Feb 29, 2016
The State of Louisiana kept Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement in a nine-foot by six-foot box in Angola prison for more than 43 years. On February 19th, his 69th birthday, he was finally released after pleading no-contest to a crime he continues to maintain he did not commit.
Woodfox and his friend Herman Wallace were accused of stabbing prison guard Brent Miller in 1972, but Woodfox, Wallace, and their co-defendant Robert King maintain that, like hundreds of others from that time period, they were prosecuted for their political activity. Woodfox’s conviction was even overturned three times – but the state always found a way to keep him in prison.
Woodfox, Wallace, and King were active in a Black Panther Party chapter in prison and organized prisoners to stand up against the injustices they saw. They worked to stop the guards from stealing food and tools meant for the prisoners, and they tried to “build a bridge with the white inmates, because, you know, the divide-and-conquer philosophy was a part of the prison.” They formed anti-gang squads in the prison and made a point of befriending young prisoners to, in Woodfox’s words, “stop the sexual slave trade that was going on in Angola at the time. And ... a lot of security people were profiting from this.” Woodfox, King, and Wallace maintain that they were prosecuted for Miller’s murder because of this political activity.
The state of Louisiana took away the bulk of Albert Woodfox’s life. They took away his right to say goodbye to his mother when she died. They finally let Herman Wallace go free from Angola, just a few days before he died – and they would not let Woodfox visit him or go to his funeral. And in the end they made Woodfox plead no-contest to a crime he insists he did not commit in order for him to finally get his freedom.
Yet despite all that, Woodfox remains unbroken. He continued his struggle the whole time he was in Angola. He was able to finally get free in part because Robert King also kept up the fight after he got out of prison, after himself spending 29 years in solitary. And Woodfox and King plan to continue the struggle against the injustice of the prison system and the broader society.
“We were politicized,” Woodfox explained. “We had understood that we were – or why we were being targeted and punished, and this gave meaning to why we should struggle more so, because it was an unjust reason and unjust position we were in ... you know, the Black Panther Party may not exist, but we still exist. And we continue to – we will continue to struggle to free some of our comrades, and to, you know, stand shoulder to shoulder and try to take on all of the injustices that go on in America every day.”