Louisiana’s Angola 3: 100 Years of Solitude

By Wende Gozan Brown, Media Relations Director

Campaigning for justice for the Angola 3, Baton Rouge, 1972

Thirty nine years ago, three young black men were put in solitary confinement.  Two are still there.

Collectively they have spent more than 100 years in isolation, most of it at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

The “Angola 3″ maintain they were targeted for speaking out against inhumane treatment and racial segregation in the prison, and are now fighting for justice and recognition of their cruel, endless years in the hole.

Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, originally convicted of unrelated cases of armed robbery, were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972.  Robert King, locked up for robbery, was also convicted of murder once he was in the prison. The most fortunate of the three, his conviction was overturned in 2001, and he was released after 29 years of isolation.

Meanwhile, the continued detention of Woodfox and Wallace showcases the failing of the Louisiana justice system. In a new report, Amnesty International notes that no physical evidence links Woodfox and Wallace to the murder. On top of that, potentially favorable DNA evidence was lost.  The convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony. Best of all, it seems prison officials bribed the main eyewitness into giving statements against the men.  Even the widow of the prison guard has expressed skepticism, saying in 2008,

“If they did not do this – and I believe that they didn’t – they have been living a nightmare for 36 years!”

I’m not sure what is most disturbing:  that Louisiana has allowed these men to languish on seemingly-fabricated charges?  That Woodfox and Wallace, now senior citizens with clean conduct records, are characterized as potential threats?  Or that by holding the men under such tight quarters, the state has been in breach of its own prison policies for the past 15 years? The so called “nature of the original reason for lockdown” is no longer allowed to hold a prisoner in isolation, yet it has been invoked more than 150 times for these men.

Woodfox and Wallace watch life pass them from spaces barely larger than my bathroom.  Eventually moved from Angola to two other prisons, they are allowed outside three hours a week in a small cage.  For four more hours they can shower or walk alone along the corridor.  Visits and telephone calls are few. According to their lawyers, this has contributed to a host of health problems, including osteoarthritis, hypertension and insomnia.

Woodfox’s murder conviction has been overturned twice, once by a U.S. district judge, and a State Judicial Commission recommended that Wallace’s conviction be reversed — but appeals and a refusal to see the light have kept the men in hell.  As they fight their murder convictions, the Angola 3 are suing Louisiana authorities, asserting that their prolonged isolation is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the U.S. Constitution.

We can support their fight.  Write LA Governor Bobby Jindal and, if he doesn’t act, contact U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Remind them that the United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture, and that this insane confinement also contravenes the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

This is not a hopeless case.  As Robert King said,

“I do believe that there is something that can be done and a pro-active position in the case can help… The ripples in the pond are increasing and we need to see some waves… and these are the things that keep me going. I can see the waves coming from the ripples.”

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26 thoughts on “Louisiana’s Angola 3: 100 Years of Solitude

  1. Louisiana is the worst state for human rights violations I have ever lived in… I was born in West Virginia, under the motto "Mountaineers are always Free." Actually, we are raised there to believe all people are free and should be treated as equals. In Louisiana they are raised to be racist. Wife beaters raise the next generation of batterers and tell them it's fine to keep the people they supposedly love prisoner, and the laws in the state of Louisiana support this. Leaving an abusive relationship there, I had to run twelve hundred miles to find a court system that would harbor my family. In Louisiana it was legal for us to kept like prisoners of war. If that's how families on the outside are treated, imagine how few rights they think those men behind those horrid Angola walls deserve. What makes them less deserving of humanity? Evidently (if the corrupt powers that be in La. hadn't thrown out the evidence) nothing! Human rights do not exist in Louisiana… this is one of many examples, and they must ALL be protested. I will add this fight to my own, please add mine to yours – change the laws that oppress.

  2. Louisiana is the worst state for human rights violations I have ever lived in… I was born in West Virginia, under the motto “Mountaineers are always Free.” Actually, we are raised there to believe all people are free and should be treated as equals. In Louisiana they are raised to be racist. Wife beaters raise the next generation of batterers and tell them it’s fine to keep the people they supposedly love prisoner, and the laws in the state of Louisiana support this. Leaving an abusive relationship there, I had to run twelve hundred miles to find a court system that would harbor my family. In Louisiana it was legal for us to kept like prisoners of war. If that’s how families on the outside are treated, imagine how few rights they think those men behind those horrid Angola walls deserve. What makes them less deserving of humanity? Evidently (if the corrupt powers that be in La. hadn’t thrown out the evidence) nothing! Human rights do not exist in Louisiana… this is one of many examples, and they must ALL be protested. I will add this fight to my own, please add mine to yours – change the laws that oppress.

  3. How can something like this continue? Seriously, does Obama know of this situation? What can be done, right now, to stop/change this terrible, horrible example of Man's Inhumanity To Man?

  4. How can something like this continue? Seriously, does Obama know of this situation? What can be done, right now, to stop/change this terrible, horrible example of Man’s Inhumanity To Man?

  5. I, too am from the north and it seems there is a lot of racial issues here in Louisiana. Instead of raising children and teaching them how to become better indididuals, Louisiana takes the men from families, forcing women to get state assistance, and the children are raised without a male in the house. Louisiana is #2 ranked in the lowest education of all the states. So, if Louisiana is so low in education and so high in incarcerations, what does that say for this state?? It clearly shows that earning money by incarcerating people is more important than educating them so that they will live more productive lives. Again…money is the root of an evil doing. Sentence lengths are too long. Prisoners and their visitors are not treated with any respect. Prisoners are not animals. The fact that they are in prison is punishment enough. But to make the family members suffer and to put such harsh conditions on prisoners is inhumane. Can you live in a room with 85 others with no a/c in the high 90* weather?? Yet, we see prisoners at Angola doing this. Humane? Not!

  6. I, too am from the north and it seems there is a lot of racial issues here in Louisiana. Instead of raising children and teaching them how to become better indididuals, Louisiana takes the men from families, forcing women to get state assistance, and the children are raised without a male in the house. Louisiana is #2 ranked in the lowest education of all the states. So, if Louisiana is so low in education and so high in incarcerations, what does that say for this state?? It clearly shows that earning money by incarcerating people is more important than educating them so that they will live more productive lives. Again…money is the root of an evil doing. Sentence lengths are too long. Prisoners and their visitors are not treated with any respect. Prisoners are not animals. The fact that they are in prison is punishment enough. But to make the family members suffer and to put such harsh conditions on prisoners is inhumane. Can you live in a room with 85 others with no a/c in the high 90* weather?? Yet, we see prisoners at Angola doing this. Humane? Not!

  7. Gov. Bobby Jindal? What makes you think he doesn't already know what's going on and has chosen to ignore it? This particular situation is only one of many, he is part of the problem! Just because he is Govenor doesn't mean he cares about injustice to incarcerated black men, come on, this is 2011, when it involves crime and punishment, politicians tend to look the other way.

  8. Gov. Bobby Jindal? What makes you think he doesn’t already know what’s going on and has chosen to ignore it? This particular situation is only one of many, he is part of the problem! Just because he is Govenor doesn’t mean he cares about injustice to incarcerated black men, come on, this is 2011, when it involves crime and punishment, politicians tend to look the other way.

  9. That is progress, to be moved out of solitary confinement after 36 years. The transition well be beneficial as the lawsuits prepare to, hopefully, release them. If their appeal is successful, resulting in freedom, will Louisiana adequately compensate them for the wrongful conviction, the 36 years of solitude, the inhumane treatment of a human being, mental anguish (including family members)? Something to look forward to, don't you agree? Stay tuned . . .

  10. That is progress, to be moved out of solitary confinement after 36 years. The transition well be beneficial as the lawsuits prepare to, hopefully, release them. If their appeal is successful, resulting in freedom, will Louisiana adequately compensate them for the wrongful conviction, the 36 years of solitude, the inhumane treatment of a human being, mental anguish (including family members)? Something to look forward to, don’t you agree? Stay tuned . . .

  11. America is near the top of the planets worst human rights offenders, with the worlds largest prison population, in the top 5 for "executions", with absolutely no limits placed on individual states on prisoner abuse! Prison in the US is big business, a source of nearly free "slave labor" to enrich the corporate patrons of state elective office holders. Too often DA's, ADA's use successful prosecution as a path to political advancement, guilt or innocence is lost in a gaming of the system that makes judges and prosecutors fight for re-election (along with all the tricks and corruption that follow this) and as a result truth & "justice" are lost along the way!

  12. America is near the top of the planets worst human rights offenders, with the worlds largest prison population, in the top 5 for “executions”, with absolutely no limits placed on individual states on prisoner abuse! Prison in the US is big business, a source of nearly free “slave labor” to enrich the corporate patrons of state elective office holders. Too often DA’s, ADA’s use successful prosecution as a path to political advancement, guilt or innocence is lost in a gaming of the system that makes judges and prosecutors fight for re-election (along with all the tricks and corruption that follow this) and as a result truth & “justice” are lost along the way!

  13. They're not out of solitary. They were moved to an experimental dorm in Angola from March to October 2008, give or take, with about 13 other men. While the dormitory provided the men with the opportunity to interact with one
    another, they remained isolated from the rest of the prison. No provisions were
    made to enable the men to occupy themselves. They were promised a garden,
    but given no tools for gardening. They were promised recreation, but given no
    weights or equipment. Eventually, after six months of negotiations by lawyers, crafts were allowed. When Woodfox's murder conviction was overturned, he was returned to 23-hour-a-day solitary shortly thereafter, and then Wallace was returned to solitary. So they've been in isolation for almost three years since, whether in Angola or the other prisons. You can read it all in the Amnesty International report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-10… .

  14. They're not out of solitary. They were moved to an experimental dorm in Angola from March to October 2008, give or take, with about 13 other men. While the dormitory provided the men with the opportunity to interact with one
    another, they remained isolated from the rest of the prison. No provisions were
    made to enable the men to occupy themselves. They were promised a garden,
    but given no tools for gardening. They were promised recreation, but given no
    weights or equipment. Eventually, after six months of negotiations by lawyers, crafts were allowed. When Woodfox's murder conviction was overturned, he was returned to 23-hour-a-day solitary shortly thereafter, and then Wallace was returned to solitary. So they've been in isolation for almost three years since, whether in Angola or the other prisons. You can read it all in the Amnesty International report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-10… .

  15. They're not out of solitary. They were moved to an experimental dorm in Angola from March to October 2008, give or take, with about 13 other men. While the dormitory provided the men with the opportunity to interact with one
    another, they remained isolated from the rest of the prison. No provisions were
    made to enable the men to occupy themselves. They were promised a garden,
    but given no tools for gardening. They were promised recreation, but given no
    weights or equipment. Eventually, after six months of negotiations by lawyers, crafts were allowed. When Woodfox's murder conviction was overturned, he was returned to 23-hour-a-day solitary shortly thereafter, and then Wallace was returned to solitary. So they've been in isolation for almost three years since, whether in Angola or the other prisons. You can read it all in the Amnesty International report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-10… .

  16. They’re not out of solitary. They were moved to an experimental dorm in Angola from March to October 2008, give or take, with about 13 other men. While the dormitory provided the men with the opportunity to interact with one
    another, they remained isolated from the rest of the prison. No provisions were
    made to enable the men to occupy themselves. They were promised a garden,
    but given no tools for gardening. They were promised recreation, but given no
    weights or equipment. Eventually, after six months of negotiations by lawyers, crafts were allowed. When Woodfox’s murder conviction was overturned, he was returned to 23-hour-a-day solitary shortly thereafter, and then Wallace was returned to solitary. So they’ve been in isolation for almost three years since, whether in Angola or the other prisons. You can read it all in the Amnesty International report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-100-years-in-solitary-the-angola-3-and-their-fight-for-justice .

  17. Louisiana has the highest employment rate in the US, perhaps partly because it also has the highest rate of incarceration IN THE WORLD !!!!! (Acc. to AI, etc.)

  18. Louisiana has the highest employment rate in the US, perhaps partly because it also has the highest rate of incarceration IN THE WORLD !!!!! (Acc. to AI, etc.)