Imagine being locked up in a room nine feet by six for 23 hours a day with minimum human contact for over 30 years. Imagine no more.
‘In the Land of the Free’ is a documentary examining the story of the Angola 3 – Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King.
Whilst Robert is now free, Herman and Albert were first placed in solitary confinement on 17 April 1972 and over 40 years later are still held under these conditions.
On 10 July at 7pm, Amnesty will be showing a free screening of the documentary followed by a panel discussion with Vadim Jean, director of ‘In the Land of the Free’, Tessa Murphy, Amnesty International Campaigner, North America Research Team, and Robert King, campaigner and previously held in solitary confinement as part of the Angola 3.
The Angola 3
For nearly four decades, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been held in solitary confinement, mostly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola prison). Throughout their prolonged incarceration in Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have endured very restrictive conditions including 23 hour cellular confinement. They have limited access to books, newspapers and TV and throughout the years of imprisonment they have been deprived of opportunities for mental stimulation and access to work and education. Social interaction has been restricted to occasional visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls.
Back in the early 1970s, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were already in Angola, serving time for armed robbery.
They became involved in the Black Panther Party – they say in order to try to improve the abysmal conditions for prisoners. Then in 1972, a prison guard called Brent Miller was murdered.
Wallace and Woodfox were convicted, and placed in solitary – where, apart from a short spell in 2008 in a high security dormitory, they have remained ever since.
Both men have always maintained their innocence – saying that grave questions were raised about an inmate being secretly rewarded for his incriminating testimony, and pointing to the lack of forensic evidence linking them to the murder.
Louisiana prison authorities have over the course of 40 years failed to provide a meaningful review of the men’s continued isolation as they continue to rubberstamp the original decision to confine the men in CCR. Decades of solitary confinement have had a clear psychological effect on the men. Lawyers report that they are both suffering from serious health problems caused or exacerbated by their years of close confinement.
After being held together in the same prison for 40 years, the men are now held in separate institutions where they continue to be subjected to conditions that can only be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading. This is the longest period of solitary confinement in American prison history.
Angola prison is the biggest prison in America. Built on the site of a former slave plantation, the 1,800-acre penal complex is home to more than 5,000 prisoners, the majority of whom will never walk the streets again as free men. Also known as the Farm, Angola took its name from the homeland of the slaves who used to work its fields, and in many ways still resembles a slave plantation today. Eighty per cent of the prisoners are African-Americans and, under the watchful eye of armed guards on horseback, they still work fields of sugar cane, cotton and corn, for up to 16 hours a day.
The case of the Angola three first came to international attention following the campaigning efforts of the Body Shop founder and humanitarian Anita Roddick. Roddick heard about their plight from a young lawyer named Scott Fleming. Fleming was working as a prisoner advocate in the 1990s when he received a letter from Wallace asking for help. The human tragedy Fleming uncovered had the most profound effect on him. When he qualified as a lawyer, their case became his first. “I was born in 1973,” he says. “I often think that for my entire life they have been in solitary.”