A3 Newsletter: The March of Freedom Continues

(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox at a meeting of VOTE-Shreveport on October 21. Albert is standing in the back row, sixth person from the right. Click on the photo for a larger image).

A3 Newsletter, Nov. 18, 2017:
On The Road Again

As another year draws to a close, Albert and King are busier than ever traveling the country and the world, sharing their stories and providing inspiration and hope that good things can happen in this horribly broken criminal justice system.

Next week they’ll be heading to Belgium and Germany to work with their friends at Amnesty on launching another Write for Rights Campaign.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the guys that began with trips to San Francisco to speak at the Exploratorium and UCSF Psychology Dept., then to Toronto and Montreal before heading to Denmark and Sweden, the premiere of their film, Cruel and Unusual in NYC and Los Angeles and a myriad of other events across the county to support multiple efforts. We look forward to wrapping up the year with A3 supporters next month with a report back from their European tour.

One of the most difficult things that Albert has had to deal with since his release is the many, many requests he receives from prisoners for assistance.  As A3 supporters know, success in this effort took over 20 years to achieve, with hundreds of individuals using all their creativity and energy and resources to draw attention to this case, not to mention a rafter of skilled lawyers and investigators. It is heart breaking for Albert to receive letter after letter from prisoners and their families and friends who share their stories of abuse and denial of rights inside and to have so little one can offer as help.  

We recall several years ago reading about a wrongfully convicted prisoner who wrote ten letters every day for the 14 years he was incarcerated to lawyers and organizations before he reached someone who heard his story, agreed to help and he was released. There are no silver bullets and no straight path towards justice, just lots of hard work, searching for legal assistance, a committed support group and some lucky breaks seem to be the only advice we can pass on.  

We’re so grateful that Albert is finally free and that he and Robert are able to enjoy their lives out here in minimum security with family and friends. However, as wonderful as it is to have come this far and to have both Albert and Robert free, justice was not served in this case. Freedom is the consolation prize that has committed them to keep on working for the freedom of others.  

Albert and Robert Will Return to Europe for a Visit to Belgium and Germany with Amnesty International

Later this month, Robert and Albert will be going to Germany and Belgium to launch Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaigns which encourages activists to write to political prisoners around the world. They will also be meeting activists at public events and continuing to campaign & lobby for an end to solitary confinement and the release of political prisoners.

In Brussels, Belgium, Albert and Robert will appear at the “Write for Rights” kickoff on Saturday the 2nd and on Tuesday the 5th at a screening of the film “Cruel and Unusual.” If more information about these Brussels events becomes available, we will post it on our twitter and facebook pages.

For all of our A3 supporters in Germany, Amnesty International and the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative Black People in Germany) would like to invite you to two events, both entitled BEING POLITICIZED – Talking about Justice Systems and Racism with Albert Woodfox and Robert King. The events are in the cities of Berlin and Cologne. 

Event information, written in German, is below.

BERLIN: Dienstag 28.11.2017, 19 Uhr (Einlass 18.30 Uhr)

Ort:  STUDIO Я (Maxim Gorki Theater), Hinter dem Gießhaus 2, 10117 Berlin 

Mit:  Albert Woodfox, Robert King, Bafta Sarbo (Vorstandsmitglied der Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland Bund e.V.), Sumit Bhattacharyya (USA-Experte von Amnesty International) 

Moderation:  Karen Taylor (Vorstandsmitglied des European Network Against Racism, ENAR)

Eintritt frei, Anmeldung nicht möglich

Facebook event page.

KÖLN: Mittwoch 29.11.2017, 19.30 Uhr (Einlass 19 Uhr)

Ort:  Bürgerzentrum Alte Feuerwache (Großes Forum), Melchiorstraße 3, 50670 Köln

Mit:  Albert Woodfox, Robert King, Grußwort: Jessica Böhner (Vorstandsmitglied von Amnesty International Deutschland e.V.)

Moderation:  Hadija Haruna-Oelker (Politikwissenschaftlerin und Redakteurin, aktiv in der Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland Bund e.V.)

Eintritt frei, Anmeldung nicht möglich

Ripples Become Waves: Rigo 23’s Leonard Peltier Art Exhibit in Los Angeles on Sunday

Artist, Rigo 23 has actively supported the Angola 3 case and traveled extensively with Robert over the years. As part of his ongoing work on political prisoners, Rigo’s recent project on Leonard Peltier will be exhibited this Sunday, November 19th at The Main in Los Angeles, using a title that A3’s Robert King coined: “Ripples Become Waves.”  

(Photos by Ashlyn Forbes)

Albert Woodfox Appears in Premiere Episode of “The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman”

On October 11, the National Geographic Channel premiered the new TV show entitled “The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman.” With the title and focus of the episode being “The March of Freedom,” Albert was interviewed and his story was spotlighted alongside several other survivors of prison and torture.

You can watch an excerpt from the section of the show focusing on Albert here, but you will need to subscribe to the National Geographic website, or possibly catch it via On Demand on your TV or as a rerun on the Nat Geo channel where it is next being rebroadcast this Sunday, November 19 at 6pm EST.

Albert Woodfox Event With VOTE-Shreveport

(Click on graphic for larger image)

On October 21, Albert Woodfox traveled to North Louisiana for a meeting organized by the Shreveport, Louisiana chapter of VOTE (Voices of the Experienced). An exclusive article written for the A3 Newsletter by Deborah Allen provides background on the important history of VOTE in Louisiana, as well as a report-back from Albert’s visit last month.

Albert was interviewed by KSLA News 12 and a video report published by the Shreveport Sun Newspaper features excerpts from Albert’s talk. You can watch a video of Albert’s full speech here.

(PHOTO: Deborah Allen with Albert on Oct. 21)

Albert Woodfox Visits VOTE-Shreveport

Written by guest author Deborah Allen

Tucked away in the far northern corner of Louisiana is Caddo Parish. It is so far removed from the rest of the state you would think you are in east Texas. The one thing that cannot be denied; for years Caddo Parish has incarcerated more than anywhere else in the state. With Louisiana incarcerating more than anywhere else in the US, and the US more than anywhere in the world, logically Caddo Parish incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere else in the world.

It is evident Caddo Parish has not changed much since the Reconstruction era. A report issued by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2016, produced in cooperation with the Democratic Governor John Bel Edward, and the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force found that more than half of prisoners recently sentenced were convicted on drug charges. The Pew report also outlined how the top 10 crimes that received sentencing are nonviolent offenses. This explains why even though arrests and sentencing are high, the crime rate keeps going up.

The Task Force’s consensus recommendations would avert the projected growth in the number of prisoners in  Louisiana and move the prison population downward, for an overall reduction in the prison population of 13 percent (4,817 prison beds) by 2027. This decline in the number of prisoners would save Louisiana taxpayers $305 million over the next ten years. Savings in FY2018 alone would exceed $9 million. The recommendations would reinvest over half of the savings – $154 million-into research-based programs that reduce recidivism and services that support victims of crime. (Source)

November 1, 2017 was the release date of nearly 2000 nonviolent inmates in Louisiana. Most of these inmates are being released 60 days earlier that the date that was set for release. Caddo Parish sheriff, Steve Prator wasted no time using fear tactics to scare citizens across north Louisiana. Prator held a press release that went viral across the globe, where he touted the importance of keeping “good” prisoners incarcerated to perform money-saving menial labor. Furthermore, he described state prisoners as a “necessary evil to keep the doors open” at the jail his office runs. Among those are “the ones that you can work, that’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs.”

In Caddo Parish and north Louisiana, the services provided for reentering society do not exist, thereby creating even greater challenges for those reentering these communities to be productive citizens. While the system is broken across the state, in north Louisiana it is even worse.

VOTE (Voice of the Experienced) is a grassroots, membership organization founded and run by Formerly Incarcerated Persons (FIPs) in partnership with allies. VOTE is dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions. The mission of VOTE – We believe that FIPs, their loved ones, and their communities can use their experiences and expertise to improve public safety in New Orleans. Through civic education and participation, VOTE increasingly mobilizes a strong group of leaders to transform our city’s criminal justice system. VOTE-NOLA was at the table with Pew, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Louisianans for Prison Alternatives, and the ACLU in formulating the Justice Reinvestment Package. An amazing coming together of allies and a bi-partisan legislation came together to get smart about how the state incarcerates. 

 

(Click on the image above for a larger version)

During this meeting of minds, activists and allies came together and identified the need for VOTE chapters across north Louisiana. Executive director Norris Henderson and field director Robert Goodman Jr. recruited Curtis Davis and Stephanie Rogers-Jones to organize VOTE-Shreveport. In less than 6 months, VOTE-Shreveport is seeing a great response from formerly incarcerated people and their allies. The services provided by the New Orleans VOTE chapter will greatly benefit those in northwest Louisiana. The services provided by VOTE are to help with reentry health care, housing, and leadership development, all of which Shreveport is in dire need of.

Albert Woodfox graciously accepted an invitation to speak at our meeting and share his experiences of 43 years in solitary and his counsel on helping others successfully reenter. It’s a five hour drive from NOLA to Shreveport. Albert left early to make the 1PM meeting and had to race back for an 8PM meeting in NOLA.

He told the audience about his time in solitary confinement, how he gathered strength to carry on day after day. When someone asked him what he focused on during his solitary confinement he stated, “If possibly dying in prison could be an inspiration to someone following me, then I was willing to make that sacrifice. I believe my cause was noble.” 

Albert also credited the lessons his mother taught him as a child. “That was my foundation. I realized that great men and women and sometimes children that I read about were not putting something in me, but were pulling something out of me that my mother had already instilled from me. I believed something so strongly that I was willing to give my life for it. With that belief they had no ability to break me.”

Albert called on those in attendance to get behind the efforts of VOTE Shreveport with so much work to do across the state of Louisiana to make this justice reinvestment work and to keep up the good fight. As he told one young supporter when ask why he is still active after his release.

“Old men like me struggle so that young men like you can know victory. As strong as I am, I cannot do by myself. It doesn’t matter how strong I am, my strength is no greater than your support. As stron
g as I am, I cannot do this by myself. I have to have the strength to take the first blow but beyond that are the people sitting in this room, people of the city of Shreveport, of the state of Louisiana, people in the United States of America, and the world that make the difference.”

–Guest author Deborah Allen, (shown alongside Albert in the above photo from Oct.21) is a long time supporter of the Angola 3. Deborah is a criminal justice activist, author, and executive director of the North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition who recently established the first civil rights museum in north Louisiana.

Flyer for an upcoming VOTE event in New Orleans:

Join VOTE on December 12, 2017 as we march for the rights of formerly and presently incarcerated women and girls. We will be marching from the First 72+ to City Hall. Email Lead Organizer Dolfinette Martin, dolfinette@vote-nola.org, for more information.

According to The Sentencing Project, there has been a 700% increase in the number of incarcerated women and girls since 1980. These women face greater threat of sexual assault, restricted access to necessary feminine hygiene products, prohibitive health care choices, and inhumane isolation from family and allies. We will be marching to show our support to the women and girls who have experienced, and are experiencing, the injustices of female incarceration firsthand.

Plantations Were Prisons: Mobilizing for the Aug. 19 Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington DC –Part one of an interview with Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

(VIDEO: 2011 Amnesty International interview with Robert H. King, entitled “Slavery Still Reigns in US prisons.”)
Plantations Were Prisons: Mobilizing for the Aug. 19 Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington DC
–Part one of an interview with Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
Robert H. King and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 are issuing a call to everybody concerned about the human rights of US prisoners: “We know the economic situation for African Americans, other minority communities, and poor whites is very difficult. However, if there is any way possible for you to get to the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington DC on August 19, so that your voice can be heard, so that we can speak in one voice, please join us. Enough is Enough!”
Albert Woodfox was released from prison in February, 2016 after over 43 years in solitary confinement. Robert King, the other surviving member of the Angola 3, spent 29 years in solitary confinement until his release in 2001. Along with personally traveling to Washington DC for the March on August 19, both King and Woodfox are currently working to spread the word and raise awareness about the upcoming event.
The August 19 March will gather near the White House, in Lafayette Park, at 12:00 Noon. The organizers “seek to unite activists, advocates, prisoners, ex-prisoners, their family and friends, as well as all others committed to the fight to drastically reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with more humane and effective systems. Our aim is to expose the prison industrial complex for what it is. We want to challenge the idea that caging and controlling people keeps communities safe.” 

Albert Woodfox emphasizes the importance of the March: “This is an opportunity to bring to light a lot of stuff that has been kept in the dark about prisons and the judicial system. August 19 will give an opportunity for a mother, father or grandparents to speak about the horrors of their loved ones being in prison.”
The impact of the US prison system on families is a central focus of the March, and is an issue Woodfox speaks directly to: “If you consider the degrading and humiliating experiences that family members sometimes have to endure just to visit, in my opinion it has risen to the point now where the judge sends an individual to prison, he is also sentencing the whole family.” Furthermore, “because of economic hardship, particularly with minorities, it js very difficult for a family to give the kind of support that they want to give to their loved ones. Those are the kinds of things people will get a chance to talk about on August 19.”
The event’s two core demands involve the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified in 1865, following the end of the Civil War. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, except for prisoners, stating specifically: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The organizers of the March are demanding that “the 13th amendment enslavement clause of the United States Constitution be amended to abolish legalized slavery in America.” Furthermore, they demand “a Congressional hearing on the 13th Amendment enslavement clause being recognized as in violation of international law, the general principles of human rights and its direct links to” several different issues, including “private entities exploiting prison labor,” “companies overcharging prisoners for goods and services,” and “producing the world’s largest prison population.”
For many years now, the Angola 3 have criticized the existence of legalized slavery in US prisons, particularly given that Angola State Prison in Louisiana (where the Angola 3 organized a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party in the early 1970’s) was built on a former slave plantation, and in its current state is arguably a modern day slave plantation. Robert King extends this critique to today, asserting that: “Because of the 13th Amendment’s impact, there needs to be a reconciliation period. The system is oppressive with economic discrimination, racism, bigotry, and more. We want to make the connections, to show how broad the impact of the 13th Amendment is, and how well thought out it was. It may have been a small idea in 1865 but it has since magnified itself greatly.”
Albert Woodfox argues that the enslavement clause was added to the 13th Amendment “to appease Southern politicians and wealthy men. A lot of people think that slavery is over, but it is not.” Woodfox continues: “Anyone who has been convicted of a felony in this country becomes a slave of the state, and you lose your human rights and in most cases your citizen rights for a long time, in some cases forever. Some states have laws where if you are convicted of a felony, then you lose your right to vote. The American Revolution was about exactly that: ‘taxation without representation.’ If I am a former prisoner and I am lucky enough to get a job, I will be paying taxes but I don’t have the right to vote because I went to prison. Okay, I went to prison and I paid my dues, so why when I come back into society do I not have the basic human right in an organized society and that is to vote. Those are the kinds of things we are trying to bring to light to American citizens.”
As the August 19 March approaches, we are publishing a new interview with Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In our discussion featured below, Prof. Bell provides an in depth analysis and further historical context for properly understanding what she argues are the legitimate criticisms presented by organizers and participants in the March.
For example, Prof. Bell confronts the history and legacy of slavery head-on, asserting: “When it comes to African Americans, we have been incarcerated from the time we arrived in this country. Plantations were prisons. The change from incarceration on a plantation, to incarceration in custodial institutions, to incarceration where there are no physical limitations, but where one exists in a state of civic and political oppression, in my view, is nothing more than semantics. Mass incarceration started when slavery started.”
This interview with Prof. Bell is now the fourth in an extended series. Our previous interviews also focused on human rights and the criminal justice system, and are entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial(2012), Terrorism, COINTELPRO and the Black Panther Party(2014), Healing Our Wounds: Restorative Justice Is Needed For Albert Woodfox, The Black Panther Party & The Nation (2015).
Part two of our interview will be published next week, in advance of the August 19 March.

(PHOTO: Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell)
Angola 3 News:  Your recent article published by the Mercer Law Review, entitled “How The Narrative About Louisiana’s Non-Unanimous Criminal Jury System Became a Person of Interest in the Case Against Justice in the Deep South” examines “instances where twelve-person juries are allowed to cast judgement with fewer than twelve individuals voting in favor of a finding of guilt in non-capital, criminal cases involving hard labor sentences.” 
Can you please explain what your critique of this policy is, and how it relates to your broader critique of institutionalized white supremacy in the US criminal justice system?
Angela A. Allen-Bell:  In felony cases that are not death penalty cases, Louisiana seats twelve jurors, but allows a conviction upon the vote of only ten of those jurors.
In 1803, when Louisiana became a territory, unanimous verdicts were required. Non-unanimous verdicts were introduced in Louisiana after slavery ended. This Jim Crow era law made its way to the Constitution of 1898 after a convention of all white males expressed that their:  “mission was…to establish the supremacy of the white race.”
The change from unanimity was to: (1) obtain quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor (vis-à-vis Louisiana’s convict leasing system) as a replacement for the recent loss of free slave labor;  and (2) ensure African American jurors would not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. In my view, this law:
•    Creates an arbitrary system whereby defendants of 48 states are afforded greater 6th Amendment protections than defendants in Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states that allow the use of criminal, non-unanimous juries.
•     Establishes an illogical disparity in 6th Amendment protections between state courts and federal courts since all federal courts require unanimous juries (even federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon).
•    Contributes to wrongful convictions.
•    Ignores the credible research on group thinking, which suggests that unanimous verdicts are more reliable, more careful and more thorough.
•    Creates a legal means for prosecutors to discriminate when it comes to jury practices by allowing them to circumvent the US Supreme Court’s 1986 Batson v. Kentucky decision, which prohibits prosecutors from using race as a reason not to select someone for jury service. 
•    Contributes to the creation of an automated justice system whose aim is speed as opposed to justice and genuine concern for public safety.
•    Ignores longstanding 6th Amendment tenants calling for unanimity dating back to the enactment of the 6th Amendment and the time of the Framers.
•    Allows different standards between the states and the federal government for the protection of fundamental rights in defiance of the Bill of Rights, which mandates otherwise. 
•    Undermines public trust in the judicial system.
•    Contributes to the oppression of classes of people.
•    Contributes to mass incarceration.
We often think of slavery in racial terms. The scale of slavery is often overlooked. When slavery was abolished, it was the largest financial asset in the American economy. This is significant because it speaks to the coveted nature of the system and hints to the veraciousness of the appetite that would have existed to maintain it.
Laws such as the 13th Amendment and Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law create the appearance of legitimacy in government while simultaneously serving as legal blueprints for the oppression of certain people. They were written to ensure that African Americans could not achieve social or political equality. These laws represent the legislation of oppression and white supremacy. Justice and oppression can’t coexist. Therein lies the problem.   
The historical record is replete with examples of this taking form under the cover of law, policy and/or practice. For example, following the end of segregation in Louisiana, the legislature created a Segregation Committee and an Association of Citizens Councils. These bodies were to work in close cooperation with the legislature to preserve white supremacy. One of the things they did was set up programs for parish voting registrars where registrars were trained on how to promote white political control.
Mississippi’s legislature created a Sovereignty Commission for using legislation to maintain white supremacy. Alabama added language to its constitution that prevented people from voting if they were convicted of certain enumerated crimes. The crimes that they included in the legislation came from conviction statistics. They used those statistics to select crimes that African Americans were mostly convicted of and then those crimes were put into the constitutional enumeration with the intent of disenfranchising African Americans.
I encourage people to stop viewing these injustices as solitary wrongs. They are so much more than bad laws or bad policies. Justice seekers must view these laws within the context of the system they were designed in. Fixing these laws will accomplish a very narrow goal:  one bad law gone. I discourage a fix. I encourage a solution.
The real issue is the system that plays host to such injustices and human rights abuses. The focus of this generation has to be on systemic change. This is the only way to finally confront the complex layers of institutionalized racism and supremacy in the criminal justice system.
Since the late 1980s, Congressman John Conyers has repeatedly introduced H.R. 40, which calls for the establishment of a “Commission to Study the Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.” What’s important about this legislation is the aspect that would create a federal commission to review the institution of slavery, the resulting racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on African Americans who are living today. Studies are routinely done in this country concerning lesser matters. It makes logical sense for the government to devote its resources to fully acknowledging the far-reaching impact that slavery has had on us―all of us.
Since slavery ended, there have been too many instances of law and policy being used as an agent of repression. And it is law and policy that has defined our economic, political and social existence. At what point have we collectively confronted this reality and what it has done to the infrastructure of our government and our legal system? The upcoming march wisely seeks to confront this void.
A3N:  What is the current status of the non-unanimous jury rule in Louisiana? Are there currently any challenges to it in the courts or elsewhere?
AB:  The law remains in the criminal code and in the state constitution. It continues to be championed and used by many prosecutors on a regular basis. At the same time, there are continuous defense challenges in Louisiana (and Oregon) state courts. Louisiana courts render predictable and ritualistic rulings that maintain the status quo.
On rare occasions when Louisiana courts have agreed to review the merits of non-unanimous jury challenges, they harmoniously declare that the solution to this injustice is to place a toilsome burden of proof on criminal defendants. Notably, on February 9, 2017, in the case of State v. Lee, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter ruled that proof of disproportionate impact requires the testimony of a statistician or social scientist who has:
 
“[P]reformed a peer-reviewed study which looked at raw data concerning jury verdicts. This data would have been divided based on unanimous and non-unanimous juries. The data then would have been analyzed for guilty, not guilty, hung juries, and overturned verdicts. The data would also be teased apart based on race, gender, and even religion…To show disparate impact, the court needs to see a full-scale study which looks at the numbers to provide conclusive demographic data…”
There are ongoing efforts by Oregon and Louisiana defense attorneys to have this issue reviewed by the US Supreme Court (who last spoke on this issue in its flawed, 1972 Apodaca v. Oregon plurality opinion). A mounting grassroots advocacy effort led by the ACLU of Louisiana, the Innocence Project New Orleans, myself and a few other local lawyers and exonerees devoted to the dismantling of this law has also formed.
A3N:  In your Mercer Law Review article and earlier in this interview, you present the historical context for the non-unanimous jury rule by citing how the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, except for prisoners. The 13th Amendment is a central focus of the upcoming Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington DC August 19.
In your opinion, in order to understand our present circumstances, how significant are these historical origins of the US prison system? What is the legacy of the laws criminalizing former slaves, known as the Black Codes and the convict lease system that accompanied the 13th Amendment’s legalization of slavery for prisoners?
AB:  After Abraham Lincoln was elected, Southern states started to secede from the Union.  The Civil War ended in May 1865. The 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865. The 13th Amendment was an attempt by Congress to get those Southern states back. Thus, the exceptions clause. The primary architect of the legislation was a slaveholder. In his recent book, Slaves of the State, Dennis Childspoignantly describes this legislative charade. He writes:
“The grandest emancipatory gesture in U.S. history contained a rhetorical trapdoor, a loophole of state repression, allowing for the continued cohabitation of liberal bourgeois law and racial capitalist terror; the interested invasion of ‘objective,’ ‘color-blind,’ and ‘duly’ processed legality by summary justice and white supremacist custom; and the constitutional sanctioning of state-borne prison-industrial genocide.” 
The legacy is that they all contributed to the continuation of the conditions of slavery.  They collectively ensured that slavery never ended, but merely changed forms. These historical origins help us understand the current state of affairs as much as they underscore the significance of the upcoming march, which seeks to eradicate these structural defects in our “injustice” system.
A3N:  You write that your Mercer Law Review article “advocates against impersonal, mechanized systems of justice that are built upon defendants, dockets, cases, quotas, formulas and rapidity. This article calls for the justice community to see cases in a highly personal way—to see cases as stories written about humans.”
In this same vein, even human rights activists can perhaps get so caught up in the statistics of injustice (like mass incarceration and the racially discriminatory so-called “war on drugs.”) that we can downplay or even forget the human story behind the statistics. What is that story? What do you think is the US prison system’s impact on prisoners, prisoners’ families, and the broader human community?
AB:  Nothing about who we are as a mass incarcerator should be viewed as a current event.  When it comes to African Americans, we have been incarcerated from the time we arrived in this country. Plantations were prisons. The change from incarceration on a plantation, to incarceration in custodial institutions, to incarceration where there are no physical limitations, but where one exists in a state of civic and political oppression, in my view, is nothing more than semantics. Mass incarceration started when slavery started. And, since that time, African Americans have experienced some form of imprisonment―the differences are in the degrees.
The notion of incarcerating people as a form of individual punishment did not always exist. The practice was to convict then punish, not to confine. Death and corporal punishment were used extensively before opposition to the death penalty formed. The practice of using physical structures to separate people from society came as an alternative to this.
These institutions (along with immigrant detention centers) have transcended the Southern racist and exploitative agenda and morphed into incubators for capitalist contrivances. At this moment in America, there are over 2.2 million incarcerated people. Incarceration has increased by more than 500% in the last forty years. My research does not offer justification for such sweeping efforts to lock people up. What it does show is that laws, policies, racism, bias, unjust practices, abuses and a nearly automated judicial system has led to the creation of what I liken to an organized human trafficking system where poor people are ushered through courts on virtual conveyor belts and funneled into the unyielding grip of custodial detention and state supervision.
As people understand this, they will approach conversations about prisons and convictions with caution and begin to develop the capacity to see inmates as something more than just “defendants” or “criminals.” This matters because perception and characterization shapes our level of empathy.
In no way am I suggesting that every prisoner is free of culpability and is undeservingly in custody. I don’t feel that way at all. I am suggesting that the system is so inherently flawed and so riddled with bias (both implicit and explicit) that it often treats the innocent and the guilty the same and, once in it, the system engulfs a person and often fast-tracks them to becoming their worse self.
Prisons are breeding grounds for sickness, recidivism, exploitation, cruelty and destruction. In their current form, they are not a good use of public dollars. With this appreciation, we can no longer dismiss conversations about prisoners. We can’t rest on the notion that inmates put themselves there.
In this same vein, we must fight the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement, both in the general population and on death row. This system affords too much unchecked authority to prison officials. The harms far outweigh the benefits. The situation has been too well studied to be refuted at this point. Prolonged solitary confinement causes anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, psychosis and a host of other medical and emotional challenges. It costs more. It is disproportionately used on minorities and vulnerable populations, such as the mentally ill and members of the LGBT community.
The march organizers are correct when they refer to solitary confinement as torture and torture as a human rights violation.  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has declared it to be so. 
This march represents a moment for people to see what prisons are as much as what they are not. Certainly, they are needed for public safety in some instances. But the scale of the situation in the United States far exceeds what is necessary for public safety.
Prisons create and ensure an underclass. Prisons provide a free labor base. Prisons destroy families and kill potential in people. Prisons provide profits to those who have a stake in them.
–Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com, where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Additionally we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

A3 Newsletter: "Freedom Is A State Of Mind"

(PHOTO:  Albert at the Innocence Project’s Network Conference in San Diego this last month, alongside Valerie Jarret, a Chicago lawyer and former top adviser to President Barack Obama.)A3 Newsletter, April 17, 2017: Taking on the Clarion Call – “F…

Please Support Kickstarter Campaign for US release of A3 film ‘Cruel and Unusual’

To donate and help to spread the word, please visit the Kickstarter page directly. Featured below is the information from the campaign’s website.

‘Cruel and Unusual’ – The Angola 3 story, US Cinema Release

Help get the Angola 3’s story into cinemas to support their campaign against long-term solitary confinement & qualify for the Oscars

THE GOAL

Cinema release in NY and LA to bring ‘Cruel and Unusual’ – the story of the Angola 3 – to the big screen and qualify for Academy Award consideration.

THE FILM

‘Cruel and Unusual’ is the story of three men who have spent longer in solitary confinement than any other prisoners in the US because of the murder of a prison guard in 1972 at Angola, the Louisiana state penitentiary.

Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were convicted by bribed and blind eye witnesses and with no physical evidence. Targeted as members of the Black Panther Party, the film follows their struggle against the miscarriage of justice and their cruel and unusual treatment.

Their story culminated in 2016 with the release of Albert Woodfox after 43 years in solitary confinement.

THE STORY

‘Cruel and Unusual’ has been eight years in the making. But that pales into insignificance compared to the 43 years that Albert Woodfox spent in a 6 foot by 9 foot cell for a crime he did not commit. After years left forgotten in the depths of America’s bloodiest prison, their struggle against this injustice had become an international scandal; when on the 19th February last year, on his 69th birthday, Albert was finally released, it was headline news around the world. Here is a small selection of that coverage:

Last of ‘Angola 3’ Prisoners Released After 40 Years in Solitary Confinement, ABC News

For 45 Years in Prison, Louisiana Man Kept Calm and Held Fast to Hope, New York Times

Albert Woodfox speaks after 43 years in solitary confinement: ‘I would not let them drive me insane,’ UK Guardian

WHY

‘Cruel and Unusual’ shines a light on the overuse of long-term solitary in US prisons. It is also the story of three remarkable men who as members of the Black Panther Party have been fighting for justice since the early 1970s. Even though the Angola 3 have been released, their struggle continues. On any given day it is estimated that ten to fifteen thousand prisoners are kept in solitary in the US. We want to make sure as many people as possible hear the Angola 3’s story and support the continuation of their campaign to end long-term solitary confinement in US prisons.

A US cinema release aims to give a platform for their story and campaign. By starting in New York and Los Angeles, the film also becomes eligible for the Academy Awards, which hopefully will give the campaign even more visibility.

WHO

Vadim Jean – Director

I first heard about the Angola 3 from Anita and Gordon Roddick, the founders of The Body Shop stores, who had been helping the Angola 3 fight their case since 2001. Anita told everyone she knew about them. But she didn’t just talk about issues, she did something about it. In fact her big thing was, “just do something”. Do it from kindness, do it because you have faith, do it because you’re guilty, do it because it’s right; for her it didn’t matter. Just do something.

So when in 2007 I sat at her Memorial to celebrate her life, and Robert King came onto the stage to speak, I should have guessed that as this was Anita, it might change the course of the next eight years of my life. Robert was full of dignity, grace, sanity, courage and it must be said charisma. He also played two crackly telephone messages from Herman and Albert in solitary. It was profoundly moving. I cried. In seemingly one of the worst of the worst places on earth, somehow they had managed to find the best of the best that the human spirit has to offer. And like all of us that knew her, Anita had changed their lives. So now, her big finger was pointing down at me. And it had a big sign on it saying, “just do something”. For me, that thing was to make this film.

 If I’m honest, during most of the making of this film I doubted that Herman and Albert would ever be free. That these incredible men have been released is the consequence of a remarkable coalition against the injustice. But most of all it is because they are two of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. They fought for decades for justice and ultimately won their struggle, though for Herman, his freedom was won at the ultimate cost…

I hope the film may do its small part in helping to bring attention to this injustice. If you would like to “just do something” please help us to support the Angola 3 and their ongoing campaign by backing the US cinema release of ‘Cruel and Unusual’.

The Mob Film Company

As well as documentaries, the Mob also produces feature films and television drama, including the multi-BAFTA winning Terry Pratchett Discworld adaptations, which remain the highest ever rating shows on Sky One. They are currently completing the movie ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’, the story of Charles Dickens writing ‘A Christmas Carol’ starring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer and Jonathan Pryce.

www.mobfilm.com

For more information on the Angola 3 and the ongoing campaign to end the long-term use of solitary confinement please see their website.

WHERE WILL THE MONEY GO?

While there will be distribution for DVD, streaming and online, we are doing our own cinema release in support of the campaign. This means taking a financial risk on the booking of cinemas and other associated costs, including prints, publicity, and travel for Albert and Robert – and it’s expensive. Sadly we don’t have budget for this. So it’s these costs that your support will contribute towards.

A one week release in New York and Los Angeles will also qualify the film for Academy Award consideration. Traditionally for feature documentaries this is one of the best ways for a film to get maximum exposure.

If we should exceed our Kickstarter goal we will introduce stretch goals to expand our release to other US cities, such as New Orleans, Louisiana (for obvious reasons!), Washington, Austin and Miami.

REWARDS

As thanks for your support we are offering some great rewards: tickets to either the NY or LA premieres with Albert and Robert or to a private screening with the filmmakers in London, exclusive ‘Cruel & Unusual’ T-shirts; DVDs; posters, etc.

In His Own Words: Albert Woodfox interviewed by Amnesty International UK

Amnesty International UK has released a new interview with Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3. Listen to the podcast here.

Accompanying the podcast interview is a post on Amnesty UK’s blog that features an extended statement by Albert Woodfox, entitled: It’s a human right to agitate the ‘injustice’ system. Albert’s full statement is featured below:

A year ago on 19 February 2016 I walked out of a Louisiana prison a free man after serving 44 years in solitary confinement.

At that moment I became ‘famous’ as the longest serving person in solitary confinement in the world, as well as being the last member of the Angola 3 to be free.

For over 44 years – along with fellow Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Robert King – we turned our death chambers into classrooms and courts of law from which we educated fellow inmates and stood up against a violent, racist and brutal prison system which targeted us for our activism.

We believed then, as we believe now, that it is a human right to challenge and agitate the ‘injustice’ system.

The confinement the Angola 3 endured was not only cruel and unusual punishment but also torture and as a result of our case, solitary confinement was recognized as such by the UN Rapporteur on Torture in 2013 and then later by Amnesty.

Also, since our freedom, we have seen positive legislative changes curbing the use of solitary confinement – most recently in Louisiana itself.

But the spotlight was not always on the Angola 3 and I know too well what it is to be an ordinary man put into extraordinary circumstances.

And so since my release I have travelled throughout the US and to Europe with King to continue to take a stand against the flawed US prison system and against the use of solitary confinement on behalf of the political prisoners still incarcerated in the US, including seventeen Black Panthers such as Russell Maroon Shoatz and Kenny Zulu Whitmore. I also continue to take a stand in honor of Herman Wallace who stands by my and King’s side in spirit and who we deeply miss.

Since my release, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is why after over four decades of struggle I continue to take a stand after what I have been through. To a young man who asked me this in England last year, this is what I said:

    “So future generations do not have to suffer like we did.

    So that people can be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. 

    Old men like us are fighting to make sure you see victory – as one day we are going to win.”

So even when it feels like you are not going to win, when you grow disillusioned with politics which put greed before people’s human rights, when you don’t think you can make a difference – please remember that if you had not taken a stand to support the Angola 3 and joined the hundreds of thousands of activists around the world who did, I may not have been able to write this to you today.

Keep strong.

The struggle continues.

Albert Woodfox
March 2017


Albert Woodfox and Robert King in Canada: Thunder Bay 3/2 and Montreal 3/17

WATCH:  Part one of Albert and Robert’s talk at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario  II  Albert and Robert in Montreal (listen to audio here)

IN THE NEWS:  Chronicle Journal, Thunder Bay  II  CBC Radio-Canada interviews Albert and Robert  II  The Argus reports on Lakehead University event 

(ABOVE PHOTOS: Robert King and Albert Woodfox join filmmaker Ron Harpelle on CBC Radio-Canada)

March 2, Thunder Bay, Ontario: Albert Woodfox and Robert King of the Angola 3 in Ontario, Canada for panel and screening of the film “Hard Time” about Robert King, made by Ron Harpelle. Event at 7pm, Trinity Hall, 310 Park Ave. Read our 2014 interview with Ron Harpelle.

In the context of the Week Against Police Brutality (https://cobp.resist.ca/), a discussion on incarceration and political repression with Albert Woodfox et Robert H. King will take place Friday March 17th at 6:00 pm at the Alumni Auditorium room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve West) of the Concordia University.

***English follows***

Dans le cadre de la semaine contre la Brutalité Policière (https://cobp.resist.ca/) se tiendra une discussion sur l’incarcération et la répression politique avec Albert Woodfox et Robert H. King le vendredi 17 mars, à 18h à l’auditorium H-110 du 1455, de Maisonneuve Ouest (édifice Henry F. Hall de l’université Concordia) à Montréal.


Albert Woodfox est un militant Black Panther et ex-prisonnier politique qui fut libéré en février 2016, à l’âge de 69 ans, après avoir été détenu et torturé pendant 45 ans, dont 43 ans en isolement, dans la prison d’Angola, en Louisiane. Il s’agit d’une durée record de temps passé en isolement pour un prisonnier américain. Cette punition cruelle et inhumaine lui fut infligée pour un crime qu’il n’avait pas commis, en raison de ses positions politiques et de la couleur de sa peau.

Albert Woodfox forme avec Herman Wallace et Robert King un groupe connu sous le nom des Angola 3 (http://angola3.org/), trois hommes afro-américains qui furent emprisonnés en 1971 dans un des pénitenciers les plus violents des États-Unis. Membres des Black Panthers, ils militèrent activement en prison en faveur des droits des détenus.

Robert King fut détenu à Angola pendant 32 ans, dont 29 furent passés en isolement. Dès sa sortie en 2001, il milita pour la libération de ses deux amis. Herman Wallace fut libéré en 2013, mais mourra peu de temps après. Depuis que Woodfox a recouvré sa liberté en février 2016, King et lui parcourent l’Europe et les États-Unis pour revendiquer l’abolition de l’isolement carcéral et la libération des prisonniers politiques aux États-Unis.

*Entrée gratuite*
*Accessible aux fauteuils roulants*
*Traduction vers le français et l’espagnol*
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In the context of the Week Against Police Brutality (https://cobp.resist.ca/), a discussion on incarceration and political repression with Albert Woodfox et Robert H. King will take place Friday March 17th at 6:00 pm at the Alumni Auditorium room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building (1455 de Maisonneuve West) of the Concordia University.

Albert Woodfox is a Black Panther activist and ex-political prisoner who was released in February 2016 at the age of 69 after having been detained and tortured for 45 years in the Angola Penitentiary (Louisiana), of which 43 years were spent in solitary confinement. No American prisoner has ever been put in solitary confinement for so long. This cruel and unusual punishment was inflicted to him for a crime he did not commit, because of his political beliefs and the colour of his skin.

With Herman Wallace and Robert King, Albert Woodfox was part of a group known as the Angola 3 (http://angola3.org/), three African-American men sent to prison in 1971 in one of the most violent detention facilities in the United States. Members of the Black Panthers, they fought to defend prisoners’ rights while inside.

Robert King stayed in Angola for 32 years, of which 29 years were spent in solitary. From the time he came out in 2001, he crusaded to free his two friends. Wallace was released in 2013, but died shortly after. Since Woodfox recovered his freedom in February 2016, he has been traveling Europe and the US with King to advocate for the abolition of solitary confinement and the liberation of political prisoner in the US.

***Free entrance***
***Wheelchair accessible***
***Translation into French and Spanish***