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 

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*
—————————————————————————————

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***

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling –An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling  
–An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

By Angola 3 News

Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla has never shied away from examining politically controversial topics. Nor does he play down his own artistic goal of using media to foster political change. Bhalla’s first independent work, entitled U.A.I.L. Go Back amplified the voices of Indian villagers resisting an alumina project backed by the Canadian company Alcan. The film became an important organizing tool used to pressure Alcan into ending its involvement in the project.

Bhalla has since co-founded Time of Day Media.and while working as a community organizer for immigrant rights, he produced videos for the Service Employees International Union, Working America, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups. His award-winning short on the lives of Indian street artists, Writings on the Wall, was broadcast on Canada’s Bravo! and Al Jazeera English.

Bhalla’s debut feature documentary was the 2012 film Herman’s House, about Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 and the collaborative project Wallace worked on with artist Jackie Sumell, entitled The House That Herman Built. The film screened at more than 40 festivals, was distributed theatrically in the US and Canada, and won an Emmy Award for its 2013 POV broadcast on PBS.


The newly released, interactive website-based documentary film made by Bhalla, entitled The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace, builds upon Herman’s House by further examining Herman Wallace’s life, following Wallace’s death from liver cancer on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. This latest film has already been well received. Along with a recent screening at the 28th annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Deeper They Bury Me has also been selected by Favourite Website Awards as the “Site of the Day” for December 14, where it is being displayed on the website’s front page for the full day.

In this interview, filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla discusses his latest film, The Deeper They Bury Me, while also reflecting upon his 2012 film Herman’s House, his personal relationship with Wallace and more. Bhalla concludes the interview with a focus on the call by Amnesty International and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who is the last of the Angola 3 behind bars. Despite three overturned convictions, Woodfox remains in prison and in solitary confinement, where he was first placed over 43 years ago.

(VIDEO: Coverage of the panel discussion following a recent screening of The Deeper They Bury Me at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Photos from this event by Lindsey Seide/NFB are featured below alongside still images taken from the film itself.)

Angola 3 News:  Can you please tell us how you first heard of Herman Wallace and the Angola 3?

Angad Singh Bhalla:  I first heard about Herman Wallace and the Angola 3 in 2002, shortly after Robert King’s release from prison. Artist Jackie Sumell organized a lecture for King at Stanford University, where I co-hosted a political talk show on the campus radio station at the time. Robert King remains one of the most memorable discussions we ever had on that show.

(PHOTO: Filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla at NY Film Festival)

A3N:  Your bio states that you use your films “to call attention to voices we rarely hear” and “as a means of fostering political change.” Your 2012 film Herman’s House certainly helped to amplify Herman’s voice and it created more public attention to Herman and the Angola 3. 

Looking beyond the immediate campaign for Herman’s release from prison and solitary confinement, as well as the continuing call today for Albert Woodfox’s release from prison and solitary, what do you feel were the central messages that you sought to focus on with Herman’s House?

ASB:  With the documentary Herman’s House, the real central message was that Herman Wallace, like all the other people we incarcerate, is a human being. As simple as that sounds, I think the prison industrial complex’s most devastating impact has been to dehumanize the people it incarcerates. We did not show any images of prisons in the documentary because I believe even the very sight of a prison can contribute to this dehumanization process.

With the film I hoped to transform Herman and indirectly everyone else we incarcerate from a convict or felon into a brother, a mentor, a friend and like all of us a dreamer. In that sense, unlike other profiles, I was not as focused on Herman’s innocence. While Herman was wrongfully convicted, I wanted to focus on the nature of his incarceration which ties him to the 2.3 million other Americans we put in prison.


 

A3N:  Now with the release of The Deeper They Bury Me a few years after Herman’s House, do the fundamental themes and issues addressed in this film differ at all? Otherwise, how do you think The Deeper They Bury Me complements Herman’s House?

ASB:  Similar to Herman’s House, I think the theme of humanizing Herman and focusing on the conditions of his incarceration remain in The Deeper They Bury Me. But at the same time I think The Deeper They Bury allowed me to bring more attention to the specific circumstances around Herman’s story.

In that sense I tried to highlight Herman’s past growing up in a segregated New Orleans to highlight how America’s racist history relates directly to America’s racist present. This experience of it being more a telling of Herman’s story by Herman, allowed me to explore his political convictions and work with the Black Panther Party more than I could in the film. I tried to highlight Herman’s position as a political prisoner in The Deeper They Bury Me.

Overall I think the interactive aspect compliments the film by providing much more of the historical and political conditions of Herman’s incarceration. While Herman’s situation may have been unique, those conditions are not. I hope that through this interactive telling of  Herman’s experience viewers begin to understand that history is present.

There is a reason that in the United States, people of color account for nearly 60% of the imprisoned while making up only 30% of the population. There is a reason that the United States, black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

These reasons are not simple and go back to the founding myths of this country, which is why there are more black men under some form correctional supervision (imprisoned, on parole, or probation) than were enslaved in 1850.

A3N:  The interactive format of The Deeper They Bury Me is very cutting edge. Can you tell us more about the various interactive features that our readers will find when they go to watch the film? What do you feel that this interactive format adds? How does it change or enrich the viewing experience?

ASB:  Well, the entire experience is set up to determine what aspects of Herman’s life the user wants to hear him talk about. In many ways the prison industrial complex relies on framing spaces as tools of punishment and coercion. This interactive format allows people to actually explore 3D replicas of Herman’s cell, his dream bedroom, and prison dorm. Interacting with these spaces in relation to one another, I think, allows users to really question our notions of freedom and confinement.

While not all the environments are available at the same time, the user gets to decide which spaces she wants to linger in and which elements of Herman’s story she wants hear more about. Not being constrained by a linear narrative structure and the idea of always moving an audience forward, the interactive format provides audiences the opportunity to go deeper into what would be considered Herman’s back-story in a traditional documentary.

While of course the linear documentary is my point of reference in many ways, The Deeper They Bury Me is an entirely different kind of storytelling. It will never replace the linear form, but at the same time, it allows the user to get to enter Herman’s world from the point that is most relevant to them. Further, as a tool, being able to access each of the 25 one-minute videos independently allows activists to craft a narrative that best suits their campaign work. Herman’s story is so relevant for today’s young activists that I wanted to try to tell it in a form that is more relevant to young people who communicate so much now online.

(PHOTO: Harry Belafonte at NY Film Festival screening)

A3N:  Along with your two films about Herman, in 2014 another Angola 3-related film was made in Canada, entitled Hard Time, by Ron Harpelle, which focused on Robert H King. Seen in the context of these three films, how do you think Canadian audiences have responded to the story of the Angola 3?

ASB:  I think like most audiences, Canadian audiences are shocked when they first hear the story of the Angola 3. I think the Angola 3 story may find more receptive outlets in Canada and other countries outside the US simply because people feel good pointing out injustices happening in other countries.

In the ‘learn more’ section of site we included the fact that Aboriginal Canadians are ten times more likely to be incarcerated that other Canadians. As much as we Canadians might like to deny it, our criminal justice system extends from a sordid history of oppression and remains a racist tool of social control.

(PHOTO: NY Film Festival speaker panel)

A3N:  What is the significance of the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) involvement with The Deeper They Bury Me, both producing it and hosting the film on their website? How did the NFB become involved with the film?

ASB:  In 2010, I approached the NFB looking for their support to help produce Herman’s House, the linear film. It was producer Anita Lee at the NFB, who proposed the idea of creating an independent interactive piece that became The Deeper They Bury Me.

The NFB has been leading the development of interactive online storytelling since the field first emerged, so I was extremely excited that they saw interactive potential in Herman’s story. The NFB is not only a Canadian institution but it has a global legacy of producing critical independent documentary films, including films that inspired me to get into the field, like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and The Media. As an NFB production, The Deeper They Bury Me becomes a part of an essential collection and will most importantly introduce Herman’s Story to an even broader audience.

A3N:  In October, 2013 after battling liver cancer for several months, Herman Wallace was released from prison. Just a few days later, he passed away in the company of family and friends. In the days following, tributes to Herman ranged from US Congressmen to the Washington Post and New York Times. As someone who has studied Herman’s life so closely, can you please reflect on his life and share with us what you think his legacy is today?

ASB:  It’s would be hard to overstate the impact Herman has had on my life. More than merely the subject of my past two documentary projects, over the 6 years that we conversed by phone he became both a friend and teacher in so many ways.

To be exonerated and released three days before passing away was undoubtedly tragic, but in so many ways Herman’s story is one of victory. His legacy will forever be that of someone who stood up to injustice and won. Not in the Hollywood way of winning where everything turns out okay in the end but in the messy way people who have struggled for justice get to win.

For four decades the system tried to silence Herman for his resistance. But like Herman’s poem from which this piece is titled, the deeper they tried to bury Herman the louder his voice became. The system had planned for Herman to die in prison, and even through he enjoyed only three days of freedom, he defied that system and that defiance made headlines around the world.

Herman decided long ago that he was willing to sacrifice his life to serve as symbol for so much of what is wrong with America’s prison industrial complex. As sad as I am that I lost a friend, I can feel his spirit smiling with the knowledge that his struggle and eventual victory is still inspiring a new generation of activists.

A3N:  We in the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 have sought to honor Herman’s legacy by “turning grief into strength,” and working for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox from both prison and solitary confinement, so that he will be able spend more time outside prison walls than Herman was able to.  In February 2013, several months before Herman’s cancer diagnosis, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. Subsequently, in November 2014, this third overturned conviction was upheld by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then in June 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled for Albert’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as banning a retrial. Yet, to this day Albert remains in solitary confinement. 

What do you think about Albert’s treatment in recent years, especially following Herman’s death? How about this US “criminal justice” system where an elder prisoner’s conviction can be overturned for a third time, but still be held captive and in solitary confinement?

ASB:  Sadly nothing about Albert’s treatment both prior to and following Herman’s death surprises me.

Like Herman, Albert has always been used by the state as an example to others who might fight back against state oppression. There is not a criminal justice system in America, there is a system of social control that relies on incarceration and violence. The state must put all the resources it has at its disposal to keep torturing people like Albert to make sure other people who even consider exposing the system’s contradictions think twice.

Look at how the NYPD have been continuing to harass and abuse Ramsay Orta, the man who recorded the NYPD murder of Eric Garner and his family. Albert’s case has never been about the evidence that had him convicted of Brent Miller’s murder, because there isn’t any.  It has always been about the state displaying its ruthless power.

Unfortunately for the state, the truth is the truth and the more the state tries to display power the more desperate and pathetic it looks.

(PHOTO: Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

–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. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling –An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling  
–An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

By Angola 3 News

Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla has never shied away from examining politically controversial topics. Nor does he play down his own artistic goal of using media to foster political change. Bhalla’s first independent work, entitled U.A.I.L. Go Back amplified the voices of Indian villagers resisting an alumina project backed by the Canadian company Alcan. The film became an important organizing tool used to pressure Alcan into ending its involvement in the project.

Bhalla has since co-founded Time of Day Media.and while working as a community organizer for immigrant rights, he produced videos for the Service Employees International Union, Working America, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups. His award-winning short on the lives of Indian street artists, Writings on the Wall, was broadcast on Canada’s Bravo! and Al Jazeera English.

Bhalla’s debut feature documentary was the 2012 film Herman’s House, about Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 and the collaborative project Wallace worked on with artist Jackie Sumell, entitled The House That Herman Built. The film screened at more than 40 festivals, was distributed theatrically in the US and Canada, and won an Emmy Award for its 2013 POV broadcast on PBS.


The newly released, interactive website-based documentary film made by Bhalla, entitled The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace, builds upon Herman’s House by further examining Herman Wallace’s life, following Wallace’s death from liver cancer on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. This latest film has already been well received. Along with a recent screening at the 28th annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Deeper They Bury Me has also been selected by Favourite Website Awards as the “Site of the Day” for December 14, where it is being displayed on the website’s front page for the full day.

In this interview, filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla discusses his latest film, The Deeper They Bury Me, while also reflecting upon his 2012 film Herman’s House, his personal relationship with Wallace and more. Bhalla concludes the interview with a focus on the call by Amnesty International and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who is the last of the Angola 3 behind bars. Despite three overturned convictions, Woodfox remains in prison and in solitary confinement, where he was first placed over 43 years ago.

(VIDEO: Coverage of the panel discussion following a recent screening of The Deeper They Bury Me at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Photos from this event by Lindsey Seide/NFB are featured below alongside still images taken from the film itself.)

Angola 3 News:  Can you please tell us how you first heard of Herman Wallace and the Angola 3?

Angad Singh Bhalla:  I first heard about Herman Wallace and the Angola 3 in 2002, shortly after Robert King’s release from prison. Artist Jackie Sumell organized a lecture for King at Stanford University, where I co-hosted a political talk show on the campus radio station at the time. Robert King remains one of the most memorable discussions we ever had on that show.

(PHOTO: Filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla at NY Film Festival)

A3N:  Your bio states that you use your films “to call attention to voices we rarely hear” and “as a means of fostering political change.” Your 2012 film Herman’s House certainly helped to amplify Herman’s voice and it created more public attention to Herman and the Angola 3. 

Looking beyond the immediate campaign for Herman’s release from prison and solitary confinement, as well as the continuing call today for Albert Woodfox’s release from prison and solitary, what do you feel were the central messages that you sought to focus on with Herman’s House?

ASB:  With the documentary Herman’s House, the real central message was that Herman Wallace, like all the other people we incarcerate, is a human being. As simple as that sounds, I think the prison industrial complex’s most devastating impact has been to dehumanize the people it incarcerates. We did not show any images of prisons in the documentary because I believe even the very sight of a prison can contribute to this dehumanization process.

With the film I hoped to transform Herman and indirectly everyone else we incarcerate from a convict or felon into a brother, a mentor, a friend and like all of us a dreamer. In that sense, unlike other profiles, I was not as focused on Herman’s innocence. While Herman was wrongfully convicted, I wanted to focus on the nature of his incarceration which ties him to the 2.3 million other Americans we put in prison.


 

A3N:  Now with the release of The Deeper They Bury Me a few years after Herman’s House, do the fundamental themes and issues addressed in this film differ at all? Otherwise, how do you think The Deeper They Bury Me complements Herman’s House?

ASB:  Similar to Herman’s House, I think the theme of humanizing Herman and focusing on the conditions of his incarceration remain in The Deeper They Bury Me. But at the same time I think The Deeper They Bury allowed me to bring more attention to the specific circumstances around Herman’s story.

In that sense I tried to highlight Herman’s past growing up in a segregated New Orleans to highlight how America’s racist history relates directly to America’s racist present. This experience of it being more a telling of Herman’s story by Herman, allowed me to explore his political convictions and work with the Black Panther Party more than I could in the film. I tried to highlight Herman’s position as a political prisoner in The Deeper They Bury Me.

Overall I think the interactive aspect compliments the film by providing much more of the historical and political conditions of Herman’s incarceration. While Herman’s situation may have been unique, those conditions are not. I hope that through this interactive telling of  Herman’s experience viewers begin to understand that history is present.

There is a reason that in the United States, people of color account for nearly 60% of the imprisoned while making up only 30% of the population. There is a reason that the United States, black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

These reasons are not simple and go back to the founding myths of this country, which is why there are more black men under some form correctional supervision (imprisoned, on parole, or probation) than were enslaved in 1850.

A3N:  The interactive format of The Deeper They Bury Me is very cutting edge. Can you tell us more about the various interactive features that our readers will find when they go to watch the film? What do you feel that this interactive format adds? How does it change or enrich the viewing experience?

ASB:  Well, the entire experience is set up to determine what aspects of Herman’s life the user wants to hear him talk about. In many ways the prison industrial complex relies on framing spaces as tools of punishment and coercion. This interactive format allows people to actually explore 3D replicas of Herman’s cell, his dream bedroom, and prison dorm. Interacting with these spaces in relation to one another, I think, allows users to really question our notions of freedom and confinement.

While not all the environments are available at the same time, the user gets to decide which spaces she wants to linger in and which elements of Herman’s story she wants hear more about. Not being constrained by a linear narrative structure and the idea of always moving an audience forward, the interactive format provides audiences the opportunity to go deeper into what would be considered Herman’s back-story in a traditional documentary.

While of course the linear documentary is my point of reference in many ways, The Deeper They Bury Me is an entirely different kind of storytelling. It will never replace the linear form, but at the same time, it allows the user to get to enter Herman’s world from the point that is most relevant to them. Further, as a tool, being able to access each of the 25 one-minute videos independently allows activists to craft a narrative that best suits their campaign work. Herman’s story is so relevant for today’s young activists that I wanted to try to tell it in a form that is more relevant to young people who communicate so much now online.

(PHOTO: Harry Belafonte at NY Film Festival screening)

A3N:  Along with your two films about Herman, in 2014 another Angola 3-related film was made in Canada, entitled Hard Time, by Ron Harpelle, which focused on Robert H King. Seen in the context of these three films, how do you think Canadian audiences have responded to the story of the Angola 3?

ASB:  I think like most audiences, Canadian audiences are shocked when they first hear the story of the Angola 3. I think the Angola 3 story may find more receptive outlets in Canada and other countries outside the US simply because people feel good pointing out injustices happening in other countries.

In the ‘learn more’ section of site we included the fact that Aboriginal Canadians are ten times more likely to be incarcerated that other Canadians. As much as we Canadians might like to deny it, our criminal justice system extends from a sordid history of oppression and remains a racist tool of social control.

(PHOTO: NY Film Festival speaker panel)

A3N:  What is the significance of the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) involvement with The Deeper They Bury Me, both producing it and hosting the film on their website? How did the NFB become involved with the film?

ASB:  In 2010, I approached the NFB looking for their support to help produce Herman’s House, the linear film. It was producer Anita Lee at the NFB, who proposed the idea of creating an independent interactive piece that became The Deeper They Bury Me.

The NFB has been leading the development of interactive online storytelling since the field first emerged, so I was extremely excited that they saw interactive potential in Herman’s story. The NFB is not only a Canadian institution but it has a global legacy of producing critical independent documentary films, including films that inspired me to get into the field, like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and The Media. As an NFB production, The Deeper They Bury Me becomes a part of an essential collection and will most importantly introduce Herman’s Story to an even broader audience.

A3N:  In October, 2013 after battling liver cancer for several months, Herman Wallace was released from prison. Just a few days later, he passed away in the company of family and friends. In the days following, tributes to Herman ranged from US Congressmen to the Washington Post and New York Times. As someone who has studied Herman’s life so closely, can you please reflect on his life and share with us what you think his legacy is today?

ASB:  It’s would be hard to overstate the impact Herman has had on my life. More than merely the subject of my past two documentary projects, over the 6 years that we conversed by phone he became both a friend and teacher in so many ways.

To be exonerated and released three days before passing away was undoubtedly tragic, but in so many ways Herman’s story is one of victory. His legacy will forever be that of someone who stood up to injustice and won. Not in the Hollywood way of winning where everything turns out okay in the end but in the messy way people who have struggled for justice get to win.

For four decades the system tried to silence Herman for his resistance. But like Herman’s poem from which this piece is titled, the deeper they tried to bury Herman the louder his voice became. The system had planned for Herman to die in prison, and even through he enjoyed only three days of freedom, he defied that system and that defiance made headlines around the world.

Herman decided long ago that he was willing to sacrifice his life to serve as symbol for so much of what is wrong with America’s prison industrial complex. As sad as I am that I lost a friend, I can feel his spirit smiling with the knowledge that his struggle and eventual victory is still inspiring a new generation of activists.

A3N:  We in the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 have sought to honor Herman’s legacy by “turning grief into strength,” and working for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox from both prison and solitary confinement, so that he will be able spend more time outside prison walls than Herman was able to.  In February 2013, several months before Herman’s cancer diagnosis, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. Subsequently, in November 2014, this third overturned conviction was upheld by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then in June 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled for Albert’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as banning a retrial. Yet, to this day Albert remains in solitary confinement. 

What do you think about Albert’s treatment in recent years, especially following Herman’s death? How about this US “criminal justice” system where an elder prisoner’s conviction can be overturned for a third time, but still be held captive and in solitary confinement?

ASB:  Sadly nothing about Albert’s treatment both prior to and following Herman’s death surprises me.

Like Herman, Albert has always been used by the state as an example to others who might fight back against state oppression. There is not a criminal justice system in America, there is a system of social control that relies on incarceration and violence. The state must put all the resources it has at its disposal to keep torturing people like Albert to make sure other people who even consider exposing the system’s contradictions think twice.

Look at how the NYPD have been continuing to harass and abuse Ramsay Orta, the man who recorded the NYPD murder of Eric Garner and his family. Albert’s case has never been about the evidence that had him convicted of Brent Miller’s murder, because there isn’t any.  It has always been about the state displaying its ruthless power.

Unfortunately for the state, the truth is the truth and the more the state tries to display power the more desperate and pathetic it looks.

(PHOTO: Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

–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. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling –An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling  
–An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

By Angola 3 News

Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla has never shied away from examining politically controversial topics. Nor does he play down his own artistic goal of using media to foster political change. Bhalla’s first independent work, entitled U.A.I.L. Go Back amplified the voices of Indian villagers resisting an alumina project backed by the Canadian company Alcan. The film became an important organizing tool used to pressure Alcan into ending its involvement in the project.

Bhalla has since co-founded Time of Day Media.and while working as a community organizer for immigrant rights, he produced videos for the Service Employees International Union, Working America, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups. His award-winning short on the lives of Indian street artists, Writings on the Wall, was broadcast on Canada’s Bravo! and Al Jazeera English.

Bhalla’s debut feature documentary was the 2012 film Herman’s House, about Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 and the collaborative project Wallace worked on with artist Jackie Sumell, entitled The House That Herman Built. The film screened at more than 40 festivals, was distributed theatrically in the US and Canada, and won an Emmy Award for its 2013 POV broadcast on PBS.


The newly released, interactive website-based documentary film made by Bhalla, entitled The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace, builds upon Herman’s House by further examining Herman Wallace’s life, following Wallace’s death from liver cancer on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. This latest film has already been well received. Along with a recent screening at the 28th annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Deeper They Bury Me has also been selected by Favourite Website Awards as the “Site of the Day” for December 14, where it is being displayed on the website’s front page for the full day.

In this interview, filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla discusses his latest film, The Deeper They Bury Me, while also reflecting upon his 2012 film Herman’s House, his personal relationship with Wallace and more. Bhalla concludes the interview with a focus on the call by Amnesty International and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who is the last of the Angola 3 behind bars. Despite three overturned convictions, Woodfox remains in prison and in solitary confinement, where he was first placed over 43 years ago.

(VIDEO: Coverage of the panel discussion following a recent screening of The Deeper They Bury Me at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Photos from this event by Lindsey Seide/NFB are featured below alongside still images taken from the film itself.)

Angola 3 News:  Can you please tell us how you first heard of Herman Wallace and the Angola 3?

Angad Singh Bhalla:  I first heard about Herman Wallace and the Angola 3 in 2002, shortly after Robert King’s release from prison. Artist Jackie Sumell organized a lecture for King at Stanford University, where I co-hosted a political talk show on the campus radio station at the time. Robert King remains one of the most memorable discussions we ever had on that show.

(PHOTO: Filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla at NY Film Festival)

A3N:  Your bio states that you use your films “to call attention to voices we rarely hear” and “as a means of fostering political change.” Your 2012 film Herman’s House certainly helped to amplify Herman’s voice and it created more public attention to Herman and the Angola 3. 

Looking beyond the immediate campaign for Herman’s release from prison and solitary confinement, as well as the continuing call today for Albert Woodfox’s release from prison and solitary, what do you feel were the central messages that you sought to focus on with Herman’s House?

ASB:  With the documentary Herman’s House, the real central message was that Herman Wallace, like all the other people we incarcerate, is a human being. As simple as that sounds, I think the prison industrial complex’s most devastating impact has been to dehumanize the people it incarcerates. We did not show any images of prisons in the documentary because I believe even the very sight of a prison can contribute to this dehumanization process.

With the film I hoped to transform Herman and indirectly everyone else we incarcerate from a convict or felon into a brother, a mentor, a friend and like all of us a dreamer. In that sense, unlike other profiles, I was not as focused on Herman’s innocence. While Herman was wrongfully convicted, I wanted to focus on the nature of his incarceration which ties him to the 2.3 million other Americans we put in prison.


 

A3N:  Now with the release of The Deeper They Bury Me a few years after Herman’s House, do the fundamental themes and issues addressed in this film differ at all? Otherwise, how do you think The Deeper They Bury Me complements Herman’s House?

ASB:  Similar to Herman’s House, I think the theme of humanizing Herman and focusing on the conditions of his incarceration remain in The Deeper They Bury Me. But at the same time I think The Deeper They Bury allowed me to bring more attention to the specific circumstances around Herman’s story.

In that sense I tried to highlight Herman’s past growing up in a segregated New Orleans to highlight how America’s racist history relates directly to America’s racist present. This experience of it being more a telling of Herman’s story by Herman, allowed me to explore his political convictions and work with the Black Panther Party more than I could in the film. I tried to highlight Herman’s position as a political prisoner in The Deeper They Bury Me.

Overall I think the interactive aspect compliments the film by providing much more of the historical and political conditions of Herman’s incarceration. While Herman’s situation may have been unique, those conditions are not. I hope that through this interactive telling of  Herman’s experience viewers begin to understand that history is present.

There is a reason that in the United States, people of color account for nearly 60% of the imprisoned while making up only 30% of the population. There is a reason that the United States, black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

These reasons are not simple and go back to the founding myths of this country, which is why there are more black men under some form correctional supervision (imprisoned, on parole, or probation) than were enslaved in 1850.

A3N:  The interactive format of The Deeper They Bury Me is very cutting edge. Can you tell us more about the various interactive features that our readers will find when they go to watch the film? What do you feel that this interactive format adds? How does it change or enrich the viewing experience?

ASB:  Well, the entire experience is set up to determine what aspects of Herman’s life the user wants to hear him talk about. In many ways the prison industrial complex relies on framing spaces as tools of punishment and coercion. This interactive format allows people to actually explore 3D replicas of Herman’s cell, his dream bedroom, and prison dorm. Interacting with these spaces in relation to one another, I think, allows users to really question our notions of freedom and confinement.

While not all the environments are available at the same time, the user gets to decide which spaces she wants to linger in and which elements of Herman’s story she wants hear more about. Not being constrained by a linear narrative structure and the idea of always moving an audience forward, the interactive format provides audiences the opportunity to go deeper into what would be considered Herman’s back-story in a traditional documentary.

While of course the linear documentary is my point of reference in many ways, The Deeper They Bury Me is an entirely different kind of storytelling. It will never replace the linear form, but at the same time, it allows the user to get to enter Herman’s world from the point that is most relevant to them. Further, as a tool, being able to access each of the 25 one-minute videos independently allows activists to craft a narrative that best suits their campaign work. Herman’s story is so relevant for today’s young activists that I wanted to try to tell it in a form that is more relevant to young people who communicate so much now online.

(PHOTO: Harry Belafonte at NY Film Festival screening)

A3N:  Along with your two films about Herman, in 2014 another Angola 3-related film was made in Canada, entitled Hard Time, by Ron Harpelle, which focused on Robert H King. Seen in the context of these three films, how do you think Canadian audiences have responded to the story of the Angola 3?

ASB:  I think like most audiences, Canadian audiences are shocked when they first hear the story of the Angola 3. I think the Angola 3 story may find more receptive outlets in Canada and other countries outside the US simply because people feel good pointing out injustices happening in other countries.

In the ‘learn more’ section of site we included the fact that Aboriginal Canadians are ten times more likely to be incarcerated that other Canadians. As much as we Canadians might like to deny it, our criminal justice system extends from a sordid history of oppression and remains a racist tool of social control.

(PHOTO: NY Film Festival speaker panel)

A3N:  What is the significance of the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) involvement with The Deeper They Bury Me, both producing it and hosting the film on their website? How did the NFB become involved with the film?

ASB:  In 2010, I approached the NFB looking for their support to help produce Herman’s House, the linear film. It was producer Anita Lee at the NFB, who proposed the idea of creating an independent interactive piece that became The Deeper They Bury Me.

The NFB has been leading the development of interactive online storytelling since the field first emerged, so I was extremely excited that they saw interactive potential in Herman’s story. The NFB is not only a Canadian institution but it has a global legacy of producing critical independent documentary films, including films that inspired me to get into the field, like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and The Media. As an NFB production, The Deeper They Bury Me becomes a part of an essential collection and will most importantly introduce Herman’s Story to an even broader audience.

A3N:  In October, 2013 after battling liver cancer for several months, Herman Wallace was released from prison. Just a few days later, he passed away in the company of family and friends. In the days following, tributes to Herman ranged from US Congressmen to the Washington Post and New York Times. As someone who has studied Herman’s life so closely, can you please reflect on his life and share with us what you think his legacy is today?

ASB:  It’s would be hard to overstate the impact Herman has had on my life. More than merely the subject of my past two documentary projects, over the 6 years that we conversed by phone he became both a friend and teacher in so many ways.

To be exonerated and released three days before passing away was undoubtedly tragic, but in so many ways Herman’s story is one of victory. His legacy will forever be that of someone who stood up to injustice and won. Not in the Hollywood way of winning where everything turns out okay in the end but in the messy way people who have struggled for justice get to win.

For four decades the system tried to silence Herman for his resistance. But like Herman’s poem from which this piece is titled, the deeper they tried to bury Herman the louder his voice became. The system had planned for Herman to die in prison, and even through he enjoyed only three days of freedom, he defied that system and that defiance made headlines around the world.

Herman decided long ago that he was willing to sacrifice his life to serve as symbol for so much of what is wrong with America’s prison industrial complex. As sad as I am that I lost a friend, I can feel his spirit smiling with the knowledge that his struggle and eventual victory is still inspiring a new generation of activists.

A3N:  We in the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 have sought to honor Herman’s legacy by “turning grief into strength,” and working for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox from both prison and solitary confinement, so that he will be able spend more time outside prison walls than Herman was able to.  In February 2013, several months before Herman’s cancer diagnosis, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. Subsequently, in November 2014, this third overturned conviction was upheld by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then in June 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled for Albert’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as banning a retrial. Yet, to this day Albert remains in solitary confinement. 

What do you think about Albert’s treatment in recent years, especially following Herman’s death? How about this US “criminal justice” system where an elder prisoner’s conviction can be overturned for a third time, but still be held captive and in solitary confinement?

ASB:  Sadly nothing about Albert’s treatment both prior to and following Herman’s death surprises me.

Like Herman, Albert has always been used by the state as an example to others who might fight back against state oppression. There is not a criminal justice system in America, there is a system of social control that relies on incarceration and violence. The state must put all the resources it has at its disposal to keep torturing people like Albert to make sure other people who even consider exposing the system’s contradictions think twice.

Look at how the NYPD have been continuing to harass and abuse Ramsay Orta, the man who recorded the NYPD murder of Eric Garner and his family. Albert’s case has never been about the evidence that had him convicted of Brent Miller’s murder, because there isn’t any.  It has always been about the state displaying its ruthless power.

Unfortunately for the state, the truth is the truth and the more the state tries to display power the more desperate and pathetic it looks.

(PHOTO: Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

–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. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling –An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling  
–An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

By Angola 3 News

Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla has never shied away from examining politically controversial topics. Nor does he play down his own artistic goal of using media to foster political change. Bhalla’s first independent work, entitled U.A.I.L. Go Back amplified the voices of Indian villagers resisting an alumina project backed by the Canadian company Alcan. The film became an important organizing tool used to pressure Alcan into ending its involvement in the project.

Bhalla has since co-founded Time of Day Media.and while working as a community organizer for immigrant rights, he produced videos for the Service Employees International Union, Working America, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups. His award-winning short on the lives of Indian street artists, Writings on the Wall, was broadcast on Canada’s Bravo! and Al Jazeera English.

Bhalla’s debut feature documentary was the 2012 film Herman’s House, about Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 and the collaborative project Wallace worked on with artist Jackie Sumell, entitled The House That Herman Built. The film screened at more than 40 festivals, was distributed theatrically in the US and Canada, and won an Emmy Award for its 2013 POV broadcast on PBS.


The newly released, interactive website-based documentary film made by Bhalla, entitled The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace, builds upon Herman’s House by further examining Herman Wallace’s life, following Wallace’s death from liver cancer on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. This latest film has already been well received. Along with a recent screening at the 28th annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Deeper They Bury Me has also been selected by Favourite Website Awards as the “Site of the Day” for December 14, where it is being displayed on the website’s front page for the full day.

In this interview, filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla discusses his latest film, The Deeper They Bury Me, while also reflecting upon his 2012 film Herman’s House, his personal relationship with Wallace and more. Bhalla concludes the interview with a focus on the call by Amnesty International and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who is the last of the Angola 3 behind bars. Despite three overturned convictions, Woodfox remains in prison and in solitary confinement, where he was first placed over 43 years ago.

(VIDEO: Coverage of the panel discussion following a recent screening of The Deeper They Bury Me at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Photos from this event by Lindsey Seide/NFB are featured below alongside still images taken from the film itself.)

Angola 3 News:  Can you please tell us how you first heard of Herman Wallace and the Angola 3?

Angad Singh Bhalla:  I first heard about Herman Wallace and the Angola 3 in 2002, shortly after Robert King’s release from prison. Artist Jackie Sumell organized a lecture for King at Stanford University, where I co-hosted a political talk show on the campus radio station at the time. Robert King remains one of the most memorable discussions we ever had on that show.

(PHOTO: Filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla at NY Film Festival)

A3N:  Your bio states that you use your films “to call attention to voices we rarely hear” and “as a means of fostering political change.” Your 2012 film Herman’s House certainly helped to amplify Herman’s voice and it created more public attention to Herman and the Angola 3. 

Looking beyond the immediate campaign for Herman’s release from prison and solitary confinement, as well as the continuing call today for Albert Woodfox’s release from prison and solitary, what do you feel were the central messages that you sought to focus on with Herman’s House?

ASB:  With the documentary Herman’s House, the real central message was that Herman Wallace, like all the other people we incarcerate, is a human being. As simple as that sounds, I think the prison industrial complex’s most devastating impact has been to dehumanize the people it incarcerates. We did not show any images of prisons in the documentary because I believe even the very sight of a prison can contribute to this dehumanization process.

With the film I hoped to transform Herman and indirectly everyone else we incarcerate from a convict or felon into a brother, a mentor, a friend and like all of us a dreamer. In that sense, unlike other profiles, I was not as focused on Herman’s innocence. While Herman was wrongfully convicted, I wanted to focus on the nature of his incarceration which ties him to the 2.3 million other Americans we put in prison.


 

A3N:  Now with the release of The Deeper They Bury Me a few years after Herman’s House, do the fundamental themes and issues addressed in this film differ at all? Otherwise, how do you think The Deeper They Bury Me complements Herman’s House?

ASB:  Similar to Herman’s House, I think the theme of humanizing Herman and focusing on the conditions of his incarceration remain in The Deeper They Bury Me. But at the same time I think The Deeper They Bury allowed me to bring more attention to the specific circumstances around Herman’s story.

In that sense I tried to highlight Herman’s past growing up in a segregated New Orleans to highlight how America’s racist history relates directly to America’s racist present. This experience of it being more a telling of Herman’s story by Herman, allowed me to explore his political convictions and work with the Black Panther Party more than I could in the film. I tried to highlight Herman’s position as a political prisoner in The Deeper They Bury Me.

Overall I think the interactive aspect compliments the film by providing much more of the historical and political conditions of Herman’s incarceration. While Herman’s situation may have been unique, those conditions are not. I hope that through this interactive telling of  Herman’s experience viewers begin to understand that history is present.

There is a reason that in the United States, people of color account for nearly 60% of the imprisoned while making up only 30% of the population. There is a reason that the United States, black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

These reasons are not simple and go back to the founding myths of this country, which is why there are more black men under some form correctional supervision (imprisoned, on parole, or probation) than were enslaved in 1850.

A3N:  The interactive format of The Deeper They Bury Me is very cutting edge. Can you tell us more about the various interactive features that our readers will find when they go to watch the film? What do you feel that this interactive format adds? How does it change or enrich the viewing experience?

ASB:  Well, the entire experience is set up to determine what aspects of Herman’s life the user wants to hear him talk about. In many ways the prison industrial complex relies on framing spaces as tools of punishment and coercion. This interactive format allows people to actually explore 3D replicas of Herman’s cell, his dream bedroom, and prison dorm. Interacting with these spaces in relation to one another, I think, allows users to really question our notions of freedom and confinement.

While not all the environments are available at the same time, the user gets to decide which spaces she wants to linger in and which elements of Herman’s story she wants hear more about. Not being constrained by a linear narrative structure and the idea of always moving an audience forward, the interactive format provides audiences the opportunity to go deeper into what would be considered Herman’s back-story in a traditional documentary.

While of course the linear documentary is my point of reference in many ways, The Deeper They Bury Me is an entirely different kind of storytelling. It will never replace the linear form, but at the same time, it allows the user to get to enter Herman’s world from the point that is most relevant to them. Further, as a tool, being able to access each of the 25 one-minute videos independently allows activists to craft a narrative that best suits their campaign work. Herman’s story is so relevant for today’s young activists that I wanted to try to tell it in a form that is more relevant to young people who communicate so much now online.

(PHOTO: Harry Belafonte at NY Film Festival screening)

A3N:  Along with your two films about Herman, in 2014 another Angola 3-related film was made in Canada, entitled Hard Time, by Ron Harpelle, which focused on Robert H King. Seen in the context of these three films, how do you think Canadian audiences have responded to the story of the Angola 3?

ASB:  I think like most audiences, Canadian audiences are shocked when they first hear the story of the Angola 3. I think the Angola 3 story may find more receptive outlets in Canada and other countries outside the US simply because people feel good pointing out injustices happening in other countries.

In the ‘learn more’ section of site we included the fact that Aboriginal Canadians are ten times more likely to be incarcerated that other Canadians. As much as we Canadians might like to deny it, our criminal justice system extends from a sordid history of oppression and remains a racist tool of social control.

(PHOTO: NY Film Festival speaker panel)

A3N:  What is the significance of the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) involvement with The Deeper They Bury Me, both producing it and hosting the film on their website? How did the NFB become involved with the film?

ASB:  In 2010, I approached the NFB looking for their support to help produce Herman’s House, the linear film. It was producer Anita Lee at the NFB, who proposed the idea of creating an independent interactive piece that became The Deeper They Bury Me.

The NFB has been leading the development of interactive online storytelling since the field first emerged, so I was extremely excited that they saw interactive potential in Herman’s story. The NFB is not only a Canadian institution but it has a global legacy of producing critical independent documentary films, including films that inspired me to get into the field, like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and The Media. As an NFB production, The Deeper They Bury Me becomes a part of an essential collection and will most importantly introduce Herman’s Story to an even broader audience.

A3N:  In October, 2013 after battling liver cancer for several months, Herman Wallace was released from prison. Just a few days later, he passed away in the company of family and friends. In the days following, tributes to Herman ranged from US Congressmen to the Washington Post and New York Times. As someone who has studied Herman’s life so closely, can you please reflect on his life and share with us what you think his legacy is today?

ASB:  It’s would be hard to overstate the impact Herman has had on my life. More than merely the subject of my past two documentary projects, over the 6 years that we conversed by phone he became both a friend and teacher in so many ways.

To be exonerated and released three days before passing away was undoubtedly tragic, but in so many ways Herman’s story is one of victory. His legacy will forever be that of someone who stood up to injustice and won. Not in the Hollywood way of winning where everything turns out okay in the end but in the messy way people who have struggled for justice get to win.

For four decades the system tried to silence Herman for his resistance. But like Herman’s poem from which this piece is titled, the deeper they tried to bury Herman the louder his voice became. The system had planned for Herman to die in prison, and even through he enjoyed only three days of freedom, he defied that system and that defiance made headlines around the world.

Herman decided long ago that he was willing to sacrifice his life to serve as symbol for so much of what is wrong with America’s prison industrial complex. As sad as I am that I lost a friend, I can feel his spirit smiling with the knowledge that his struggle and eventual victory is still inspiring a new generation of activists.

A3N:  We in the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 have sought to honor Herman’s legacy by “turning grief into strength,” and working for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox from both prison and solitary confinement, so that he will be able spend more time outside prison walls than Herman was able to.  In February 2013, several months before Herman’s cancer diagnosis, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. Subsequently, in November 2014, this third overturned conviction was upheld by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then in June 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled for Albert’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as banning a retrial. Yet, to this day Albert remains in solitary confinement. 

What do you think about Albert’s treatment in recent years, especially following Herman’s death? How about this US “criminal justice” system where an elder prisoner’s conviction can be overturned for a third time, but still be held captive and in solitary confinement?

ASB:  Sadly nothing about Albert’s treatment both prior to and following Herman’s death surprises me.

Like Herman, Albert has always been used by the state as an example to others who might fight back against state oppression. There is not a criminal justice system in America, there is a system of social control that relies on incarceration and violence. The state must put all the resources it has at its disposal to keep torturing people like Albert to make sure other people who even consider exposing the system’s contradictions think twice.

Look at how the NYPD have been continuing to harass and abuse Ramsay Orta, the man who recorded the NYPD murder of Eric Garner and his family. Albert’s case has never been about the evidence that had him convicted of Brent Miller’s murder, because there isn’t any.  It has always been about the state displaying its ruthless power.

Unfortunately for the state, the truth is the truth and the more the state tries to display power the more desperate and pathetic it looks.

(PHOTO: Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

–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. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling –An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

Never Silenced, Herman Wallace’s Spirit is Smiling  
–An interview with filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla

By Angola 3 News

Canadian filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla has never shied away from examining politically controversial topics. Nor does he play down his own artistic goal of using media to foster political change. Bhalla’s first independent work, entitled U.A.I.L. Go Back amplified the voices of Indian villagers resisting an alumina project backed by the Canadian company Alcan. The film became an important organizing tool used to pressure Alcan into ending its involvement in the project.

Bhalla has since co-founded Time of Day Media.and while working as a community organizer for immigrant rights, he produced videos for the Service Employees International Union, Working America, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups. His award-winning short on the lives of Indian street artists, Writings on the Wall, was broadcast on Canada’s Bravo! and Al Jazeera English.

Bhalla’s debut feature documentary was the 2012 film Herman’s House, about Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 and the collaborative project Wallace worked on with artist Jackie Sumell, entitled The House That Herman Built. The film screened at more than 40 festivals, was distributed theatrically in the US and Canada, and won an Emmy Award for its 2013 POV broadcast on PBS.


The newly released, interactive website-based documentary film made by Bhalla, entitled The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace, builds upon Herman’s House by further examining Herman Wallace’s life, following Wallace’s death from liver cancer on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. This latest film has already been well received. Along with a recent screening at the 28th annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Deeper They Bury Me has also been selected by Favourite Website Awards as the “Site of the Day” for December 14, where it is being displayed on the website’s front page for the full day.

In this interview, filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla discusses his latest film, The Deeper They Bury Me, while also reflecting upon his 2012 film Herman’s House, his personal relationship with Wallace and more. Bhalla concludes the interview with a focus on the call by Amnesty International and the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who is the last of the Angola 3 behind bars. Despite three overturned convictions, Woodfox remains in prison and in solitary confinement, where he was first placed over 43 years ago.

(VIDEO: Coverage of the panel discussion following a recent screening of The Deeper They Bury Me at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Photos from this event by Lindsey Seide/NFB are featured below alongside still images taken from the film itself.)

Angola 3 News:  Can you please tell us how you first heard of Herman Wallace and the Angola 3?

Angad Singh Bhalla:  I first heard about Herman Wallace and the Angola 3 in 2002, shortly after Robert King’s release from prison. Artist Jackie Sumell organized a lecture for King at Stanford University, where I co-hosted a political talk show on the campus radio station at the time. Robert King remains one of the most memorable discussions we ever had on that show.

(PHOTO: Filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla at NY Film Festival)

A3N:  Your bio states that you use your films “to call attention to voices we rarely hear” and “as a means of fostering political change.” Your 2012 film Herman’s House certainly helped to amplify Herman’s voice and it created more public attention to Herman and the Angola 3. 

Looking beyond the immediate campaign for Herman’s release from prison and solitary confinement, as well as the continuing call today for Albert Woodfox’s release from prison and solitary, what do you feel were the central messages that you sought to focus on with Herman’s House?

ASB:  With the documentary Herman’s House, the real central message was that Herman Wallace, like all the other people we incarcerate, is a human being. As simple as that sounds, I think the prison industrial complex’s most devastating impact has been to dehumanize the people it incarcerates. We did not show any images of prisons in the documentary because I believe even the very sight of a prison can contribute to this dehumanization process.

With the film I hoped to transform Herman and indirectly everyone else we incarcerate from a convict or felon into a brother, a mentor, a friend and like all of us a dreamer. In that sense, unlike other profiles, I was not as focused on Herman’s innocence. While Herman was wrongfully convicted, I wanted to focus on the nature of his incarceration which ties him to the 2.3 million other Americans we put in prison.


 

A3N:  Now with the release of The Deeper They Bury Me a few years after Herman’s House, do the fundamental themes and issues addressed in this film differ at all? Otherwise, how do you think The Deeper They Bury Me complements Herman’s House?

ASB:  Similar to Herman’s House, I think the theme of humanizing Herman and focusing on the conditions of his incarceration remain in The Deeper They Bury Me. But at the same time I think The Deeper They Bury allowed me to bring more attention to the specific circumstances around Herman’s story.

In that sense I tried to highlight Herman’s past growing up in a segregated New Orleans to highlight how America’s racist history relates directly to America’s racist present. This experience of it being more a telling of Herman’s story by Herman, allowed me to explore his political convictions and work with the Black Panther Party more than I could in the film. I tried to highlight Herman’s position as a political prisoner in The Deeper They Bury Me.

Overall I think the interactive aspect compliments the film by providing much more of the historical and political conditions of Herman’s incarceration. While Herman’s situation may have been unique, those conditions are not. I hope that through this interactive telling of  Herman’s experience viewers begin to understand that history is present.

There is a reason that in the United States, people of color account for nearly 60% of the imprisoned while making up only 30% of the population. There is a reason that the United States, black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

These reasons are not simple and go back to the founding myths of this country, which is why there are more black men under some form correctional supervision (imprisoned, on parole, or probation) than were enslaved in 1850.

A3N:  The interactive format of The Deeper They Bury Me is very cutting edge. Can you tell us more about the various interactive features that our readers will find when they go to watch the film? What do you feel that this interactive format adds? How does it change or enrich the viewing experience?

ASB:  Well, the entire experience is set up to determine what aspects of Herman’s life the user wants to hear him talk about. In many ways the prison industrial complex relies on framing spaces as tools of punishment and coercion. This interactive format allows people to actually explore 3D replicas of Herman’s cell, his dream bedroom, and prison dorm. Interacting with these spaces in relation to one another, I think, allows users to really question our notions of freedom and confinement.

While not all the environments are available at the same time, the user gets to decide which spaces she wants to linger in and which elements of Herman’s story she wants hear more about. Not being constrained by a linear narrative structure and the idea of always moving an audience forward, the interactive format provides audiences the opportunity to go deeper into what would be considered Herman’s back-story in a traditional documentary.

While of course the linear documentary is my point of reference in many ways, The Deeper They Bury Me is an entirely different kind of storytelling. It will never replace the linear form, but at the same time, it allows the user to get to enter Herman’s world from the point that is most relevant to them. Further, as a tool, being able to access each of the 25 one-minute videos independently allows activists to craft a narrative that best suits their campaign work. Herman’s story is so relevant for today’s young activists that I wanted to try to tell it in a form that is more relevant to young people who communicate so much now online.

(PHOTO: Harry Belafonte at NY Film Festival screening)

A3N:  Along with your two films about Herman, in 2014 another Angola 3-related film was made in Canada, entitled Hard Time, by Ron Harpelle, which focused on Robert H King. Seen in the context of these three films, how do you think Canadian audiences have responded to the story of the Angola 3?

ASB:  I think like most audiences, Canadian audiences are shocked when they first hear the story of the Angola 3. I think the Angola 3 story may find more receptive outlets in Canada and other countries outside the US simply because people feel good pointing out injustices happening in other countries.

In the ‘learn more’ section of site we included the fact that Aboriginal Canadians are ten times more likely to be incarcerated that other Canadians. As much as we Canadians might like to deny it, our criminal justice system extends from a sordid history of oppression and remains a racist tool of social control.

(PHOTO: NY Film Festival speaker panel)

A3N:  What is the significance of the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) involvement with The Deeper They Bury Me, both producing it and hosting the film on their website? How did the NFB become involved with the film?

ASB:  In 2010, I approached the NFB looking for their support to help produce Herman’s House, the linear film. It was producer Anita Lee at the NFB, who proposed the idea of creating an independent interactive piece that became The Deeper They Bury Me.

The NFB has been leading the development of interactive online storytelling since the field first emerged, so I was extremely excited that they saw interactive potential in Herman’s story. The NFB is not only a Canadian institution but it has a global legacy of producing critical independent documentary films, including films that inspired me to get into the field, like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and The Media. As an NFB production, The Deeper They Bury Me becomes a part of an essential collection and will most importantly introduce Herman’s Story to an even broader audience.

A3N:  In October, 2013 after battling liver cancer for several months, Herman Wallace was released from prison. Just a few days later, he passed away in the company of family and friends. In the days following, tributes to Herman ranged from US Congressmen to the Washington Post and New York Times. As someone who has studied Herman’s life so closely, can you please reflect on his life and share with us what you think his legacy is today?

ASB:  It’s would be hard to overstate the impact Herman has had on my life. More than merely the subject of my past two documentary projects, over the 6 years that we conversed by phone he became both a friend and teacher in so many ways.

To be exonerated and released three days before passing away was undoubtedly tragic, but in so many ways Herman’s story is one of victory. His legacy will forever be that of someone who stood up to injustice and won. Not in the Hollywood way of winning where everything turns out okay in the end but in the messy way people who have struggled for justice get to win.

For four decades the system tried to silence Herman for his resistance. But like Herman’s poem from which this piece is titled, the deeper they tried to bury Herman the louder his voice became. The system had planned for Herman to die in prison, and even through he enjoyed only three days of freedom, he defied that system and that defiance made headlines around the world.

Herman decided long ago that he was willing to sacrifice his life to serve as symbol for so much of what is wrong with America’s prison industrial complex. As sad as I am that I lost a friend, I can feel his spirit smiling with the knowledge that his struggle and eventual victory is still inspiring a new generation of activists.

A3N:  We in the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 have sought to honor Herman’s legacy by “turning grief into strength,” and working for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox from both prison and solitary confinement, so that he will be able spend more time outside prison walls than Herman was able to.  In February 2013, several months before Herman’s cancer diagnosis, Albert’s conviction was overturned for a third time. Subsequently, in November 2014, this third overturned conviction was upheld by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then in June 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled for Albert’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as banning a retrial. Yet, to this day Albert remains in solitary confinement. 

What do you think about Albert’s treatment in recent years, especially following Herman’s death? How about this US “criminal justice” system where an elder prisoner’s conviction can be overturned for a third time, but still be held captive and in solitary confinement?

ASB:  Sadly nothing about Albert’s treatment both prior to and following Herman’s death surprises me.

Like Herman, Albert has always been used by the state as an example to others who might fight back against state oppression. There is not a criminal justice system in America, there is a system of social control that relies on incarceration and violence. The state must put all the resources it has at its disposal to keep torturing people like Albert to make sure other people who even consider exposing the system’s contradictions think twice.

Look at how the NYPD have been continuing to harass and abuse Ramsay Orta, the man who recorded the NYPD murder of Eric Garner and his family. Albert’s case has never been about the evidence that had him convicted of Brent Miller’s murder, because there isn’t any.  It has always been about the state displaying its ruthless power.

Unfortunately for the state, the truth is the truth and the more the state tries to display power the more desperate and pathetic it looks.

(PHOTO: Herman Wallace, left, with Albert Woodfox, right)

–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. Our articles and videos have been published by Alternet, Truthout, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Z Magazine, Indymedia, and many others.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

Hard Time (2014) from Shebafilms Kelly Saxberg on Vimeo.

In Security from Shebafilms Kelly Saxberg on Vimeo.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance
–An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

By Angola 3 News

A new 40-minute documentary film by Canadian History Professor Ron Harpelle, entitled Hard Time, focuses on the life of Robert Hillary King, who spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001.

Along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Robert King is one of three Black Panther political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Last October, Herman Wallace died from liver cancer just days after being released from prison. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to do this day, with the upcoming date of April 17, 2014 marking 42 years since he was first placed there.

When Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time in February 2013, his release was halted because the Louisiana Attorney General immediately appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court, despite an Amnesty International campaign calling on the AG to respect US District Court Judge James Brady’s ruling and not appeal. The Amnesty campaign (take action here) is now calling for Woodfox’s immediate release.

In March, Amnesty released a new interview with Teenie Rogers, the widow of correctional officer Brent Miller, the man who Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were wrongfully convicted of murdering. “This needs to stop, for me and my family to get closure,” Rogers says. She expresses sadness that she tried but was unable to see Herman before he passed and explains: “I am speaking out now because I don’t want another innocent man to die in prison.”

In an email message sent out by Amnesty, Robert King said: “Teenie believes me. She believes that the Angola 3 had nothing to do with her husband’s murder. She believes that Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and I suffered years of cruel solitary confinement as innocent men…The state hasn’t done justice by her, either. She’s angry. We both are. Louisiana authorities are hell bent on blaming the wrong person. Well, I’m hell bent on setting him free.”

Hard Time was recently shown in Canada at both the Toronto and Montreal Black Film Festivals, following Robert King’s testimony in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier that month. On April 20, Hard Time will be shown in Paris, with French subtitles, at the Ethnografilm Festival.

The full, 40-minute version of Hard Time can now be viewed online, along with Ron Harpelle’s previous film, entitled In Security. Our interview with Harpelle is featured below.

(PHOTO: Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here.)

Angola 3 News:   How do the issues examined by your earlier film In Security relate to your new film, Hard Time, about Robert King, the Angola 3, and the use of solitary confinement in US prisons? How did In Security lead you to Robert King and the eventual making of Hard Time?

Ron Harpelle:   I stumbled onto Robert King while working on In Security, a film about barbed wire. I’m a historian who happens to make documentary films and what really interests me is how things we see as a part of everyday life have evolved and shaped the society we live in. My film about barbed wire shows how a simple 19th century innovation in agriculture became a means of restraining the movements of people and a universal symbol of oppression.

Barbed wire is also known as the “Devil’s Rope” and my objective was to make a film that would leave audiences thinking about the barbarism that surrounds us all the time. The film consists of a series of vignettes about barbed wire that tie the stories of dispossession, suffering and punishment together, and it is dedicated to the Angola 3. In Security covers a little more than a century of history and it ends in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka Angola.

I contacted the prison authorities and asked if I could somehow be allowed to film in the prison. To my surprise, they wrote back immediately and welcomed me to tour the facility. This was my first time in a prison and I knew that for the purposes of my film I had hit the jackpot. I had already filmed in the West Bank, which is a big prison, and in South Africa, where they produce a razor wire with a fish hook blade that is designed to cut and catch. What I needed was something that brought the film to a conclusion and Angola is the most spectacular example of barbed wire. This is when I started to read the history of corrections in Louisiana and of Angola.

I soon discovered Robert King living in Austin and I made arrangements to meet him when I was in town on my way to film a segment of In Security at the border wall in Brownsville. I’m not sure what he thought about me, a Canadian interested in razor wire, but I really had no idea what sort of man King would be. I don’t know what I expected other than someone who would be able to tell the film’s viewers what it was like to be locked up in a prison for such a long time.

When I knocked on his door I was greeted by a mild mannered man living in a small house decorated with Panther paraphernalia in every corner. I had read his book and searched the internet for information about him and the A3. I really couldn’t believe my luck at finding a subject like Robert King and I only hoped that he would be a good interview. In my mind I was arriving to ask a wise man to share his thoughts with me and I quickly cut to the chase by asking him to tell me about barbed wire. That’s when King told me he couldn’t help me with my film because, he said, “Where they kept me it was nothing but steel bars and concrete.” That was the moment I realized that another film, a sort of sequel to In Security, would have to be made. Robert King didn’t make it into In Security, but he also didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

Like most people, I had never given solitary confinement more than a passing thought. I knew it existed and I knew about injustice and cruelty in the penal system, but I had never been obliged to think about it. I had also never had the privilege of meeting someone like Robert King. During that first meeting I asked him all the questions people who first meet him ask and I got the answers he usually gives. Like all those answers that I have now heard so many times, he was sincere and insightful and as always, it was as though he was being asked the questions for the first time.

I had never met a Black Panther either. They weren’t big in Canada and by the time I became politically aware, they were a thing of the past. I’m too young to remember the summer of ‘68, but there were a lot of draft dodgers and other leftists in our universities, so I read many of the books that Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and King read in prison. I was, therefore, taken with King’s politics and fascinated by the story of his radicalization. I saw that King has a loyal network of committed people around him who support the A3 cause. In him I saw an opportunity to make another film, this time about the life of a remarkable man.

The result is a film called Hard Time. I didn’t have much of a budget for the film but I knew it was one that had to be made. Anyone who follows the news about the A3 knows that Robert King is a moving target. I work with my wife and together we stalked King for about a year whenever our paths came close to each other. In this way I met several of the people who are closest to King and I interviewed some of them. But in the end, the film is just about King and it is his story punctuated with archival footage and photographs.

Filmmaking is a cooperative venture and Robert King was a cooperative subject. When the film started to come together I sent a copy to King and he told me after viewing the rough cut that it was “impactive.”

I see it as a film that can take King’s story to all the places he can’t go himself. I do not make films that confirm what people already know, so I made Hard Time to help explain the history of civil rights and the Black Panthers to new audiences. Robert King is the thread that runs through this history.

A3N:   Could you say more about your time spent with King?

RH:   I wouldn’t spend time with him if he wasn’t a pleasure to be around. When we first met he would often say things like “I’ve had a lot of time to think about that.” He doesn’t say that to me so much anymore because our conversations have changed. I no longer ask many personal questions about him. Instead, we talk about issues and like anyone who has had a lot of time to think about things, and his responses are thoughtful and referenced. King is easy going but he is a man who is making up for lost time and he has both a political consciousness and a cause. I now spend lots of time thinking about what King says and trying to answer his questions.

When I last spent time with King he had just come from the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago where he was on a panel about the long-term effect of solitary confinement. I joked with King that he was not exactly the best example of all the damage solitary has on a human being. There is no escaping the fact that for three decades he was the subject of cruel and unusual punishment, but his spirit is such that he gets up every morning with the drive to change the world. This is a remarkable statement about King’s personality and humanism.

A3N:    Looking at the Angola 3 case, and more specifically the continuation of Albert Woodfox’s nearly 42 years in solitary despite his conviction having been overturned for a third time last year, what do you think motivates Louisiana authorities? Is it to be vengeful as Amnesty International argues?

RH:    Vengeance is one thing that motivates some, but it is the system that permits the Louisiana authorities to act in the way they have.

When I visited Angola I was shown around by a man who was doing his job, just like all the other people working there who are doing their jobs. I was shocked when he told me that the only educational program offered in Angola is a religious program that enables prisoners to become preachers. Evidence of the success of this program are the numerous churches that have been built on the prison. I was told that it would be a waste of money to provide any other kind of education to the 5200 men in the prison because most were going to die in Angola and would never be able to use their education.

However, there is some training because everybody except those in solitary work until they die and the prison turns a profit by selling commercial crops and manufacturing things like license plates. It also turns a profit by holding two rodeos per year where several thousand people from the outside go to watch men who did not grow up on a ranch risk their lives in an attempt to win a bit of money. The prisoners work off the cost of incarceration in the fields and factories run by prison industries at a rate of 4 to 20 cents an hour. We speak of slave wages, but even slaves had more freedom than the men in Angola.

The US is one of the most affluent societies in world history and it seems to me that since most of the men and women who end up in prison are poor people, a better use of their time in prison would be to provide them with an education and programs that would allow them to work off the negative effects of being, as King puts it, from the “bottom of the heap.” The authorities are merely products of a system that relies on convict labor.

It is also not just the A3 and Albert Woodfox who are victims of the system. They just released Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Angola for a crime he did not commit. Albert remains in prison as the last of the A3 to be in solitary but there are 80,000 other men and women in 6 by 9 cells across the United States. I’m sure that some of these people are a danger to themselves or to others, but keeping tens of thousands of people in cages is the sign of a society that is in real trouble.

A3N:   What about Albert and the A3 do you think LA authorities have viewed as the biggest threat?

RH:   The A3 are a threat because they challenged the system and their case can change the system.

I use the present tense because I was with King in New Orleans to show Hard Time and after the film a man stood up and said: “You maybe don’t remember me, but 35 years ago I was in CCR with Herman, Albert and you, and you saved my life. I spent three years in solitary and you taught me how to survive. When I got out of solitary I turned my anger into something positive, I did my time, and I am here today to thank you.” I should also add that there were maybe 30 men in the room and judging from what I heard, as a group they had spent a total of about 600 years in Angola. That’s 600 years of labor, 600 years of suffering, 600 years of lost opportunity for humanity.

Albert’s 42 years are easy to focus on, but there are 2.5 million men and women in prison in the United States on any given day. Every year that’s 2.5 million years of contributions to society that are lost. Not all of these people can contribute more than they cost society, but most of them can and it is incumbent on the authorities in Louisiana and elsewhere to see them as more than just an alternative to slave labor.

A3N:    What message do you hope that viewers of Hard Time will walk away with after seeing your film?

RH:    The message of hope is, as King says, “just put one foot in front of the other and you will get there.” That’s what the struggle for human rights and social justice is.

I think that when viewers meet Robert King and find out how he overcame the most incredible obstacles to become the man he is, they can look around at their own situation and see how many options there really are that will allow them to make a better life for themselves and for all the rest of us. There is a message of hope in his story and it is for anyone who dreams of a better future and is willing to pitch in to make it happen.

I think that most people who see the film or, better yet, meet King, come away with admiration and inspiration. This is the King effect. How can anyone really complain about their lot in life after hearing about what Robert King endured, how he succeeded in conquering a mountain of injustice and how he now spends just about every waking moment working to benefit those left behind and all those victims of injustice somewhere in the world that he will never know?

Hard Time is a story about a man who is making a difference.

A3N:    As you have interacted with the audience at recent screenings in Montreal, Toronto, and beyond, how has Hard Time been received?

RH:    It is a strange thing to have the subject of your film with you and ready to answer questions after the screening. They never line up to talk to me, but they certainly line up to meet King. He must be tagged in hundreds of photos on Facebook and I’ve seen blogs and other post-screening media that illustrate the power of his presence and message.

Let’s also remember that there is a difference in Canada. Most of the members of the audience are either West Indians or Africans, or their Canadian offspring. Canada was not a prime destination for slaves and our immigration laws only opened up in the 1950s. The Underground Railroad brought more runaway slaves to Canada than slavery brought slaves. Our racism is focused differently.

Our host for the events in both Toronto and Montreal was a prominent Haitian woman and Haitians freed themselves from slavery in 1804. What this means is that the majority of the people in the audience had lived experiences that are very different from those of Robert King. Their reality in a city like Toronto or Montreal is different from that of people living in places like Louisiana. These are people with their own civil rights heroes but they can identify with the themes and stories in Hard Time.

Another side of this is the Montreal media experience. Robert King was featured in the most important newspapers and on a television show called Tout le monde en parle. The title means “everyone is talking about it,” and his 15 minute interview was alongside leading Quebec celebrities, including Justin Trudeau, a man who may well be our next Prime Minister. This was the royal treatment in a province that hates royalty. They even cracked open a bottle of wine,  toasted King on national television and gave him a standing ovation. Over a million viewers heard him answer questions and thousands more watched it online.

King was also a guest on the Prison Radio Show at McGill University and a few other media outlets. Not only that, but the Montreal screening was introduced by the U.S. Consul General to Montreal.

All of this media attention adds up in the internet universe and helps draw attention to Albert Woodfox and the system that puts millions of people behind bars.

A3N:    In Hard Time, King reflects on the early formation of his political consciousness leading up to joining the Black Panther Party: “After getting 35 years…I began to feel that I owed no more obligation to the system… I had no moral obligation to a system that was designed to oppress and to oppress certain people…I began to look at that which was legal and that which was moral….Slavery was legal but just because it was legal did not mean that it was morally right.” 

As a filmmaker, how do you think films and other forms of activist-oriented media can be used to affect similar changes in people’s consciousness, like the metamorphosis described by King? Did you style your film in any particular way, so as to affect this type of consciousness change in the audience?

RH:    I like to think that I make films for people who are between about 15 and 25. This is because I believe that this age group is the near future and they are still young enough to be open to new ideas.

I have been an activist for some time, but it was only when I started making films that I was able to see the kind of impact the medium can have. This is because films do not require effort on the part of the viewers, but, if the viewer is open to new ideas, they penetrate like no other medium.

Hard Time begins with some basic information about Robert King and the Angola 3 and ends with some statistics about incarceration in the United States. Connecting this basic information is a history lesson told by Robert King. His way of speaking combined with the archival footage and images I was able to find tell a compelling tale of the 1960s and the rise of Black Power. We do hear a bit about the brutality of prison, but this is mainly left to the imagination of the viewer because Hard Time is meant to be an inspirational film.

All of this is presented in a subtle manner so that the film can get under the radar of the censors who keep ideas out of schools and away from the young people I want to reach.

A3N:    Any closing thoughts?

RH:    The film is available for free online but I hope that people will not watch it alone. It is important that individuals come together to discuss Robert King’s story.

There are all sorts of lessons that can be learned and all sorts of possibilities for people to take collective action to make a change in our world. This film can and should be used to engage people in the A3 case and injustices everywhere.

There is so much that needs to be done in so many communities. This is what Robert King learned while in prison and it is the lesson he shares with the world.

–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. 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.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

Hard Time (2014) from Shebafilms Kelly Saxberg on Vimeo.

In Security from Shebafilms Kelly Saxberg on Vimeo.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance
–An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

By Angola 3 News

A new 40-minute documentary film by Canadian History Professor Ron Harpelle, entitled Hard Time, focuses on the life of Robert Hillary King, who spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001.

Along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Robert King is one of three Black Panther political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Last October, Herman Wallace died from liver cancer just days after being released from prison. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to do this day, with the upcoming date of April 17, 2014 marking 42 years since he was first placed there.

When Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time in February 2013, his release was halted because the Louisiana Attorney General immediately appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court, despite an Amnesty International campaign calling on the AG to respect US District Court Judge James Brady’s ruling and not appeal. The Amnesty campaign (take action here) is now calling for Woodfox’s immediate release.

In March, Amnesty released a new interview with Teenie Rogers, the widow of correctional officer Brent Miller, the man who Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were wrongfully convicted of murdering. “This needs to stop, for me and my family to get closure,” Rogers says. She expresses sadness that she tried but was unable to see Herman before he passed and explains: “I am speaking out now because I don’t want another innocent man to die in prison.”

In an email message sent out by Amnesty, Robert King said: “Teenie believes me. She believes that the Angola 3 had nothing to do with her husband’s murder. She believes that Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and I suffered years of cruel solitary confinement as innocent men…The state hasn’t done justice by her, either. She’s angry. We both are. Louisiana authorities are hell bent on blaming the wrong person. Well, I’m hell bent on setting him free.”

Hard Time was recently shown in Canada at both the Toronto and Montreal Black Film Festivals, following Robert King’s testimony in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier that month. On April 20, Hard Time will be shown in Paris, with French subtitles, at the Ethnografilm Festival.

The full, 40-minute version of Hard Time can now be viewed online, along with Ron Harpelle’s previous film, entitled In Security. Our interview with Harpelle is featured below.

(PHOTO: Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here.)

Angola 3 News:   How do the issues examined by your earlier film In Security relate to your new film, Hard Time, about Robert King, the Angola 3, and the use of solitary confinement in US prisons? How did In Security lead you to Robert King and the eventual making of Hard Time?

Ron Harpelle:   I stumbled onto Robert King while working on In Security, a film about barbed wire. I’m a historian who happens to make documentary films and what really interests me is how things we see as a part of everyday life have evolved and shaped the society we live in. My film about barbed wire shows how a simple 19th century innovation in agriculture became a means of restraining the movements of people and a universal symbol of oppression.

Barbed wire is also known as the “Devil’s Rope” and my objective was to make a film that would leave audiences thinking about the barbarism that surrounds us all the time. The film consists of a series of vignettes about barbed wire that tie the stories of dispossession, suffering and punishment together, and it is dedicated to the Angola 3. In Security covers a little more than a century of history and it ends in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka Angola.

I contacted the prison authorities and asked if I could somehow be allowed to film in the prison. To my surprise, they wrote back immediately and welcomed me to tour the facility. This was my first time in a prison and I knew that for the purposes of my film I had hit the jackpot. I had already filmed in the West Bank, which is a big prison, and in South Africa, where they produce a razor wire with a fish hook blade that is designed to cut and catch. What I needed was something that brought the film to a conclusion and Angola is the most spectacular example of barbed wire. This is when I started to read the history of corrections in Louisiana and of Angola.

I soon discovered Robert King living in Austin and I made arrangements to meet him when I was in town on my way to film a segment of In Security at the border wall in Brownsville. I’m not sure what he thought about me, a Canadian interested in razor wire, but I really had no idea what sort of man King would be. I don’t know what I expected other than someone who would be able to tell the film’s viewers what it was like to be locked up in a prison for such a long time.

When I knocked on his door I was greeted by a mild mannered man living in a small house decorated with Panther paraphernalia in every corner. I had read his book and searched the internet for information about him and the A3. I really couldn’t believe my luck at finding a subject like Robert King and I only hoped that he would be a good interview. In my mind I was arriving to ask a wise man to share his thoughts with me and I quickly cut to the chase by asking him to tell me about barbed wire. That’s when King told me he couldn’t help me with my film because, he said, “Where they kept me it was nothing but steel bars and concrete.” That was the moment I realized that another film, a sort of sequel to In Security, would have to be made. Robert King didn’t make it into In Security, but he also didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

Like most people, I had never given solitary confinement more than a passing thought. I knew it existed and I knew about injustice and cruelty in the penal system, but I had never been obliged to think about it. I had also never had the privilege of meeting someone like Robert King. During that first meeting I asked him all the questions people who first meet him ask and I got the answers he usually gives. Like all those answers that I have now heard so many times, he was sincere and insightful and as always, it was as though he was being asked the questions for the first time.

I had never met a Black Panther either. They weren’t big in Canada and by the time I became politically aware, they were a thing of the past. I’m too young to remember the summer of ‘68, but there were a lot of draft dodgers and other leftists in our universities, so I read many of the books that Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and King read in prison. I was, therefore, taken with King’s politics and fascinated by the story of his radicalization. I saw that King has a loyal network of committed people around him who support the A3 cause. In him I saw an opportunity to make another film, this time about the life of a remarkable man.

The result is a film called Hard Time. I didn’t have much of a budget for the film but I knew it was one that had to be made. Anyone who follows the news about the A3 knows that Robert King is a moving target. I work with my wife and together we stalked King for about a year whenever our paths came close to each other. In this way I met several of the people who are closest to King and I interviewed some of them. But in the end, the film is just about King and it is his story punctuated with archival footage and photographs.

Filmmaking is a cooperative venture and Robert King was a cooperative subject. When the film started to come together I sent a copy to King and he told me after viewing the rough cut that it was “impactive.”

I see it as a film that can take King’s story to all the places he can’t go himself. I do not make films that confirm what people already know, so I made Hard Time to help explain the history of civil rights and the Black Panthers to new audiences. Robert King is the thread that runs through this history.

A3N:   Could you say more about your time spent with King?

RH:   I wouldn’t spend time with him if he wasn’t a pleasure to be around. When we first met he would often say things like “I’ve had a lot of time to think about that.” He doesn’t say that to me so much anymore because our conversations have changed. I no longer ask many personal questions about him. Instead, we talk about issues and like anyone who has had a lot of time to think about things, and his responses are thoughtful and referenced. King is easy going but he is a man who is making up for lost time and he has both a political consciousness and a cause. I now spend lots of time thinking about what King says and trying to answer his questions.

When I last spent time with King he had just come from the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago where he was on a panel about the long-term effect of solitary confinement. I joked with King that he was not exactly the best example of all the damage solitary has on a human being. There is no escaping the fact that for three decades he was the subject of cruel and unusual punishment, but his spirit is such that he gets up every morning with the drive to change the world. This is a remarkable statement about King’s personality and humanism.

A3N:    Looking at the Angola 3 case, and more specifically the continuation of Albert Woodfox’s nearly 42 years in solitary despite his conviction having been overturned for a third time last year, what do you think motivates Louisiana authorities? Is it to be vengeful as Amnesty International argues?

RH:    Vengeance is one thing that motivates some, but it is the system that permits the Louisiana authorities to act in the way they have.

When I visited Angola I was shown around by a man who was doing his job, just like all the other people working there who are doing their jobs. I was shocked when he told me that the only educational program offered in Angola is a religious program that enables prisoners to become preachers. Evidence of the success of this program are the numerous churches that have been built on the prison. I was told that it would be a waste of money to provide any other kind of education to the 5200 men in the prison because most were going to die in Angola and would never be able to use their education.

However, there is some training because everybody except those in solitary work until they die and the prison turns a profit by selling commercial crops and manufacturing things like license plates. It also turns a profit by holding two rodeos per year where several thousand people from the outside go to watch men who did not grow up on a ranch risk their lives in an attempt to win a bit of money. The prisoners work off the cost of incarceration in the fields and factories run by prison industries at a rate of 4 to 20 cents an hour. We speak of slave wages, but even slaves had more freedom than the men in Angola.

The US is one of the most affluent societies in world history and it seems to me that since most of the men and women who end up in prison are poor people, a better use of their time in prison would be to provide them with an education and programs that would allow them to work off the negative effects of being, as King puts it, from the “bottom of the heap.” The authorities are merely products of a system that relies on convict labor.

It is also not just the A3 and Albert Woodfox who are victims of the system. They just released Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Angola for a crime he did not commit. Albert remains in prison as the last of the A3 to be in solitary but there are 80,000 other men and women in 6 by 9 cells across the United States. I’m sure that some of these people are a danger to themselves or to others, but keeping tens of thousands of people in cages is the sign of a society that is in real trouble.

A3N:   What about Albert and the A3 do you think LA authorities have viewed as the biggest threat?

RH:   The A3 are a threat because they challenged the system and their case can change the system.

I use the present tense because I was with King in New Orleans to show Hard Time and after the film a man stood up and said: “You maybe don’t remember me, but 35 years ago I was in CCR with Herman, Albert and you, and you saved my life. I spent three years in solitary and you taught me how to survive. When I got out of solitary I turned my anger into something positive, I did my time, and I am here today to thank you.” I should also add that there were maybe 30 men in the room and judging from what I heard, as a group they had spent a total of about 600 years in Angola. That’s 600 years of labor, 600 years of suffering, 600 years of lost opportunity for humanity.

Albert’s 42 years are easy to focus on, but there are 2.5 million men and women in prison in the United States on any given day. Every year that’s 2.5 million years of contributions to society that are lost. Not all of these people can contribute more than they cost society, but most of them can and it is incumbent on the authorities in Louisiana and elsewhere to see them as more than just an alternative to slave labor.

A3N:    What message do you hope that viewers of Hard Time will walk away with after seeing your film?

RH:    The message of hope is, as King says, “just put one foot in front of the other and you will get there.” That’s what the struggle for human rights and social justice is.

I think that when viewers meet Robert King and find out how he overcame the most incredible obstacles to become the man he is, they can look around at their own situation and see how many options there really are that will allow them to make a better life for themselves and for all the rest of us. There is a message of hope in his story and it is for anyone who dreams of a better future and is willing to pitch in to make it happen.

I think that most people who see the film or, better yet, meet King, come away with admiration and inspiration. This is the King effect. How can anyone really complain about their lot in life after hearing about what Robert King endured, how he succeeded in conquering a mountain of injustice and how he now spends just about every waking moment working to benefit those left behind and all those victims of injustice somewhere in the world that he will never know?

Hard Time is a story about a man who is making a difference.

A3N:    As you have interacted with the audience at recent screenings in Montreal, Toronto, and beyond, how has Hard Time been received?

RH:    It is a strange thing to have the subject of your film with you and ready to answer questions after the screening. They never line up to talk to me, but they certainly line up to meet King. He must be tagged in hundreds of photos on Facebook and I’ve seen blogs and other post-screening media that illustrate the power of his presence and message.

Let’s also remember that there is a difference in Canada. Most of the members of the audience are either West Indians or Africans, or their Canadian offspring. Canada was not a prime destination for slaves and our immigration laws only opened up in the 1950s. The Underground Railroad brought more runaway slaves to Canada than slavery brought slaves. Our racism is focused differently.

Our host for the events in both Toronto and Montreal was a prominent Haitian woman and Haitians freed themselves from slavery in 1804. What this means is that the majority of the people in the audience had lived experiences that are very different from those of Robert King. Their reality in a city like Toronto or Montreal is different from that of people living in places like Louisiana. These are people with their own civil rights heroes but they can identify with the themes and stories in Hard Time.

Another side of this is the Montreal media experience. Robert King was featured in the most important newspapers and on a television show called Tout le monde en parle. The title means “everyone is talking about it,” and his 15 minute interview was alongside leading Quebec celebrities, including Justin Trudeau, a man who may well be our next Prime Minister. This was the royal treatment in a province that hates royalty. They even cracked open a bottle of wine,  toasted King on national television and gave him a standing ovation. Over a million viewers heard him answer questions and thousands more watched it online.

King was also a guest on the Prison Radio Show at McGill University and a few other media outlets. Not only that, but the Montreal screening was introduced by the U.S. Consul General to Montreal.

All of this media attention adds up in the internet universe and helps draw attention to Albert Woodfox and the system that puts millions of people behind bars.

A3N:    In Hard Time, King reflects on the early formation of his political consciousness leading up to joining the Black Panther Party: “After getting 35 years…I began to feel that I owed no more obligation to the system… I had no moral obligation to a system that was designed to oppress and to oppress certain people…I began to look at that which was legal and that which was moral….Slavery was legal but just because it was legal did not mean that it was morally right.” 

As a filmmaker, how do you think films and other forms of activist-oriented media can be used to affect similar changes in people’s consciousness, like the metamorphosis described by King? Did you style your film in any particular way, so as to affect this type of consciousness change in the audience?

RH:    I like to think that I make films for people who are between about 15 and 25. This is because I believe that this age group is the near future and they are still young enough to be open to new ideas.

I have been an activist for some time, but it was only when I started making films that I was able to see the kind of impact the medium can have. This is because films do not require effort on the part of the viewers, but, if the viewer is open to new ideas, they penetrate like no other medium.

Hard Time begins with some basic information about Robert King and the Angola 3 and ends with some statistics about incarceration in the United States. Connecting this basic information is a history lesson told by Robert King. His way of speaking combined with the archival footage and images I was able to find tell a compelling tale of the 1960s and the rise of Black Power. We do hear a bit about the brutality of prison, but this is mainly left to the imagination of the viewer because Hard Time is meant to be an inspirational film.

All of this is presented in a subtle manner so that the film can get under the radar of the censors who keep ideas out of schools and away from the young people I want to reach.

A3N:    Any closing thoughts?

RH:    The film is available for free online but I hope that people will not watch it alone. It is important that individuals come together to discuss Robert King’s story.

There are all sorts of lessons that can be learned and all sorts of possibilities for people to take collective action to make a change in our world. This film can and should be used to engage people in the A3 case and injustices everywhere.

There is so much that needs to be done in so many communities. This is what Robert King learned while in prison and it is the lesson he shares with the world.

–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. 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: One Year Later: Albert Woodfox is still not convicted or released

One year ago today, supporters of Albert Woodfox were elated when Judge Brady’s ruling on Albert’s criminal case was announced.  It was a THIRD overturning of his conviction!

How can it be possible that an innocent man, who now stands unconvicted in the eyes of the law, remains locked in a solitary cage while he waits for the State’s endless appeal efforts to play out?  How many more appeals, how many courts will it take for the State to finally recognize that they’ve done enough to this man? 

There are oceans of press – firsthand accounts, testimony, scientific reports, documentaries, videos, songs – all establishing the senseless torture that is solitary confinement in the U.S. today.  We are heartened by the significant solitary reforms agreed to by NY state this week and the Colorado guard who just publicly committed to eliminating solitary in Colorado. Yesterday’s second set of hearings called by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on solitary confinement were better attended with more spirited commentary than the first hearing last year (A written statement jointly submitted to yesterday’s hearing by Robert King and Albert Woodfox is reprinted below).  We see a major shift occurring in the perception and use of solitary in this country. You can watch video footage of the hearings at CSPAN.

Across the country in California a prisoner who has spent more than 42 years in solitary, Hugo Pinell, was recently moved to another facility where he has greater access to visits and a promise of eventual transfer out of solitary. On the East Coast, the long time struggle to move Pennsylvania prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz out of solitary succeeded just last week.  State by state, correctional departments are reviewing this punishment modality that has raised such an outcry and are making changes.  We can only pray that the State of Louisiana will join the rest of the country in recognizing that solitary confinement should be abolished, and begin by opening the gates for Albert.

Robert King Tours US & Canada to Speak Out for Albert Woodfox and Against Solitary Confinement

(PHOTO: Robert King and filmmaker Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival on February 21, 2014. View more photos, including from Toronto’s Black Film Festival here.)

As announced in our last newsletter, the Angola 3’s Robert King has been traveling in the US, speaking in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in Canada alongside screenings of the film Hard Time. Featured below is a compilation of media coverage.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

BBC News: Scientists call solitary confinement ‘damaging and unnecessary’  II  Japan Times / AFP: In prisons, solitary takes toll on minds  II  VIDEO: Science Magazine Live Chat w/ Robert King; Is Solitary Confinement Torture?  II  CNN: 29 Years in a Box

Hard Time Screenings in Montreal and Toronto, Canada

Tout Le Monde En Parle  II  Interview by Canadian Prison Radio Show  II  Morning News Montreal Televison Interview  II  La Presse: En croisade contre le milieu carcéral américain  II  Montreal Gazette Interview  II  Le Devoir: 29 ans d’isolement en prison

Angola Three: 42 Years of Solitary, 42 Years of Cruel and Unusual Punishment  
–A statement submitted for the February 25 Congressional hearing on the use of solitary confinement in US prisons

Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz:

My name is Robert Hillary King.  I spent 29 years in solitary before I was freed in 2001 after proving my innocence.  Since then I have worked tirelessly speaking and traveling around the world  to raise awareness about prison conditions in the US, and to bring attention to the remaining member of the Angola 3-Albert Woodfox-who is still behind solitary bars in Louisiana after nearly 42 years  actively fighting to prove his innocence in federal court.  

Albert Woodfox’s murder conviction was overturned for a 3rd time  in February of last year, and for a third time, the State of Louisiana appealed.  As Woodfox, now 67, prepares to enter his 42nd year in solitary confinement, he continues to maintain his innocence. 

The third member of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace, was released  last October from 41 years of solitary confinement after his conviction was overturned,  but died 3 days later of advanced liver cancer at the age of 72.  A group of U.S. Congressmen saw fit to mark his passing by entering a tribute to Wallace into the Congressional record, describing him as a “champion for justice and human rights.”

Many people ask me to describe my nearly 3 decades in solitary. Here is an excerpt from my autobiography where I attempted to put these experiences into words:

“Solitary confinement is terrifying, especially if you are innocent of the charges that put you there.  It evokes a lot of emotion.  It was a nightmare.  My soul still cries from all I witnessed and endured.  It mourns continuously.  Through the course of my confinement I saw men so desperate that they ripped prison doors apart and both starved and mutilated themselves.  It takes every scrap of humanity to stay focused and sane in that environment.  The pain and suffering are everywhere, constantly with you.  There’s no describing the day to day assault on your body and your mind and the feelings of hopelessness and despair.”

Over a decade ago Herman, Albert and I filed a landmark civil lawsuit challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement.   Magistrate Judge Dalby describes our almost four decades of solitary as “durations so far beyond the pale” she could not find “anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence.”   The case, scheduled for trial in June 2014, will detail decades of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual treatment (in violation of 1st, 4th, 8th, 13th and 14th Amendment rights) and systematic due process violations at the hands of Louisiana officials.

In July 2013 a group of US Congressmen issued a statement from the House Judiciary Committee calling on DOJ to investigate “the egregious and extensive use of solitary confinement and other troubling detention practices in various Louisiana prison facilities,”  alleging that the Louisiana Department of Corrections “has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the US Constitution and federal law in its use of such confinement and detention practices.”

Then in October, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called on the United States to immediately end the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert Woodfox since 1972 saying “keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four decades clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately.”

Although Albert has not had any disciplinary infractions in decades, and prison mental health records confirm that he is neither a danger to himself or others, he continues to be held in a 6×9 foot cell for 23, sometimes 24 hours a day.  He is only allowed to leave the cell if chained at the ankles, wrists and waist, under escort, for up to one hour a day if weather allows in a small outdoor cage by himself.

For decades he’s been denied meaningful review of his isolation status:

“The only reason given for maintaining the men under these conditions has been due to the “nature of the original reason for lockdown.”

Amnesty International is firm in its belief that conditions for the men in CCR – 23 hour cellular confinement in stark, tiny cells; limited access to books, newspapers and TV; no opportunities for mental stimulation, work and education; occasional [non-contact] visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls – amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” 

Amnesty goes on to detail the human rights violations involved in such extreme confinement:

“The USA has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, both of which prohibit torture or other ill-treatment. The relevant treaty monitoring bodies (the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture) have found that prolonged solitary confinement an amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Both bodies have expressed concern that the harsh conditions of long-term isolation in some US segregation facilities are incompatible with the USA’s treaty obligations. 

Amnesty International believes their findings are particularly significant in the case of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace given that few, if any, other prisoners have spent so long in solitary confinement in recent times.

Their treatment also contravenes the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These and other relevant standards emphasize the importance of providing work and educational, recreational, religious and cultural activities for prisoners’ mental and physical wellbeing, as well as to prepare individuals for reintegration into society.”

We respectfully submit this statement with the hopes that you can use your legislative powers to put an end to long term solitary confinement.  Without uniform standards of the infractions serious enough to merit placement; a meaningful review process with outside oversight; and a grievance process, opportunities for socialization and education, and a clear written timeline and detailed action plan for the inmate’s release; this form of punishment serves no punitive or reformative purpose.  In our view it is the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Constitution. 

We believe that only by openly examining the failures and inequities of the criminal justice system in America can we restore integrity to that system.  We are grateful for your efforts to do just that today.

Sincerely,
The 2 Surviving Members of “The Angola 3”
Robert King and Albert Woodfox


Keep in Touch with Albert:

Albert Woodfox #72148            
David Wade Correctional Center        
N1 A3                                                      
670 Bell Hill Road                                    
Homer, LA  71040                                  

A3 Newsletter: One Year Later: Albert Woodfox is still not convicted or released

One year ago today, supporters of Albert Woodfox were elated when Judge Brady’s ruling on Albert’s criminal case was announced.  It was a THIRD overturning of his conviction!

How can it be possible that an innocent man, who now stands unconvicted in the eyes of the law, remains locked in a solitary cage while he waits for the State’s endless appeal efforts to play out?  How many more appeals, how many courts will it take for the State to finally recognize that they’ve done enough to this man? 

There are oceans of press – firsthand accounts, testimony, scientific reports, documentaries, videos, songs – all establishing the senseless torture that is solitary confinement in the U.S. today.  We are heartened by the significant solitary reforms agreed to by NY state this week and the Colorado guard who just publicly committed to eliminating solitary in Colorado. Yesterday’s second set of hearings called by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on solitary confinement were better attended with more spirited commentary than the first hearing last year (A written statement jointly submitted to yesterday’s hearing by Robert King and Albert Woodfox is reprinted below).  We see a major shift occurring in the perception and use of solitary in this country. You can watch video footage of the hearings at CSPAN.

Across the country in California a prisoner who has spent more than 42 years in solitary, Hugo Pinell, was recently moved to another facility where he has greater access to visits and a promise of eventual transfer out of solitary. On the East Coast, the long time struggle to move Pennsylvania prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz out of solitary succeeded just last week.  State by state, correctional departments are reviewing this punishment modality that has raised such an outcry and are making changes.  We can only pray that the State of Louisiana will join the rest of the country in recognizing that solitary confinement should be abolished, and begin by opening the gates for Albert.

Robert King Tours US & Canada to Speak Out for Albert Woodfox and Against Solitary Confinement

(PHOTO: Robert King and filmmaker Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival on February 21, 2014. View more photos, including from Toronto’s Black Film Festival here.)

As announced in our last newsletter, the Angola 3’s Robert King has been traveling in the US, speaking in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in Canada alongside screenings of the film Hard Time. Featured below is a compilation of media coverage.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

BBC News: Scientists call solitary confinement ‘damaging and unnecessary’  II  Japan Times / AFP: In prisons, solitary takes toll on minds  II  VIDEO: Science Magazine Live Chat w/ Robert King; Is Solitary Confinement Torture?  II  CNN: 29 Years in a Box

Hard Time Screenings in Montreal and Toronto, Canada

Tout Le Monde En Parle  II  Interview by Canadian Prison Radio Show  II  Morning News Montreal Televison Interview  II  La Presse: En croisade contre le milieu carcéral américain  II  Montreal Gazette Interview  II  Le Devoir: 29 ans d’isolement en prison

Angola Three: 42 Years of Solitary, 42 Years of Cruel and Unusual Punishment  
–A statement submitted for the February 25 Congressional hearing on the use of solitary confinement in US prisons

Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz:

My name is Robert Hillary King.  I spent 29 years in solitary before I was freed in 2001 after proving my innocence.  Since then I have worked tirelessly speaking and traveling around the world  to raise awareness about prison conditions in the US, and to bring attention to the remaining member of the Angola 3-Albert Woodfox-who is still behind solitary bars in Louisiana after nearly 42 years  actively fighting to prove his innocence in federal court.  

Albert Woodfox’s murder conviction was overturned for a 3rd time  in February of last year, and for a third time, the State of Louisiana appealed.  As Woodfox, now 67, prepares to enter his 42nd year in solitary confinement, he continues to maintain his innocence. 

The third member of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace, was released  last October from 41 years of solitary confinement after his conviction was overturned,  but died 3 days later of advanced liver cancer at the age of 72.  A group of U.S. Congressmen saw fit to mark his passing by entering a tribute to Wallace into the Congressional record, describing him as a “champion for justice and human rights.”

Many people ask me to describe my nearly 3 decades in solitary. Here is an excerpt from my autobiography where I attempted to put these experiences into words:

“Solitary confinement is terrifying, especially if you are innocent of the charges that put you there.  It evokes a lot of emotion.  It was a nightmare.  My soul still cries from all I witnessed and endured.  It mourns continuously.  Through the course of my confinement I saw men so desperate that they ripped prison doors apart and both starved and mutilated themselves.  It takes every scrap of humanity to stay focused and sane in that environment.  The pain and suffering are everywhere, constantly with you.  There’s no describing the day to day assault on your body and your mind and the feelings of hopelessness and despair.”

Over a decade ago Herman, Albert and I filed a landmark civil lawsuit challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement.   Magistrate Judge Dalby describes our almost four decades of solitary as “durations so far beyond the pale” she could not find “anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence.”   The case, scheduled for trial in June 2014, will detail decades of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual treatment (in violation of 1st, 4th, 8th, 13th and 14th Amendment rights) and systematic due process violations at the hands of Louisiana officials.

In July 2013 a group of US Congressmen issued a statement from the House Judiciary Committee calling on DOJ to investigate “the egregious and extensive use of solitary confinement and other troubling detention practices in various Louisiana prison facilities,”  alleging that the Louisiana Department of Corrections “has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the US Constitution and federal law in its use of such confinement and detention practices.”

Then in October, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called on the United States to immediately end the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert Woodfox since 1972 saying “keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four decades clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately.”

Although Albert has not had any disciplinary infractions in decades, and prison mental health records confirm that he is neither a danger to himself or others, he continues to be held in a 6×9 foot cell for 23, sometimes 24 hours a day.  He is only allowed to leave the cell if chained at the ankles, wrists and waist, under escort, for up to one hour a day if weather allows in a small outdoor cage by himself.

For decades he’s been denied meaningful review of his isolation status:

“The only reason given for maintaining the men under these conditions has been due to the “nature of the original reason for lockdown.”

Amnesty International is firm in its belief that conditions for the men in CCR – 23 hour cellular confinement in stark, tiny cells; limited access to books, newspapers and TV; no opportunities for mental stimulation, work and education; occasional [non-contact] visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls – amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” 

Amnesty goes on to detail the human rights violations involved in such extreme confinement:

“The USA has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, both of which prohibit torture or other ill-treatment. The relevant treaty monitoring bodies (the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture) have found that prolonged solitary confinement an amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Both bodies have expressed concern that the harsh conditions of long-term isolation in some US segregation facilities are incompatible with the USA’s treaty obligations. 

Amnesty International believes their findings are particularly significant in the case of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace given that few, if any, other prisoners have spent so long in solitary confinement in recent times.

Their treatment also contravenes the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These and other relevant standards emphasize the importance of providing work and educational, recreational, religious and cultural activities for prisoners’ mental and physical wellbeing, as well as to prepare individuals for reintegration into society.”

We respectfully submit this statement with the hopes that you can use your legislative powers to put an end to long term solitary confinement.  Without uniform standards of the infractions serious enough to merit placement; a meaningful review process with outside oversight; and a grievance process, opportunities for socialization and education, and a clear written timeline and detailed action plan for the inmate’s release; this form of punishment serves no punitive or reformative purpose.  In our view it is the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Constitution. 

We believe that only by openly examining the failures and inequities of the criminal justice system in America can we restore integrity to that system.  We are grateful for your efforts to do just that today.

Sincerely,
The 2 Surviving Members of “The Angola 3”
Robert King and Albert Woodfox


Keep in Touch with Albert:

Albert Woodfox #72148            
David Wade Correctional Center        
N1 A3                                                      
670 Bell Hill Road                                    
Homer, LA  71040