† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
A Message from Herman Wallace (and Us)
reprinted with permission from Angola 3 News with commentary by nancy a heitzeg
Over the years, CI has had the privilege of publishing a variety of pieces from Angola 3 News, including many updates on the status of the Angola 3 – Herman Wallace, Robert King, and Albert Woodfox – and their decades of solitary confinement at LSP Angola.. Today, with great sadness, we bring you this message from Herman Wallace and add our own requests.
On Saturday. August 31st, I was transferred to LSU Hospital for evaluation. I was informed that the che of the mo treatments had failed and were making matters worse and so all treatment came to an end. The oncologists advised that nothing can be done for me medically within the standard care that they are authorized to provide. They recommended that I be admitted to hospice care to make my remaining days as comfortable as possible. I have been given 2 months to live.
I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well. We are just two of thousands of wrongfully convicted prisoners held captive in the American Gulag. We mourn for the family of Brent Miller and the many other victims of murder who will never be able to find closure for the loss of their loved ones due to the unjust criminal justice system in this country. We mourn for the loss of the families of those unjustly accused who suffer the loss of their loved ones as well.Only a handful of prisoners globally have withstood the duration of years of harsh and solitary confinement that Albert and myself have. The State may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.In 1970 I took an oath to dedicate my life as a servant of the people, and although I’m down on my back, I remain at your service. I want to thank all of you, my devoted supporters, for being with me to the end.
CI would like to ask you to please join Amnesty International‘s now urgent request for the compassionate release of Herman Wallace. The related press release:
Amnesty International Appeals for Release of Terminally Ill ‘Angola 3’ Prisoner, after 40 Years in Solitary Confinement
(NEW YORK) – Amnesty International appealed to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal today to immediately release from prison on humanitarian grounds. Herman Wallace, one of the ‘Angola 3,’ is terminally ill with cancer and has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for more than 40 years.
“Herman Wallace is 71 years old and has advanced liver cancer,” said Tessa Murphy, USA campaigner at Amnesty International. “After decades of cruel conditions and a conviction that continues to be challenged by the courts, he should be released immediately to his family so that he can be cared for humanely during his last months.”
Wallace was diagnosed with cancer after being taken to hospital on June 14. He had been on medication for some time for what was diagnosed as a stomach fungus and over the last months, has lost considerable weight. He is now being held in isolation in the infirmary at Hunt Correctional Center.
Wallace and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox were first placed in isolation in 1972; since then they have been confined for 23 hours a day to cells measuring 6 by 9 feet.
Both men were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1973, yet no physical evidence links them to the crime – potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost and the testimony of the main eyewitness has been discredited. Citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution, and inadequate defense, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, while Wallace’s case is once again up for review before the federal courts.
The two men are believed to have spent longer in solitary confinement than virtually any other U.S. prisoner in recent history. During this time, prison authorities have broken their own policies to justify their continued incarceration in harsh and inhumane conditions.
Before Wallace’s cancer diagnosis, the harsh environment had already had an impact on both the man’s physical and psychological health as acknowledged by a federal judge in 2007. The severe toll of solitary confinement on inmates’ mental and physical health has been extensively documented in studies. In recognition of this damage, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has called on states to prohibit the practice in excess of 15 days.
Amnesty International is also extremely concerned about the worsening conditions of confinement for Woodfox in David Wade Correctional Center. For approximately two months, Woodfox has been subjected to additional punitive measures – including strip searches each time he leaves or enters his cell, being escorted in ankle and wrist restraints, restricted phone access, and non-contact visits through a perforated metal screen. Temperatures in the prison cells are reportedly extremely high, regularly reaching up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Demand Humane Release for Herman! USA, UK, France, Belgium, and elsewhere
- Take Action: End 40 years of solitary confinement for Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace!
- Read More: Louisiana’s Angola 3: 100 Years of Solitude
- Read Report: 100 years in solitary: The ‘Angola 3’ and their fight for justice
- Download: Get the PDF petition and add your voice to the call for justice
We would to ask you too to consider how we will rightly remember Herman Wallace when he is gone. How will we honor the unrelenting commitment to the principles of the Black Panther Party, never wavering in the face of more than 40 years of torture? And what will Angola 3 mean when the 3 are – one way or another – finally free?
It is easy to be lulled into believing that this might be enough.
It is not.
The Congressional leaders’ bipartisan homage to “the four little girls” could not overcome the unintentional theme of this anniversary year: half a century after the prime of the civil rights movement, why does so much of its promise remain unfulfilled, the sacrifice unrequited? The recent 50th anniversary celebrations of the March on Washington were mocked by the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the violent death of yet another black innocent, Trayvon Martin.
We are understandably drawn to cheaper correctives: posthumous pardons for the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama; plaques at the Birmingham city hall dedicated, in August, to Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson, two other black children killed by whites on Sept. 15, 1963. If the structural changes achieved by these symbolic gestures are roughly none, their appeal is that they also cost nothing. To wit: the Congressional resolutions conferring the medal last spring passed unanimously.
Modern-day Americans seem loath to do the right thing unless it’s also the smart thing — even “compassionate release” has to be touted for its cost-saving virtues…
The names called us, their stories resonate because of what they represent; they evoke both personal sacrifice and the larger struggles faced by literally millions. We must remember it, honor it all. We may say the names, but we must do the work. We cannot not settle any longer for memorials or medals.
Ask for it all – accept nothing less.
United, always, in struggle, in love.