I recently traveled to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in Louisiana to meet with Albert Woodfox, one of the three former Black Panthers known as the "Angola Three" who have been held in solitary confinement for 30 years in retaliation for their efforts to fight racism and corruption in the prison system. I was unable to meet with Herman Wallace, the other of the "A3" still being kept in solitary at Angola, because Herman was in an especially brutal punishment camp during my visit (he's still there as of this writing). He says guards had planted contraband in his cell and then "discovered" it during a routine shakedown, a common method of harassing political prisoners like Wallace.
Wallace contends that a recent upswing in harassment is the direct result of a lawsuit recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union which makes the seemingly obvious charge that 30 years in solitary is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit seeks to have the men transferred back into the general prison population and compensated for their suffering. (You can read more about the Angola Three and Herman Wallace's current predicament on our Angola Three campaign page.)
Since I would be unable to meet with him in person, I sent Herman a copy of my book with my best wishes, telling him I would follow his case and lend my support in any way I could. I received the following remarkable letter back from him, written from the small, broiling cell in which he lives at least 23 hours of every day:
Herman Wallace #76759-J Cuda 4-L-9 Louisiana State Prison, Angola, Louisiana 70712
Dear Ms. Roddick,
I have had numerous books sent to me by so many other people, of which all were denied. My keepers are trying to control my thinking; and what better way to do this than to control what I am allowed to read.
At any rate, last night, security approached my cell with a box containing two books. I immediately spotted your picture on the cover. I'm very grateful for the books and all the support you're displaying for Albert and my freedom. Just knowing that there are people out there who do care about justice and freedom makes my struggle a whole lot easier.
You may have already been made aware of the recent administrative attacks upon me and the conditions I am forced to endure. I've already lost about 30 pounds under the intense heat, but I will survive. Their attacks upon me are retaliatory moves as a result of our effective lawsuit. What drives me? It's not what they do to me, it's what I see they do to others. The Rodney King, or the recent Frisco and Inglewood attacks upon our teenagers are but the tip of the iceberg of what goes on behind these walls.
No one should have to put up with such cold barbarism as you would find here. No one should allow it to go on; unfortunately, for right now, it is still going on, every day, more and more of our spirit reaches out and looks out from behind these walls of shame.
Keep in mind that there are no pretty names, or pretty faces for slave handlers. It is amazing the extent to which the little ones go in order to diminish my thinking. The souls of my keepers no doubt can fit inside the average adolescent's infected zit. An anonymous impediment to joyous beauty; I promise I will survive. In all of this writing, I'm merely trying to say – THANK YOU.