Monday, March 9, 2009

36 YEARS OF SOLITUDE

James Ridgeway, Mother Jones - What's left of Albert Woodfox's life now lies in the hands of a federal appeals court in New Orleans. By the time the court hears his case, the 62-year-old will have spent 36 years, 2 months, and 24 days in a 6-by-9-foot cell at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. An 18,000-acre complex that still resembles the slave plantation it once was, the notorious prison, immortalized in the film Dead Man Walking, has long been considered one of the most brutal in America, a place where rape, abuse, and violence have been commonplace. With the exception of a few brief months last year, Woodfox has served nearly all of his time there in solitary confinement, out of contact with other prisoners, and locked in his cell 23 hours a day. By most estimates, he and his codefendant, Herman Wallace, have spent more time in solitary than any other inmates in US history.

Woodfox and Wallace are members of a triad known as the "Angola 3"-three prisoners who spent decades in solitary confinement after being accused of prison murders and convicted on questionable evidence. Before they were isolated from other inmates, the trio, which included a prisoner named Robert King, had organized against conditions in what was considered "the bloodiest prison in America." Their supporters believe that their activism, along with their ties to the Black Panther Party, motivated prison officials to scapegoat the inmates.*

Over the years, human rights activists worldwide have rallied around the Angola 3, pointing to them as victims of a flawed and corrupt justice system. Though King managed to win his release in 2001, after his conviction was overturned, Woodfox and Wallace haven't been so lucky. Amnesty International has called their continued isolation "cruel, inhuman, and degrading," charging that their treatment has "breached international treaties which the USA has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture." Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has taken a keen interest in the case and traveled to Angola last spring to visit with Woodfox and Wallace. "This is the only place in North America that people have been incarcerated like this for 36 years," he told Mother Jones.

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