Right now, a man named Albert Woodfox is sitting in a concrete and steel cage in a prison near the northernmost edge of the State of Louisiana. His cell is barely the size of a parking space, and he leaves it for a scant hour each day. When Albert awoke yesterday morning, it was to begin the first day of his forty-second year in solitary confinement.
Hundreds of miles away, near the bayou in the state’s southern reaches, the widow of a slain prison guard has begun her second day of the forty-second year since her husband’s death. Leontine “Teenie” Rogers was 17 years old when her husband Brent Miller was murdered at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the brutal prison also known as “Angola.” He was her whole world.
These three men's ability to weather such cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is testament to the power of the human spirit.
But Teenie has looked at the facts of the case – including bribed eyewitness, recanted witness testimony, overwhelming lack of physical evidence, and proof that the state ‘lost’ potentially exculpatory evidence – and she believes that Albert Woodfox is innocent. Likewise, Albert maintains that he was convicted in retaliation for his membership in the Black Panther Party and his work organizing prisoners for better conditions inside Angola. Albert’s conviction has been overturned three times – most recently in February 2013 – but he remains behind bars as an appeals court decides his fate.
So today Teenie Rogers and Albert Woodfox are both still waiting for justice, after 42 years.
The story of the so-called “Angola 3″ is remarkable in many ways. Collectively, Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox spent more than a century in extreme isolation. Robert was released in 2001 and Herman in 2013 – just three days before he succumbed to advanced liver cancer. Albert is the only member of the Angola 3 who remains behind bars, one of the longest-serving prisoners in U.S. history.
The three men’s ability to weather such cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is testament to the power of the human spirit. Even Herman remained unbroken in his final days. In his last statement from prison, issued shortly before his release, he wrote:
“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.”
The story of these three men is incredible, but it is not entirely unique. The United States holds tens of thousands of people in long term isolation – a practice so abusive, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture has specifically urged the United States to take concrete steps to eliminate the use of prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and detention facilities.
Just as Albert Woodfox’s case is a lens through which to better see the nightmarish practice of prolonged isolation in the United States, the legal process which has kept him in isolation behind bars exemplifies the discrimination and corruption rife in Louisiana’s justice system. After nearly four decades, it is time for Albert to walk free. It is time for to relieve Teenie Rogers of the burden of believing that the wrong man is being punished for her husband’s murder.