Albert Woodfox: 41 Years in Solitary Unjustly
by Stephen Lendman
One of this writer's earliest articles was titled The US Gulag Prison System: The Shame of the Nation and Crime Against Humanity.
Around half of all inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Half of those drug related. Mostly simple possession.
Just societies call these offenses misdemeanors. Punishable by warnings and/or small fines. Rare imprisonments. Never longterm.
America's gulag is world's largest. One of its harshest. Blacks and Latinos suffer most. So do Muslims. Guilty of being in America at the wrong time. Scapegoated unjustly.
Thousands of political prisoners are wrongfully incarcerated. Others endure longterm solitary confinement. Barbaric by any standard.
Social psychologist Hans Toch coined the term "isolation panic." Based on symptoms he observed firsthand.
Including panic, rage, a sense of total loss of control, emotional breakdown, regressive behavior, and self-mutilation.
Over time causing severe anxiety. Panic attacks. Lethargy. Insomnia. Dizziness.
Irrational anger. Confusion. Social withdrawal. Memory and appetite loss.
Profound despair and hopelessness. Suicidal thoughts. Paranoia. Inability ever to live normally outside confinement.
Longterm isolation causes irreversible psychological damage. What no society should inflict on anyone for any reason.
What no responsible lawmakers should allow. Incompatible with fundamental human rights. Brutalizing torture by any standard.
Isolation in windowless cells 23 hour a day longterm causes madness. Even the strongest-willed break.
Try it for 24 hours with enough food and water. Imagine the desperation to get out. Imagine it for many years or life.
Traumatized longterm isolated prisoner numbers exceed all psychiatric hospital populations combined.
Turning otherwise normal inmates into zombies. Making them feel like they're buried alive.
America's 8th Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. International law bans torture in all forms for any reason with no allowed exceptions.
Solitary Watch calls isolation "one of the most pressing (unaddressed) domestic human rights issues in America today. (O)ne of the most invisible."
Affecting many thousands. Precise numbers aren't known. Little data is collected. Many states don't compile it.
Over 25,000 supermax inmates endure long-term isolation. Under constant closed-circuit TV surveillance.
Many thousands more in federal, state, and local Secure Housing Units. Restricted Housing Units. Special Management Units. Other solitary conditions with little or no outside contact.
Ordinary people abused unjustly without cause. For any reason or none at all. Serving no legitimate penological purpose whatever.
Mentally ill inmates are punished. So are children needing protection. Gays. Lesbians. Transsexuals. Muslims for praying to the wrong God. For being in America at the wrong time.
Mostly young men of color. Albert Woodfox unjustly victimized for over 40 years. Buried alive.
Longer than any prisoner in America. Perhaps in US history.
One of the so-called "Angola Three." Robert King freed in 2001.
Herman Wallace died days after release from over 41 years in solitary. He and Woodfox wrongfully charged, prosecuted and convicted of killing white Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) prison guard Brent Miller.
Based solely on another inmate's testimony. Bribed to lie. In return for special treatment. Forensic crime scene evidence never properly analyzed.
Other evidence ignored or lost. Another inmate later confessed to the killing. It didn't matter. KIng was blamed but never charged. Woodfox and Wallace judged guilty by accusation.
Targeted for their activism. They founded the Black Panther Party Angola chapter.
Organized other inmates. Worked to improve prison conditions. Through nonviolent hunger and work strikes. Paid dearly for doing the right thing.
The Louisiana ACLU calls LSP America's "most abhorrent in terms of violence and horrible living conditions."
Complaints include guard beatings. Sexual assaults. Other abuses amounting to torture. Arbitrary solitary confinement.
Overcrowding. Poor medical care. Denying it altogether. Mistreating mentally ill inmates. Squalid conditions. Denial of access to attorneys.
Angola always was hellish. Called America's worst prison for good reason. Three-fourth of its prisoners black. Brutally abused. Treated like slaves.
Treated horrifically. Stripped searched up to six times daily. Including anal cavity searches. At most getting an hour daily to shower or walk along the cellblock.
In terms of acreage, LSP is America's largest prison. A maximum security one. Holding over 5,000 inmates. With about 1,800 staff members.
Its 18,000 acres once operated as a slave plantation. Today in new form. Technically legal under the 13th Amendment, stating:
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
America is no democracy. Equity and justice are convenient illusions. Maximum security harshness is brutal. Longterm isolation its most extreme form.
For virtually any reason. Including violent acts, possessing contraband, illicit drug use, disobeying orders, using profanity, or hunger striking for prisoner rights
Lawyers representing Woodfox and Wallace said they endured physical injury. Cruel and unusual punishment. Causing "severe mental damage."
Medical reports show both men suffer from arthritis, hypertension, kidney failure, memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression.
Wallace died from liver cancer days after release. Woodfox suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and hepatitis.
Both men endured extreme cruel and unusual punishment. So do other isolated prisoners. Nothing matches being buried alive longterm.
Neither man killed prison guard Brent Miller. Years spent seeking justice were in vain.
Wallace was a model prisoner. So is Woodfox. They should have been paroled decades ago. They never should have been convicted of a crime they didn't commit.
On November 20, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals New unanimously overturned Woodfox's conviction.
Because of racially biased grand jury selection. For his 1998 retrial. His original 1973 conviction was overturned. Because of counsel incompetence.
In 2008, a federal judge overturned his second conviction. On similar grounds. The ruling then reversed. Because federal law restricts state court decision reviews.
In 2005, a federal magistrate called longterm isolation Woodfox and Wallace endured "far beyond the pale." Beyond "anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence."
It didn't matter. Louisiana's attorney general at the time outrageously called Woodfox "the most dangerous person on the planet."
Despite no credible evidence linking him to Miller's killing, state authorities lied. Insisting their case is solid. Intending a retrial.
Despite most witnesses able to testify earlier now dead. Miller's widow believes he's innocent. Like Wallace. Saying:
"If they did not do this - and I believe that they didn't - they are living a nightmare." In the land of the free. America the beautiful.
Woodfox is 67 years old. In poor health. Imprisonment took its toll. Isolation making it infinitely worse.
It's up for grabs whether Woodfox will ever be free at last. Nothing can compensate for his longterm horrific treatment. Unjust by any standard.
In March 2014, Amnesty International (AI) headlined "Free Albert Woodfox," saying:
"After (over) four decades of cruel treatment, there is only one just and humane action that the Louisiana authorities can take."
"Raise your voice with Teenie (wife of slain prison guard Brent Miller) and demand that Louisiana authorities free Albert Woodfox today."
Publishing a message it urged others send to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Attorney General James Caldwell, headlined "End the Injustice. Remove Woodfox from Isolation, saying:
"More than a year has passed since Judge James Brady of the U.S. District Court overturned Albert Woodfox's conviction."
"Today, nearly 41 years after he was first placed in solitary confinement, Albert is still behind bars in isolation. I am writing today to ask you to stop standing in the way of justice."
"Attorney General Caldwell, I urge you to withdraw the State's appeal against Judge Brady's February 2013 ruling that overturned Albert Woodfox's conviction."
"Secretary Leblanc, I ask that you immediately remove Albert from isolation and end his inhumane treatment in prison."
Over the years, Louisiana authorities have often repeated that Brent Miller's family is due justice. I have no doubt that this is true, and I have tremendous sympathy for Officer Miller's family and friends."
"However, I do not believe that confining Albert Woodfox to a cell the size of a parking space is just - particularly in light of the legal irregularities that lead to his conviction."
"The litigation surrounding Albert Woodfox's case has spanned four decades and includes two flawed trials."
"His conviction has been overturned once by a state court and twice by a federal court, underscoring concerns about the fairness of the legal process. No physical evidence ties Mr. Woodfox to Officer Miller's murder."
"Teenie Rogers, the widow of Brent Miller, doesn't believe that she or Brent have had justice. After reviewing all the evidence in the case she believes that both Albert Woodfox and the late Mr. Herman Wallace are innocent of Brent Miller's murder."
"Albert Woodfox has been kept in isolation for decades, in conditions that the UN United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture condemns as torture."
"He has been denied meaningful social contact and access to rehabilitation programs. Such conditions violate minimum international standards for humane treatment."
After subjecting Albert Woodfox to cruel and inhuman conditions for decades, despite a flawed conviction, there is only one just and humane action that you can take."
"Please remove Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement, and withdraw the appeal against the US District Court's ruling. Allow him his freedom."
Justice he's been long denied.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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