Albert Woodfox leaving prison after 43 years in solitary confinement
(Image via Democracy Now)
In the words of the Martin Luther King Junior “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last”. The battlecry of the late civil rights activist seems an appropriate greeting to hail the release of Albert Woodfox (69) the last of 3 black prisoners known as the “Angola 3” (referring to Angola prison, Louisiana, US) to leave prison on Friday after 43 years in solitary confinement. Woodfox was imprisoned at a time of racial tension when many black men were held under questionable sentences. Although he is finally on the outside, “how far has America come during the last 4 decades regarding racial equality” is a difficult question to answer?
Woodfox was imprisoned in April 1972 in relation to the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller (23) who was stabbed 32 times with a knife and a lawnmower blade. He has always protested his innocence and came to be known as the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the US. The Guardian reports, “for the duration of that time, Woodfox was held in the cell for 23 hours a day. In the single remaining hour, he was allowed out of the cell to go to the “exercise yard” – a small area of fenced concrete – but was shackled and kept alone there as well.”
The other two of the Angola 3, are Robert King who spent 29 years in solitary confinement before being released and Herman Wallace who finally left jail in 2013, tasting only 3 days of freedom before he died. The Advocate stated that Woodfox who was a former Black Panther activist at Angola and a co-defendant in the killing, Herman Wallace, “maintained they were blamed for the death because they had agitated for better conditions at Angola during one of its bloodiest periods.” International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 were reported in the Times-Picayune as saying, “the group led hunger strikes and other demonstrations opposing inhumane prison conditions, which in the early 1970s, included continued racial segregation, corruption and “systematic prison rape.”
See following link for history of the Black Panthers,
“27 important facts everyone should know about the Black Panthers”
Times- Picayune reported that Woodfox pleaded no contest to lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary (Friday February 19th) in state court in West Feliciana Parish. He stated,
“I want to thank my brother Michel for sticking with me all these years, and Robert King, who wrongly spent nearly 30 years in solitary. I could not have survived without their courageous support, along with the support of my dear friend Herman Wallace, who passed away in 2013.
“I also wish to thank the many members of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation, all of whom supported me through this long struggle. Lastly, I thank William Sothern, Rob McDuff and my lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs and Sanford Heisler Kimpel for never giving up. Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many.”
Woodfox was sentenced to time already served which meant he could be released. He planned to “say goodbye” to his mother whose funeral he had been unable to attend whilst in prison.
International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 released the following statement on the release of Albert Woodfox
Albert Woodfox is Freed Today on his 69th Birthday!
Friday, April 19, 2016 – Louisiana, USA
Just moments ago, Albert Woodfox, the last remaining member of the Angola 3 still behind bars, was released from prison 43 years and 10 months after he was first put in a 6×9 foot solitary cell for a crime he did not commit. After decades of costly litigation, Louisiana State officials have at last acted in the interest of justice and reached an agreement that brings a long overdue end to this nightmare. Albert has maintained his innocence at every step, and today, on his 69th birthday, he will finally begin a new phase of his life as a free man.
In anticipation of his release this morning, Albert thanked his many supporters and added: “Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many.”
Over the course of the past four decades, Albert’s conviction was overturned three separate times for a host of constitutional violations including prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson, and suppression of exculpatory evidence. On June 8th, 2015, Federal Judge James Brady ordered Albert’s immediate release and barred the State from retrying Albert, an extraordinary ruling that he called “the only just remedy.” A divided panel of the 5th Circuit Court of appeals reversed that order in November with the dissenting Judge arguing that “If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present ‘exceptional circumstances’ barring re-prosecution, this is that case.” That ruling was on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court when news of his release broke.
On behalf of the Angola 3 – Albert Woodfox, Robert King, and in memory of Herman Wallace – we would like to sincerely thank all the organizations, activists, artists, legal experts, and other individuals who have so graciously given their time and talent to the Angola 3’s extraordinary struggle for justice. This victory belongs to all of us and should motivate us to stand up and demand even more fervently that long-term solitary confinement be abolished, and all the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.
Woodfox’s lawyers statement can also be read on the following link,
Attorney General Jeff Landry paid tribute to the Miller family thanking them for their “courage and cooperation.” He stated, “today’s plea brings closure to the family of Brent Miller, justice for the people of Louisiana, and finality to this decades-long prosecution.”
“Amnesty International… USA: 100 Years in Solitary: The ‘Angola 3’ and their Fight for Justice”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”