NOLA October 1: Solitary Gardens Unveiling with Albert Woodfox and others

RELATED:  Albert Woodfox at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA on October 3

Solitary Gardens Unveiling
Plant the future. Honor the past.

WHEN:​  Saturday, October 1st 5-6:30pm

WHAT: ​ Please join Albert Woodfox, Malik Rahim, Nana Sula, Vaku and jackie sumell for the 3-year commemoration of Herman Wallace’s freedom after 41-years of unjust captivity.
Project unveiling, tree planting ceremony, special guest speakers and presentations.

WHO: ​ SOLITARY GARDENS is a public art project and land use alternative by jackie sumell that begs us to imagine a landscape without prisons. The project utilizes the tools of prison abolition, permaculture, and alternative education to facilitate unexpected exchanges between persons subjected to solitary confinement and volunteer communities on the “outside.” The six-foot-by-nine-foot Solitary Gardens maintain the blueprint of a US solitary cell and are “gardened” by prisoners through written exchanges with volunteers. Prisons are the descendants of slavery. Solitary Gardens will be constructed from the ancestral byproducts: sugarcane, cotton and indigo — exposing the illusion that slavery was abolished.

WHERE:​  2600 Andry Street, New Orleans LA 70117 (across from the newly built MLK High School), site of the Solitary Gardens.

CONTACT:  ​Please Contact Mary Okoth for press questions:
p: 571.426.9181
e: Grow@SolitaryGardens.org

Solitary Gardens thanks the Nathan Cummings Foundation, NORA (New Orleans Redevelopment Authority), the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, VOTE (Voice of the Experienced), Dillard University, SUA NOLA (Supporting Urban Agriculture, New Orleans), Eyebeam NYC, IDIYA Makers’ Space, Antenna Gallery, Swan River Yoga, Reyn Studios, LESGC (Lower East Side Girls Club), Vaku and all those forced to endure the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement; may you prevail with the victory of love.

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.

Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis –An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France

(You can buy Panthers in the Hole, the new graphic novel about the Angola 3 here.)

Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis

–An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France
By Angola 3 News
Amnesty International France and La Boîte à Bulles have published a 128-page French language graphic novel entitled Panthers in the Hole. The book’s co-authors David Cénou and Bruno Cénou present with visual art what Amnesty France describes as “la tragique histoire des Trois d’Angola” (the tragic story of the Angola 3).

Robert H. King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox are the trio of Black Panther political prisoners known collectively as the Angola 3. On October 1, 2013 Herman Wallace was dramatically released from prison after 41 years in solitary confinement. At the time of his release, he had been fighting terminal liver cancer for several months. Three days later, on Oct. 4, Herman was surrounded by loved ones as he passed on at a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to this day and with only temporary respite from routine body cavity searches pending an upcoming ruling by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 17, 2014, marking 42 years since Albert Woodfox was first placed in solitary,  Amnesty International renewed its call for his immediate release (view Amnesty’s statement and essay) and today continues their online campaign (sign the petition here).

Robert King 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. Himself the subject of a recent Canadian film, King spoke in Paris, France this past May at an event celebrating the release of Panthers in the Hole and has traveled Europe many times while on earlier speaking tours.

To further discuss the release of Panthers in the Hole and Amnesty France’s broader support for Albert Woodfox and the Angola 3, we interviewed Nicolas Krameyer, who is head of the Individuals at Risk / Human Rights Defenders Program for Amnesty International France. A sample of images from Panthers in the Hole are featured throughout the interview.
(PHOTO: Robert King at the Panthers in the Hole book launch in Paris, France organized by Amnesty France. A photo of Albert Woodfox is projected on the screen.)

Angola 3 News:         Can you please tell us about your recent work related to the Angola 3?
Nicolas Krameyer:    Amnesty France has made the Angola 3 (A3) a priority campaign.
We included Albert and Herman’s case as part of our biggest annual event, known as Write for Rights in December 2012. In just a few weeks, at least 50,000 supporters signed the petition for an end to their solitary confinement.
We also organized a solidarity campaign where activists sent Herman and Albert messages of support. The letter-writers quickly received very strong and moving answers from Herman and Albert, which we then shared among other activists.
A few months later, we invited Robert King for a two-week speaking tour in France and Brussels, which gave national media coverage to the A3 and the widespread use of solitary confinement in the USA. Both the A3 case and the issue of solitary confinement were totally unknown to the general public. Even the partners and institutions with whom we normally work on human rights activism were not familiar with these issues.
A3N:   What do you think are the main reasons for the French public’s interest?
NK:     Beside the widespread publicity, I think there are 3 key factors that explain why so many people feel now concerned about the Angola 3 case:
(1) The monstrous nature of the case. There are very few examples in the world of such a blatant human rights violation for such a long period of time: more than 4 decades!
(2) The audience could follow the different steps of the clear campaign of vengeance lead by the local Louisiana authorities, like when the prosecutor appealed Albert’s third overturned conviction, or in October 2013 when the State authorities did their most to impede Herman’s release despite his health. That clearly angered people here in France, and one indicator of this was that journalists were publishing articles every time something new happened, which is quite rare.
(3) Lastly, this has been made possible because of Robert’s presence and strength, which he clearly communicated to all types of audiences, from the media to French officials and activists. 

A3N:   Overall, how do you think Amnesty France’s A3 and anti-solitary campaigning has impacted France?
NK:     Previously, solitary confinement was not really considered a big human rights issue, except for some rare experts or USA specialists here. Guantanamo and death penalty continue to be the two main public topics in regards to human rights violations known in France. The A3 and Robert King gave a face to that common practice of cruel and inhumane treatment in the USA.
Even if we can’t go into details here, we know that probably for first time, French and EU governments officially raised this issue with their US counterparts.

A3N:   Can you tell us more about the new graphic novel, entitled Panthers in the Hole? How has it been received since being released in May?
NK:     The comic book gives the local historical context leading up to the A3’s horrific situation. The historic racism and the political context of the 60’s and 70’s is very present in the book. In short, the content is a mix between Robert’s autobiography and the documentary film In the Land of the Free. However, the authors have also read and researched a lot about Angola prison and the different trial transcripts of the three men.
Visually, I really like how the authors recreated the atmosphere of the 60’s, which gives a special strength to the book. It is a bit as if In the Land of the Free had been covering the past 50 years of the story. Importantly, it also moves a different audience that is not necessarily familiar with human rights issues.
So far, 2 months later, sales have been strong and feedback received from the editor suggests the book has been well received.

A3N:   With over 2.4 million prisoners, today, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Do you think the crisis of mass incarceration relates to the widespread practice of solitary confinement in US prisons, especially considering that solitary confinement has been shown to increase recidivism rates?
NK:     Amnesty does not take a position on the incarceration rate a nation has. However, the widespread and routine use of long term solitary confinement in the US is not only contrary to international human rights law, as a clear form of inhumane treatment that amounts to torture. It also does contribute to recidivism because it greatly hinders the possibility for a rehabilitation process when the detainee comes out. 

In short, it is not only morally wrong, it is clearly inefficient, and also very expensive.

A3N:   As African American leader Malcolm X was developing his internationalist and anti-capitalist politics in the months leading up to his February 1965 assassination, he spoke about the need to shift from a focus on ‘civil rights’ to one of ‘human rights.’ He announced further that he would be seeking assistance from the United Nations to rectify the human rights abuses being committed by the US government against the African American community. How can international pressure influence a country as powerful as the US, who has openly violated human rights laws and treaties like at the infamous Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prisons that Amnesty International has criticized?
NK:     I would say that the US’ power within the international community presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the international community, or as Robert King would say, the international court of public opinion.
It is a challenge because many nations don’t want to confront the US on human rights issues. This is true even, and sometimes especially with ‘friends’ and traditional allies like EU countries. It is a shame how EU countries can adopt a double discourse on human rights that varies depending on the nation they have dialogue with. This is despite the fact that as friends and allies of the US, they definitely could use their influence more effectively than other countries.
It is an opportunity because in order to maintain its power, the US needs not only to engage the rest of the world on military or economic levels, but also on what is called “soft power.” This means that for the US to still be considered a leading country, it has also to be recognized for the human rights record they have.
Being isolated on human rights issues or other international issues, being regularly criticized within the intergovernmental bodies or in the international media, is not beneficial to the US as a nation, even if the US media or public opinion does not talk so much about these issues. That’s what happens in a way regarding the death penalty. Being one of the biggest executioners, with only very authoritarian regimes doing the same, is not good for the US image.

A3N:   Shifting focus to France, what types of human rights violations are you currently focusing on within your own country? How widespread are human rights violations in the French criminal justice system? To what extent is prolonged solitary confinement used in France?
NK:     The main human rights violations that we as Amnesty oppose are not in the criminal justice system, although it is clearly not perfect: from what I know from other expert NGOs on the matter, prison conditions in France are a real shame and are regularly criticized by international bodies such as the European Court on human rights.
Impunity for excessive violence or abuses committed by police officers is also a great matter of concern in France.
However, the main issues we as Amnesty have to tackle right now in France, and more generally in Europe, are the rights of migrants. Today in Europe, borders are clearly more important than people’s lives and this policy results in massive human rights violations, including right to life, with migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea or being held in inhumane detention centers just for trying to escape the problems in their country and for wanting a better life.
Another key focus of ours relates to the discrimination faced by marginalized groups like Muslims and above all, rights of Roma communities.

A3N:   As activists, we can often learn important lessons from other communities’ struggles for justice around the world. Based upon your work and victories in France, what is your advice for human rights activists in the US who are working around prison issues?
NK:     It is a very hard question, but I would recommend inviting activists and specialists from other countries and other contexts to share their best practices and experiences with US activists.  This helps to see the common aspects of the fight and what worked well. It also helps to identify what is specific to your own local context and what therefore has to be addressed specifically in your community.
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
NK:     Free Albert!

–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.

Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis –An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France

(You can buy Panthers in the Hole, the new graphic novel about the Angola 3 here.)

Panthers in the Hole: French Angola 3 Book Illustrates US Prison Crisis

–An interview with Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International France
By Angola 3 News
Amnesty International France and La Boîte à Bulles have published a 128-page French language graphic novel entitled Panthers in the Hole. The book’s co-authors David Cénou and Bruno Cénou present with visual art what Amnesty France describes as “la tragique histoire des Trois d’Angola” (the tragic story of the Angola 3).

Robert H. King, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox are the trio of Black Panther political prisoners known collectively as the Angola 3. On October 1, 2013 Herman Wallace was dramatically released from prison after 41 years in solitary confinement. At the time of his release, he had been fighting terminal liver cancer for several months. Three days later, on Oct. 4, Herman was surrounded by loved ones as he passed on at a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to this day and with only temporary respite from routine body cavity searches pending an upcoming ruling by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 17, 2014, marking 42 years since Albert Woodfox was first placed in solitary,  Amnesty International renewed its call for his immediate release (view Amnesty’s statement and essay) and today continues their online campaign (sign the petition here).

Robert King 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. Himself the subject of a recent Canadian film, King spoke in Paris, France this past May at an event celebrating the release of Panthers in the Hole and has traveled Europe many times while on earlier speaking tours.

To further discuss the release of Panthers in the Hole and Amnesty France’s broader support for Albert Woodfox and the Angola 3, we interviewed Nicolas Krameyer, who is head of the Individuals at Risk / Human Rights Defenders Program for Amnesty International France. A sample of images from Panthers in the Hole are featured throughout the interview.
(PHOTO: Robert King at the Panthers in the Hole book launch in Paris, France organized by Amnesty France. A photo of Albert Woodfox is projected on the screen.)

Angola 3 News:         Can you please tell us about your recent work related to the Angola 3?
Nicolas Krameyer:    Amnesty France has made the Angola 3 (A3) a priority campaign.
We included Albert and Herman’s case as part of our biggest annual event, known as Write for Rights in December 2012. In just a few weeks, at least 50,000 supporters signed the petition for an end to their solitary confinement.
We also organized a solidarity campaign where activists sent Herman and Albert messages of support. The letter-writers quickly received very strong and moving answers from Herman and Albert, which we then shared among other activists.
A few months later, we invited Robert King for a two-week speaking tour in France and Brussels, which gave national media coverage to the A3 and the widespread use of solitary confinement in the USA. Both the A3 case and the issue of solitary confinement were totally unknown to the general public. Even the partners and institutions with whom we normally work on human rights activism were not familiar with these issues.
A3N:   What do you think are the main reasons for the French public’s interest?
NK:     Beside the widespread publicity, I think there are 3 key factors that explain why so many people feel now concerned about the Angola 3 case:
(1) The monstrous nature of the case. There are very few examples in the world of such a blatant human rights violation for such a long period of time: more than 4 decades!
(2) The audience could follow the different steps of the clear campaign of vengeance lead by the local Louisiana authorities, like when the prosecutor appealed Albert’s third overturned conviction, or in October 2013 when the State authorities did their most to impede Herman’s release despite his health. That clearly angered people here in France, and one indicator of this was that journalists were publishing articles every time something new happened, which is quite rare.
(3) Lastly, this has been made possible because of Robert’s presence and strength, which he clearly communicated to all types of audiences, from the media to French officials and activists. 

A3N:   Overall, how do you think Amnesty France’s A3 and anti-solitary campaigning has impacted France?
NK:     Previously, solitary confinement was not really considered a big human rights issue, except for some rare experts or USA specialists here. Guantanamo and death penalty continue to be the two main public topics in regards to human rights violations known in France. The A3 and Robert King gave a face to that common practice of cruel and inhumane treatment in the USA.
Even if we can’t go into details here, we know that probably for first time, French and EU governments officially raised this issue with their US counterparts.

A3N:   Can you tell us more about the new graphic novel, entitled Panthers in the Hole? How has it been received since being released in May?
NK:     The comic book gives the local historical context leading up to the A3’s horrific situation. The historic racism and the political context of the 60’s and 70’s is very present in the book. In short, the content is a mix between Robert’s autobiography and the documentary film In the Land of the Free. However, the authors have also read and researched a lot about Angola prison and the different trial transcripts of the three men.
Visually, I really like how the authors recreated the atmosphere of the 60’s, which gives a special strength to the book. It is a bit as if In the Land of the Free had been covering the past 50 years of the story. Importantly, it also moves a different audience that is not necessarily familiar with human rights issues.
So far, 2 months later, sales have been strong and feedback received from the editor suggests the book has been well received.

A3N:   With over 2.4 million prisoners, today, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Do you think the crisis of mass incarceration relates to the widespread practice of solitary confinement in US prisons, especially considering that solitary confinement has been shown to increase recidivism rates?
NK:     Amnesty does not take a position on the incarceration rate a nation has. However, the widespread and routine use of long term solitary confinement in the US is not only contrary to international human rights law, as a clear form of inhumane treatment that amounts to torture. It also does contribute to recidivism because it greatly hinders the possibility for a rehabilitation process when the detainee comes out. 

In short, it is not only morally wrong, it is clearly inefficient, and also very expensive.

A3N:   As African American leader Malcolm X was developing his internationalist and anti-capitalist politics in the months leading up to his February 1965 assassination, he spoke about the need to shift from a focus on ‘civil rights’ to one of ‘human rights.’ He announced further that he would be seeking assistance from the United Nations to rectify the human rights abuses being committed by the US government against the African American community. How can international pressure influence a country as powerful as the US, who has openly violated human rights laws and treaties like at the infamous Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prisons that Amnesty International has criticized?
NK:     I would say that the US’ power within the international community presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the international community, or as Robert King would say, the international court of public opinion.
It is a challenge because many nations don’t want to confront the US on human rights issues. This is true even, and sometimes especially with ‘friends’ and traditional allies like EU countries. It is a shame how EU countries can adopt a double discourse on human rights that varies depending on the nation they have dialogue with. This is despite the fact that as friends and allies of the US, they definitely could use their influence more effectively than other countries.
It is an opportunity because in order to maintain its power, the US needs not only to engage the rest of the world on military or economic levels, but also on what is called “soft power.” This means that for the US to still be considered a leading country, it has also to be recognized for the human rights record they have.
Being isolated on human rights issues or other international issues, being regularly criticized within the intergovernmental bodies or in the international media, is not beneficial to the US as a nation, even if the US media or public opinion does not talk so much about these issues. That’s what happens in a way regarding the death penalty. Being one of the biggest executioners, with only very authoritarian regimes doing the same, is not good for the US image.

A3N:   Shifting focus to France, what types of human rights violations are you currently focusing on within your own country? How widespread are human rights violations in the French criminal justice system? To what extent is prolonged solitary confinement used in France?
NK:     The main human rights violations that we as Amnesty oppose are not in the criminal justice system, although it is clearly not perfect: from what I know from other expert NGOs on the matter, prison conditions in France are a real shame and are regularly criticized by international bodies such as the European Court on human rights.
Impunity for excessive violence or abuses committed by police officers is also a great matter of concern in France.
However, the main issues we as Amnesty have to tackle right now in France, and more generally in Europe, are the rights of migrants. Today in Europe, borders are clearly more important than people’s lives and this policy results in massive human rights violations, including right to life, with migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea or being held in inhumane detention centers just for trying to escape the problems in their country and for wanting a better life.
Another key focus of ours relates to the discrimination faced by marginalized groups like Muslims and above all, rights of Roma communities.

A3N:   As activists, we can often learn important lessons from other communities’ struggles for justice around the world. Based upon your work and victories in France, what is your advice for human rights activists in the US who are working around prison issues?
NK:     It is a very hard question, but I would recommend inviting activists and specialists from other countries and other contexts to share their best practices and experiences with US activists.  This helps to see the common aspects of the fight and what worked well. It also helps to identify what is specific to your own local context and what therefore has to be addressed specifically in your community.
A3N:   Any closing thoughts?
NK:     Free Albert!

–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.

Solitary Confinement Exhibition Plants Seed for Advocacy Among SULC Student Body

Solitary Confinement Exhibition Plants Seed for Advocacy Among SULC Student Body

Written for Angola 3 News by Arisa A. Banks
 

(3L Class Representative; Symposium Editor, Journal of Race, Gender, & Poverty)

The seed for advocacy was planted among the student body stirred by the Solitary Confinement Exhibition, during 2014 Law Week activities at the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Oliver B. Spellman Law Library’s Civil Rights Room was the site for the exhibit throughout Law Week, March 17-21. Inspired by the remarkable story of the Angola 3, this exhibition was pulled together to create a platform to solicit discussion, activism, awareness, and advocacy to end prolonged solitary confinement practices in penal systems across this nation, according to the exhibit organizers. The Solitary Confinement Exhibit Committee included the following: Arisa Banks, Chair; Nana Mireku-Boateng- Volunteer Coordinator; LeBuria Johnson- Volunteer Coordinator; Iriane Lee- Law Week 2014 Chair; Larry Williams- Law Week 2014 Co-Chair; and Professor Angela Allen-Bell, Faculty Advisor. 

The use of solitary confinement in modern penal institutions has been officially implemented to discipline prisoners that are considered unruly. These prisoners confined to solitary confinement typically spend 23 hours of their day in isolation, with a brief period for exercise outside of their cell that often takes place in isolation as well. Being placed in solitary confinement is usually the most severe disciplinary punishment. Recently there has been an increase in prolonged solitary confinement practices in the country.

The story of the Angola 3 has exposed the use of long term solitary in the Louisiana State Penitentiary system and has brought attention to this issue nationwide and internationally. From the compelling stories of the injustice experienced by these three inmates, this exhibit was given life.

Professor Angela Allen-Bell has been a prominent advocate of the Angola 3 here on Southern University Law Center’s campus. She has done extensive research about long-term solitary confinement practices, particularly at Angola State Penitentiary. She has written numerous articles on the Angola 3, and has become heavily involved in the grass-root movement for their freedom. Her passion and commitment to this movement has been one that she has successfully passed on to her students. It is her vision, passion, and tenacity in continuing the fight for justice that planted the seed for the solitary confinement exhibit at the 2014 Law Week.

This week-long public display included documentaries on the Angola 3 and a two dimensional cell that displayed the actual dimensions of a 6X9 solitary confinement cell. The recreated cell included a depiction of a bed, desk, and toilet to illustrate how such a cell may look. The featured documentaries included In the Land of the Free, Hard Time and The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation. The exhibition also featured keynote speakers Checo Yancy, the state president of Louisiana Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE,  a national organization whose mission is to help reduce crime through criminal justice reform), prison advocate and longtime Angola 3 supporter Malik Rahim, a prison advocate and Robert King, the first freed member of the Angola 3.

King and Rahim honored the campus with their presence during the Herman Wallace Memorial Program. The Herman Wallace Memorial Program occurred on March 20, 2014. It was a program that was part of the speaker series event for the exhibit to commemorate the efforts of Mr. Wallace in his fight for justice and to honor his legacy. King spoke to the student body about his experience while in solitary confinement for 29 years at Angola State Prison. While addressing the conditions of living in solitary confinement, King challenged the student body to advocate for justice and human rights. He ended his speech by arguing that Wallace’s legacy must not end because of his death, but that the fight continues.

The audience was so engaged by King’s presentation that the silence was deafening and students were still talking about its impact for weeks following the event. Carlton Miller, a graduating senior and participant in the program, stated how he was impacted and moved from the event. In reflection, Miller said: “Learning of the significant impact solitary confinement has on human beings’ mind, body, and spirit has truly inspired me to seek justice for those forgotten in the deep pits of prisons across this country. This isn’t an isolated issue affecting only those who are imprisoned, but rather is an issue that plagues our whole country. It is a stain on our reputation and a testament of our character if we continue to let this issue go unresolved. Hearing the vivid descriptions some inmates are facing in solitary confinement is unsettling. We can and must seek to use and influence the legal and political system to be sensitive to this issue.”

Felicia Hamilton, a graduating senior, felt that this program and exhibit was among one of the best events of Law Week, and said further that “the exhibit was both chilling & thought-provoking! Hosting the exhibit in the Civil Rights Room was an appropriate backdrop to learn more about the injustice experienced by the Angola 3.”

Below are photos from the Civil Rights Room exhibit and the event with Robert King: