Angola: 41 years and counting

It’s tempting to use a Shawshank Redemption cliché; in the late 1960s, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace – both convicted of separate armed robberies – arrived at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola Prison.


But unlike Andy Defresne, who only spent two months in ‘the Hole’, Woodfox and Wallace have each spent 41 years in solitary confinement. In 1972, they – along with a third man, Robert King – were accused of the murder of Prison Officer Brent Miller, an accusation which has since been undermined by suggestions that their fellow inmates were bribed to testify against the “Angola Three”.

Robert King was released in 2001, after 29 years in the euphemistically-named “Closed Cell Restriction Units” at Angola. He is working with Amnesty International to have both Alfred Woodfox and Herman Wallace released, despite previous legal rulings that their convictions should be over-turned. “The ripples in the pond are increasing”, King has said, “and we need to see some waves…and these are the things that keep me going”.

This “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” (ostensibly outlawed in the U.S.A.) is justified for this reason: in the early-1970s, Woodfox, Wallace, and King were instrumental in establishing the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Angola. They can best be described by a phrase we’ve almost forgotten existed in what we like to call ‘the West’; they are political prisoners.

In 2008, Burl Cain – the thoroughly Christian Warden of Angola – said that if Woodfox and Wallace were released, “I would have me all kinds of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them”. When placed alongside the noble words of Robert King, this flagrant bigotry only seems to increase one’s sense of injustice for these men, the “Angola Two”, in “the land of free”.


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