest in the ambush, savage attack and brutal murder of Officer Brent Miller at Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) on April 17, 1972. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace committed this murder, stabbing and slicing Miller over 35 times.”

Caldwell clearly states that he has every intention of appealing the District Court’s decision to the notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit: “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.” Caldwell asserts that the evidence against Woodfox is ”overpowering”: “There are no flaws in our evidence and this case is very strong.” This statement belies the fact that much of the evidence that led to Wallace and Woodfox’s conviction has since been called into question.

In particular, the primary eyewitness was shown to have been bribed by prison officials into making statements against the two men. (For more details on the case, see our earlier reporting in Mother Jones, here, here, here, and here.) The two men believe that they were targeted for the murder, and have been held in solitary for four decades, because of their status as Black Panthers and their efforts to organize against prison conditions. (The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, convicted of a separate prison murder, was released after 29 years in solitary when his conviction was overturned in 2001).

But Caldwell’s most controversial assertion is that Wallace and Woodfox’s conditions of confinement over the past 40 years do not qualify as solitary confinement:

Contrary to popular lore, Woodfox and Wallace have never been held in solitary confinement while in the Louisiana penal system. They have been held in protective cell units known as CCR. These units were designed to protect inmates as well as correctional officers. They have always been able to communicate freely with other inmates and prison staff as frequently as they want. They have televisions on the tiers which they watch through their cell doors. In their cells they can have radios and headsets, reading and writing materials, stamps, newspapers, magazines and books. They also can shop at the canteen store a couple of times per week where they can purchase grocery and personal hygiene items which they keep in their cells.
These convicted murderers have an hour outside of their cells each day where they can exercise in the hall, talk on the phone, shower, and visit with the other 10 to 14 inmates on the tier. At least three times per week they can go outside on the yard and exercise and enjoy the sun if they want. This is all in addition to the couple of days set aside for visitations each week.
These inmates are frequently visited by spiritual advisors, medical personnel and social workers. They have had frequent and extensive contact with numerous individuals from all over the world, by telephone, mail, and face-to-face personal visits. They even now have email capability. Contrary to numerous reports, this is not solitary confinement.
Caldwell’s description does not, in fact, refute the fact that the two men are held for 23 hours a day in closed cells that measure approximately 6 x 9 feet–smaller than the average parking space. CCR, or Closed Cell Restricted, is the Louisiana prison system’s euphemism of choice for solitary confinement.

[photo: Woodfox and Wallace in recent photos.]

In addition to challenging their convictions, Wallace and Woodfox have filed a civil suit in federal court, arguing that their 40 years in solitary confinement violate the U.S. Constitution. 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.In his statement, Caldwell warns that if they win their civil suit, “these convicted murderers…could possibly receive money and a change in their housing assignments.” Any move out of solitary has been firmly opposed by the warden of Angola, Burl Cain. In a 2008 deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, “Let’s just for the sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.” Cain responded, “Okay, I would still keep him in CCR…I still know that 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. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.”

Caldwell himself has even more vociferously opposed releasing the men from solitary. An ambitious Democrat-turned-Republican known for his Elvis impersonations, Caldwell took office in 2007 and was reelected in 2011. He has characterized the Angola 3 as political radicals and called Woodfox “the most dangerous person on the planet.”

In the fall of 2008, after Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for the second time, a federal court judge ordered him released on bail pending the state’s appeal. Caldwell opposed the release “with every fiber of my being.” Woodfox planned to stay with his niece, but his lawyers uncovered evidence that the state had emailed the neighborhood association of the gated community where she lived to say that a murderer would be moving in next door. Caldwell soon convinced the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to revoke Woodfox’s bail. He also brought Woodfox’s habeas case to the full Fifth Circuit, which reversed the lower court ruling and reinstated his conviction.

Now that a federal judge has ruled, for the third time, that Woodfox did not receive a fair trial, Caldwell apparently feels the need to reiterate his position. “Let me be clear,” his statement concludes. ”Woodfox and Wallace are GUILTY and have NEVER been held in solitary confinement” (emphasis in the original).

Herman Wallace’s drawing of his cell.

Judge Brady overturns Albert Woodfox’s conviction for a third time!

From: Angola3News, Feb 26th 2013:

(View/Download a PDF of Judge Brady’s ruling here.) 
Today, February 26, District Court Judge Brady released a 34-page ruling that granted habeas to Albert on the issue of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson for his 1998 retrial. This decision now overturns Albert’s conviction for a third time.

In the 34-page ruling, Judge Brady reviews the arguments of both sides and concludes that Albert’s team used the correct baseline for comparison, and that using that baseline, the discrimination is statistically significant no matter which tests are used. It was the State’s burden in these proceedings to prove that there was a race neutral procedure in place for selecting forepersons. Judge Brady agreed with Albert that the State failed to do this.

Just as when Judge Brady overturned Albert’s conviction in 2008, the State is now expected to appeal today’s ruling to the 5th Circuit. Therefore, nothing is certain except that the legal team and A3 supporters will not stop fighting until this ruling is affirmed by the 5th Circuit and Albert is finally a free man.
This is an important victory, thanks in no small part to the efforts of our supporters!

As we learn more, we will post updates here, so please check back for more information about Albert’s case. For more background, this is our report from the evidentiary hearing that preceded today’s ruling.

CagePrisoners Exclusive: Aviva Stahl talks to former Black Panther Robert King

From the British website CagePrisoner
Written by CP Editor Wednesday, 08 August 2012

[pic] Hamja Ahsan (left) whose brother Talha Ahsan has been fighting extradition to the US from prison in the UK for 6 years, and Robert King

Racial profiling, torture, solitary confinement and decades in prison fighting for justice. These may be signatures of the US-led war on terror but such practices have been in motion for a long time. Robert King, one of the ‘Angola 3’, knows first-hand what it meant then as much as it does now and discusses his thoughts with CagePrisoners.

“…if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this? You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror. So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism. And it is. And it’s nothing new. It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out. And that’s why it’s so important that people in America, people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on…”

The Angola 3 – Robert Hillary King, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace – met in Angola Prison in Louisiana. The three men were politically radicalized after they were introduced to members of the Black Panther Party, and subsequently founded a local prison chapter of the Panthers. The men organized strikes and sit-ins – they were “troublemakers” – and perhaps as a result, in 1972 Albert and Herman were convicted of a murder that few people believe they committed, the stabbing of 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller. Robert was not even at Angola Prison at the time, but was still investigated for involvement in the murder. Even Miller’s widow doubts that that the Angola 3 are responsible for her husband’s murder.

There was no physical evidence against them, and some people have said that the prosecution’s star witness, Hezekiah Brown, agreed to testify in exchange for cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and even a potential pardon.

Each member of the Angola 3 was placed in solitary confinement in 1972, spending 23 hours a day in 6×9 foot cells. Robert remained there for 29 years, after being convicted for the murder of another prisoner in Angola by an all white jury. His conviction was overturned in 2001, but Albert and Herman are still locked up.

AS: You were born in 1942. What was it like growing up as an African American in that time in the States?

RK: I’m a post World War II baby, and that means I was born right after World War II. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is the Southern part, but it could have been New York or Philadelphia or it could have been DC… Might not have been as intense… more covert, if you’re in another place…

South Africa was bombarded for Apartheid, but they learned it from the United States. The name has changed, they called it Jim Crow. It was a Jim Crow society, in which I could not, being a person of colour, being of African descent, there were places that I could not go, and it was unlawful for me to go. It was systemic, not just racism that was involved, systemic discrimination, and it was generated by the system. It was a system of apartheid, I don’t care if they call it Jim Crow, Jan Crow, or Uncle Crow, it was a system in which South Africa some years later inherited and perpetuated.

So coming up in that environment, I understood that there were places that were designated for me being the person that I was, people were carving out an existence for me, how I was supposed to survive. I had a “place” in society being a person of colour, they gave me a “place”. I was to remain in that place. But it so happened that I broke out of that circle… At an early age I began to see the discrimination and the racism, and the discrepancy that existed among the races, I couldn’t articulate or define it at the time, I thought that this was the state of affairs and it was normal. So I think that was a major breakthrough, when I saw how abnormal it was, that it really wasn’t normal, I think at an early age I began to circumvent that, get out of all the things that give it rationale, I began to see it as being a deception, and I began to focus my own brainpower on what was going on…

I saw the contradictions, because I did go to school for a while, eight years of it, they wanted you to pledge allegiance to the flag, they told me it was a Christian nation and God was a forgiving individual, and yet you saw all the hypocrisy that existed within a system that encourages you to become a Christian… I think the system itself needed a rebirth. And fortunately that happened…. when I say a rebirth, I mean the beginning of a rebirth, it hasn’t happened yet… but it happened when people began to see that there was a discrepancy, and I think that people started to fight for their civil rights, something that they should not even had to come into play at that time, back in 1954 when Martin Luther King came onto the set, that’s something we should have taken for granted.

People of colour, even though the laws allegedly applied to us, we did not reap the benefits of those laws, such as voting, or living where we wanted to live, or getting the type of job or employment that was commensurate with a decent economic lifestyle, that didn’t allow you to struggle, to constantly struggle. But the civil rights, it took time to achieve this and we’re still struggling to achieve this… these things are still prevalent, in American society, in spite of what people on the outside of American society may believe.

In saying this, I hope it’s never taken out of context, I say this, that for some people, America is heaven. Because the system was geared around certain people, it was established around certain people… but the decency of the system did not reach people of colour. People who were considered “white”, they had privilege automatically; they came into the world privileged through skin colour. And so like I said, that was a thing that whites took for granted, and people who were white took for granted. And speaking about this I point out that America was heaven for some people, some people consider it heaven, some people thought it was very workable, that there was nothing wrong with the system, that it wasn’t broken. And for them the system wasn’t broken, so it’s cool, America was heaven for them. But other people knew, in heaven there were some people catching hell, people of colour, and other people. Poor people, not just black people but poor white people also, with the exception that many of them did not realize they were being, that if racism could not be perpetuated against them, you could bet one thing, that systemically, economically, they were living in economic desperation just as much as other people were, but they were content to believe that being white, that they had privilege. Of course, during chattel, it was the same thing, you only had a few hundred people who owned slaves, and the other 12 or so million people were living mostly in poverty, but people accepted that…

I was around during the civil rights era, I saw what Martin Luther King and all these others folks did, including one of the last organisations that really defined things for me, which was the Black Panther Party. Of course a lot people demonized the Party, and the principles, but they didn’t know anything about the Party, about its philosophy. And the Ten Point Platform was equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, and it was something that was doable, it should have been applied. And the Black Panther Party (BPP), the members of BPP and the leaders of the BPP, wanted to make sure that these rules that everybody else took for granted, that they would be applied to people of colour as well.

And so it was not extraordinary that I embraced the philosophy that said, we want freedom, we want the power to determine our own destiny, because our destiny had been determined by other people for so many years, so many generations, we want an end to police brutality against people of colour in the community. Even when black people went to court, we wanted a jury of our peers, because the Constitution required that you have a jury of your peers, but a black person during the Civil Rights era probably never had a jury of their peers, if they were unfortunate enough having to face a trial, because [jurors] were mostly whites, and a white jury could never be a jury of their peers, even if they were poor, because they took privilege in skin colour, so they could never be actually peers. The only time you’re peers is when you’re seeing someone as your equal. So it was easy for me to embrace the principle that the quest was to make sure that, if there was food here, there was food here, to have the same rights regardless of who you were, you had that same right…

In spite of that, the idealism that the Black Panther Party brought to our situation, in spite of that the system still failed, and it’s failing now. As of now, over 2 million people actively in prison. America has more of its citizens in prison than anywhere in the world… There is also data that points out that perhaps there are more than 7 million people who if not directly in prison, by proxy they are, because they’re under some rule of regulation, parole, probation, some type of supervision, as a result of coming into contact with the system. So that’s still standing. And people who go into prison in America rarely get out, the prison I eventually went to, it was Angola State Prison, I ended up with a 35 year sentence, and then a life sentence, and when you have life in Angola, you have life without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, unless a intervening appellate court intervened on your behalf. And there were rules and regulations that prevented you from even applying for clemency, people who were given life sentences in Louisiana, they can’t apply for clemency…

So there’s no remedy, for people who are given a life sentence in Louisiana or America proper, they do a life sentence, and if you don’t have a life sentence, in Angola, it being the biggest maximum security prison in a nation, when you’re sent to Angola, you’re sent to die, whether you got a natural life sentence or whether you got numbers. Because very few people in Angola have a sentence of, say, 20 years, or less than 20 years. A person who might go to Angola with 20 years, they may be fortunate, they might get out of prison… There are some people, young people who go to Angola, 17 years old, and have 250 or 400 years, and some of them, there is no good time on that amount of time, you can’t do the sentence, a person can’t do life, they can do death in prison. Whether you got a natural life sentence, or whether you got an incremental life sentence… if you come to Angola, you die in Angola, that’s basic. And that is the course of almost all of the prisons within the States, and as I said the prisons within the States house more than 2 million people.

AS: Solitary confinement played a really particular role in the way the Black Panthers were treated [in prison], and similarly today for Muslim prisoners, you can look at Communication Management Units or treatment inside Florence ADX. What do you think the purpose of solitary confinement is, the purpose from the perspective of the prisons?

RK: I think the prison administration sees solitary confinement, initially, it was a place where… the Quakers began solitary confinement. The Quakers who found that, that if people were placed in solitary confinement, within 6 months if they were really isolated, and there was no contact, less contact, within 6 months an individual would have reconsidered their lifestyle. They would actually become self-reformed, self-rehabilitated, and I think to a degree, they were correct… but I read reports, when they initially started putting people in solitary confinement, many of them hung themselves, they went crazy, they never were the same after they got out, and that was only 6 months. But what America did was take it to another level… they revised what solitary confinement really meant. They would put you in a cell. Initially it was done for rule violations, they would place you in solitary confinement for a period of time, but you had an opportunity to get out.

Like I said, America took it to another level. In the 1970s, they began blowing up the prison system, prisoners in solitary confinement, enacting rules that allowed them, that gave them the power to keep you in solitary confinement, and solitary confinement is defined not by a prison warden, but by the courts in America. Its defined by being in a cell 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the lack of normal exercise, and that in itself, if that goes on and on and on, the court has never ruled in America that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual [punishment]. And we do have a case in which I am a part of, in which the court has ruled that my stay, which was 29 years in solitary confinement, that, because of the length of time in which I was there, it constituted cruel and unusual punishment [see Robert King Wilkerson, et al v. Richard Stalder, et al]. And that case is pending, in the federal court, it may go to the Supreme Court, and if it does… if the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit rules, whenever they rule, it will be applicable to everyone else…

But you know, the Black Panthers, they weren’t the only people placed in solitary confinement. America found a way to put people in solitary confinement and keep them for no reason… years later they extended [it], like I said it began in the ‘70s, but in the 80s, in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s, they began putting Black youngsters going to prison, if they thought you were a gang member, that was a reason to put you in solitary confinement and keep you there. There is a movement, as well, just like there’s a movement around the world, there’s a movement in America as well against solitary confinement. As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago there was a Congressional hearing… [Solitary confinement] is being scrutinized, it is being done because people around the world, are focusing on this issue, because it’s a major issue, it’s a violation of human rights. Any person, if they want to show any type of decency they have to consider what is going on in the gulags they call prison, especially in America.

AS: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but right now there’s a case at the European Court of Human Rights, where several men are facing extradition to the States for War on Terror charges. They tried to stop their extradition by bringing it to the ECHR, and arguing that if they had lifetime sentences at Florence, it would constitute the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment under the European Convention of Human Rights. But they lost their case [see Babar Ahmad and Others v. the United Kingdom]. If you could speak to the panel of judges at the European Court of Human Rights about their ruling, what would you say?

RK: Laws and regulations and rules that are made…. they are not infallible. People shouldn’t give them [laws] a godlike status… Legality runs the world. People’s lives and systems and government are based on the operation of laws. And many of these laws are very, very conflicting. These laws are seen as being omnipotent. I think they lose something. During slavery, it was legal to own slaves in America… What I’m trying to get to is people need to approach it differently. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s morally right. It doesn’t mean they have to give up the fight to give up this legality. If that had happened during chattel, slavery never would have been eliminated. It was people perpetuating the concept that this was inhuman, people coming together, and as a result, people began to see that slavery, as it was then, was something that was reprehensible. That needed to be overturned…
The world exists on legal precepts, and because of what happened with this case, people still need to challenge it. [People] need to see it as equivalent or tantamount to slavery… that [that] was reprehensible… Just 1/16 of just Black blood and you would have been considered a slave for life, and this was part of the Constitution. My point is, people got that changed. The Constitution was changed. And just because the European Court may have ruled a certain way, doesn’t mean that people have to stop fighting to overturn this.

It can be done, and it may not happen in this individual lifetime, hopefully it will, but you set the things in motion that can eliminate this happening in the future.

I say this, the European Court which has made that final decision. I wouldn’t call that the final decision. The final decision is left up to people… In the States, we allegedly live in a system of democracy, and it is representative democracy, but people’s democracy does not abound, not in the States. You have politicians’ democracy, you have people who are in high places who run the system, they are the people who are the benefactors of democracy. The majority of the system is not. And I think people in the United States have begun to recognize this, people around the world have begun to recognize this, what democracy means. Democracy doesn’t mean politicians’ powers, democracy means people powers. It’s a Greek word: Demos –means of the people – powers… It has been bastardized in America and around the world. The concept of democracy, with regards to people has been bastardized and minimized to serve a very few, and the very few are the politicians and judges and what not…. but they are not the majority of the people. The people who are the victim of this, the people who have to live in a system that operates like this, they can change it.

AS: Do you consider yourself a prison abolitionist?

RK: I consider myself favouring prison abolition. My quest at this time, though, is to focus on how it operates. And in doing this, I think it will have some impact on the abolition of prison. I think collectively, if people continue to focus on atrocities that occur as a result of prison, because if we don’t put it out there, if people don’t put their dissent, the system goes on, the beat goes on. What I’m doing, what other people are doing, all of this will have an impact on the abolition of prison. But I think that the system itself is not going to abolish itself, just like slavery didn’t abolish itself. People abolished these institutions… People make them, and collectively, people can break them.

AS: When I listen to you describe what it was like to be in solitary, it’s impossible for me to imagine how someone could see it as not being torture. I’m wondering, what do you think it is that makes it so impossible for people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes? Do you think its racism?

RK: A lot of time, people’s concepts about something, it may seem appalling, but if this is constantly done, incrementally, people are constantly seeing it, they become desensitized. They can accept what’s going on because they have been desensitized, that this is legitimate. In order to first put a person in prison, and to keep a person in prison, they first have to come up with ways of convincing people that prisons are necessary, that “we’re doing this for your safety” and that “if we don’t do it, this is what’s going to happen to you”, which is pretty wild. There should be law and order… there have to be laws governing people’s actions and so forth… But the way that the system perpetuates lies about needing to put people away for life, put fear in the hearts and the minds, that if we did not do this, this is what would occur…

I could give you a better example too. In order for many people around the world and whites to accept the institution of slavery, you know what they had to do first? They had to demonize and convince people that the people who were enslaved, were worthy of enslavement. That they were simple, that they needed to be enslaved, that God had given certain folks the right to enslave people, and people were convinced, that if you did not look like “the master race”, then by right, by God’s decree, and by the law of the land, you were a slave. So people lived for a couple of hundred years, it wasn’t until people said, hold up, something is wrong with this, this is reprehensible. It was then that people began to say, well you know, there is some truth. People had probably believed that the master race should enslave people started to think, there’s something is wrong with this.

So, I think the same thing has to take place with prisons, again today. And I’ve always said this, if you’re in prison, in Louisiana or in anywhere else in the prison or the United States, or anywhere in the world, in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, they know you didn’t commit, they put you in solitary confinement… if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this? You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror. So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism. And it is. And it’s nothing new. It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out. And that’s why it’s so important that people in America people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on, and people around the world…

To the question, of course. I was in prison and I definitely saw it as being a form of terror. Some people say justice delayed is justice denied, I agree with that 100%. But I go further than that, say not only is justice delayed is justice denied, but justice delayed is terrorism.

AS: Something you mentioned is the way that Guantanamo [Bay] actually drew on practices that had been happening in American prisons or in slavery for centuries. If you look at the way that Black men have been depicted in the US for centuries, and I think now increasingly if you look at the way that Muslim men are thought about or depicted, there are so many parallels. Muslim men are this new site of racial fear and terror. Do you think enough is being done to build bridges between Muslim communities and African American communities who are doing work around prison or solitary confinement, or even issues like jury discrimination?

RK: I believe people who are effectively struggling, I don’t care where you are or what persuasion or religion you are, I think people who are collectively working together, they will work somewhere the middle… The parallels are so great… People around the world are coming together for the same cause. I think we will at some point meet in the middle. It probably won’t happen right away, not that it shouldn’t, it’s long overdue. But I wouldn’t write it off… This is what we’re doing. We’re paving the way… We have to be consistent and persistent. If we see prison as being terror, if we want to eliminate these types of human rights violations, I think people who are interested in justice, I think they need to come together… And I do believe that this is happening.

AS: You talked about the Black Panthers being falsely portrayed, and I think a lot of that was around the role of self defence, and the way the Black Panthers talked about self defence. And I think today, the way that jihad is talked about or self defence in the context of jihad, there are so many parallels. What do you think the role of violence or resistance is in movements for social justice – violence of course, in however you want to define it?

RK: I believe that violence begets violence. We live in a violent system, that is perpetuated by violence, and at some point it will beget violence. So whether I agree with it or not, the grounds are laid for it… It’s a matter of survival, people have the instinct to survive, and if it takes violence to survive, people will do that. The system you’re trying to eliminate, they will, without any qualms, come at you violently. So I am saying this, that violence begets violence… justified violence, whatever you want to call it, sometimes violence is justified.
But I do believe this, that collectively, people can come together and eliminate a system. People operate on certain levels, some people throw small pebbles in the pond, some people throw bigger pebbles in the pond, some people throw even larger pebbles in the pond. If people all focus on one main issue, I think it will have an impact. The system itself doesn’t have a monopoly on initiating violence. The system [is violent] but [it] doesn’t control [violence]. What controls people’s emotions and so forth, is their desire to do better in life. And whatever it takes to do better, people will do this. Some will do one thing, some will through a little pebble in the pond, some will through a big pebble in the pond, and some might throw a rock in the pond. I’m saying, though, collectively this will have an impact. I really wish that, all people could throw a rock in the pond.

But when I say a rock in the pond, I do believe this, that all the pebbles are working together. And I don’t have a problem with people throwing rocks in the pond, and if that implies violence, so be it. These are things that occur. Whether I like it or not, this is a result of [systemic violence], people will not tolerate indecency and dehumanizing conditions. Whatever it takes… It happens and there’s nothing that I can do or anyone else can do… people sometimes come together and eliminate things through means other than violence, that could happen. But I do believe this, that of course, in the process of trying to change and eliminate things, there will be violence, people will die, there will be collateral damages, and so forth, and something the system can’t stop and I can’t stop. It follows suit, these are things that happen, they occur, and it’s not that I advocate it – and I don’t advocate it. I am just simply saying that this is what takes place, whether I like it, whether the system likes it, or whether anybody else likes it, this is what happens.

People will react, and some react in different manners and in different ways. Nobody has a monopoly, of course… There are some people willing to make sacrifices. Other people, they make sacrifices, but everyone doesn’t make sacrifices in the same way… There are people of all walks of life, people who really love to see justice rendered worldwide, they approach it differently, and I don’t have a problem with whatever because I think all forms of struggle are relevant.

AS: When you first got involved with the Black Panthers, and even today, Islam has always played a role in African American identity, especially during the time of the civil rights movement. What are your thoughts on the role of Islam in the Civil Rights movement and today, in African American communities?

RK: In the States, there was a group of Black men who followed Elijah Mohammad, they became Muslim and of course the system denigrated them, considered them being just a sect, not truly Muslim, whatever that might mean… To those people, to me they were true, regardless of what the system said, what they adopted. Malcolm X came up through them, he did great work, he was able to focus on it as a Muslim, as his background, as his stage. This is where he became well known, as you know, through Islam, what they call “Black Muslims”.

And he went to visit Mecca, he was embraced by brothers of all colours, people with the bluest eyes, he began to call them brothers. It was to totally different. Islam has had an impact, a great impact, on Blacks in America, and people generally. Even though Elijah Mohammed started, Malcolm X popularized Islam inside the US, it exists still to this today, they’re still struggling…

[Muslims] aren’t the single mechanism through which human rights can be achieved. People may have felt that at that time, but the consolidation of all those forces together would be better… This is why I use the term spiritual. We are all connected spiritually, regardless of what we believe in, whatever religion it is, and that spiritually has to connect. To me, that is more important, and I don’t mean to denigrate [Islam], but to me that spirituality and that connection is much more important, for people coming together and consolidating their efforts, than a religion… Spirituality that exists in people, that connective spirit, that desire to make sure that people are treated humanely, regardless of where they are in the world, regardless of their station in life, I think this is the quest.

AS: How did your time in solitary confinement impact or shape your spirituality?

RK: I think it did because I had a lot of time to reflect, ruminate, I should like to think. I had time to think, I had learned some things, I had read some things, because I only had an eight grade education but I learned some things along the way, in the process of becoming involved with the Black Panther Party… I became interested in some things. Don’t get me wrong – I had read the Bible, “the Holy Bible”, I had read that at least 3 or 4 times, through the whole six books. I was raised in a religious family and I considered myself at one time a Christian.

And I’m glad that I went through that, I think it was an evolving door for me to go further. Because I don’t see religion and spirituality as being quite the same, I’m sorry, but many people do think that they’re synonymous, but I really don’t think they are synonymous with each other, because religion does not generally mean that you’re spiritually connected with a force, and it doesn’t mean something metaphysical, I’m talking about that force that binds people together, that decency that exists in people together that allows them to communicate, that allows them to be decent to each other, and this is the type of spirituality that I speak of.

That spirituality that brings people together and that they can really see that, what impacts one individual, also impacts himself or herself as well, and others. We have to see it that way, because it does, whatever happens in America, it impacts this place, what happens here impacts America. So I think people need to become spiritually tuned to what is taking place. And this is, you don’t have to be of any persuasion or any ideology in order to see this, all you have to do is be human.

AS: After spending so much time in solitary, when you still have moments, that spark of still appreciating being out, what are some of the things that you appreciate the most?

RK: I appreciate the fact that being out, that I could shed some light. Those 31 years that I was in prison. You know when I left prison I said that, even though I was free of Angola, Angola would never be free of me. And I think that time has been going on, it’s been 11 years going on, or 12. I’ve been in quite a few places, and it has been my quest to shed light on human rights violations, not just in America, but, subsequently around the world. I see that there’s a connecting force that binds evil, but there’s also a connecting force that binds people of the opposite of what evil might entail. And I think that I opt for that. I had an opportunity to do a lot of thinking when I was in prison. And I think I made an assessment of what the system actually was and what it is. And I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had other people who quite obviously feel the same way I feel, because they’re doing things, and we have never met, but our approach, and the things we’re doing, are basically having the same effect, we’re focusing our energy on eliminating an ill that can impact everybody, and all of us.

You know, being in solitary confinement, that time, while I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement and what it can do to people. It is dehumanizing, it is demoralizing, it kills the soul, the soul cries. There’s no doubt about it. And I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement, but I think I used my stay in solitary confinement, it allowed me – and again, I don’t want to minimize solitary confinement, because I agonized each day. But there was never a day in solitary confinement that I didn’t think about trying to get out of solitary confinement, and trying to make things better while I was there. Not that I was trying to make things better, that I could forever exist in that type of environment, I was trying to make things more conducive, for me to be able to affect some changes. While I was in solitary confinement, I wasn’t just laying dormant. There were some things that needed to be changed. They did not allow us to have law books, we utilized the courts, we utilized what was given to us, what the US Constitution said we could have, we didn’t know this, we had no law practice, but you learned through rote. And we learned this, and we kind of improved it, but the main quest has always been for me, and for Herman and Albert, because we were victims of a frame-up. And the system knows this. Our quest has always been, to make things conducive, to where we lived it, where they kept us, in solitary confinement, so we can affect changes ourselves, and we used the courts, we utilized the courts, to make some changes. There were things that they did not allow us to do, and we understood that we had a constitutional right, regardless, that we had certain constitutional rights, that was our way of fighting back.

There are many methods of struggle, and we were so limited, and what we did, we utilized what was given to us, and we affected some changes, and subsequently, I was released. After filing my own writ, after 31 years, 29 years in solitary confinement of course, I was appointed a lawyer, and I released.

AS: I do other prison activism, letter writing and that sort of thing. And something I always spend a lot of time thinking about, it what is the best way for people on the outside to give support to people on the inside, but also make sure that the struggle is led by people on the inside. So I guess I’m wondering, as someone who spent a lot of time on the inside, but is now on the outside doing prison work, what you think about that. What kind of support meant the most to you when you were on the inside? How do you think about your work now?

RK: When we were on the inside, we did some things to affect some changes, we did some outreaching. And then a guy named Malik Rahim, a former member of the Black Panther Party, he recognized that… some 20 years later he saw something that we were still in prison. And what he did was got some former members of the BPP, got some former activists together. And they formed a support group. So my point is this – even though prisoners can impact or should be the main impact of how people operate, there are certain things they don’t have, outside, that people have access to outside, so they have to rely more on people outside. But by the same token, they have to set things in motion. And in setting things in motion, that is their control, in a sense. But for all practical reasons, Herman and Albert, even though they have all this support, and people support them, there’s people outside, Herman and Albert don’t really control [the movement]… While people who you’re working for can have all the input in the world with regards to how they should, how the situation they face should be dealt with, by the same token, I do believe this, that the people on the outside who have access and means and resources that they don’t have, they’re the people who they have to rely on. Herman and Albert, they don’t second guess what we do, because we know what we’re doing is in their interests…

Overall, it’s the people who are giving support to prisoners, it should be left up to them to not dictate, but to control the movement, because there’s no way in the world that people in Guantanamo can control the movement that you may be trying to affect, they can’t control it, they can have some input, and so that’s the way it is with Herman and Albert.

I think the people on the outside have to be the ones to continue, because they have the resources, they have to work with prisoners. And working together, a consolidated effort. It’s good, Herman and Albert are satisfied… And know this, they realize that and know this, that people on the outside, they do have their best interests at heart, because it’s a labour of love.

Click here to learn more about the Angola 3 and their struggle for justice

This article comes from: http://www.cageprisoners.com/our-work/interviews/item/4705-cageprisoners-exclusive-aviva-stahl-talks-to-former-black-panther-robert-king