It was a happy 69th birthday for Albert Woodfox. last Friday. The formerly incarcerated Black Panther was released from the notorious Louisiana state pen, known as “Angola.” As one of the “Angola 3,” he had previously served 43 years in solitary confinement, a national record. His predicament, which he shared with Herman Wallace and Robert King, has been the subject of many protests and documentaries throughout the years.
In 1971, Woodfox was sent to Angola on robbery charges in his early 20’s. The conditions in Angola were so dire, that Woodfox and fellow inmate Herman Wallace formed the first one of the pioneer prison chapters of the Black Panther Party. Common Dreams explains the situation that landed “The Angola 3” (Woodfox, Wallace and Robert King) in the hole for decades:
In 1972, Woodfox and Wallace were charged with the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. No physical evidence linked the men to the crime. A bloody fingerprint at the murder scene, which matched neither Wallace’s nor Woodfox’s, was ignored by authorities. Robert King, another prisoner who joined their Black Panther chapter, was charged with a separate crime in the prison. The three were sent to solitary confinement, where they remained for decades, always maintaining they were innocent of the charges.
Woodfox expressed, “The saddest thing in the world is to see a human spirit crushed. And that’s basically what happened with these young kids that was coming to Angola. And we decided that if we truly believed in what we were trying to do, then it was worth taking whatever measures necessary to try to stop this.”
He recalled, “When we were first put in CCR [closed cell restriction] in ‘72, myself, Herman Wallace and Robert King, we knew that if we had any chance of maintaining our sanity and not allowing the prison system to break us, that we had to keep our focus on society and not become institutionalized.”
Common Dreams explains the real roadblock to the liberation of “The Angola Three”: powers-that-be:
Two major impediments to their freedom were prison warden Burl Cain and Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Cain was the key decision-maker in keeping the men in solitary. In a 2008 deposition in Woodfox’s case, Cain admitted, “I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism.” And while Woodfox’s case was overturned on three separate occasions, with a federal judge ordering his release, Attorney General Caldwell insisted on repeatedly retrying the case. Cain resigned in December, facing state ethics violations and a criminal probe for business dealings during his reign as the longest-serving warden in Angola’s history. Caldwell lost re-election to fellow Republican Jeff Landry, who allowed Woodfox to leave prison on the condition that he plead “no contest” to manslaughter.
Woodfox was the last of the trio to be released. Robert King was released in 2001, after serving 29 years in solitary. Wallace was sprung in 2013, due to threats to jail Cain from a federal judge. He died of lung cancer the following day. “I’ve been locked up so long in a prison within a prison. So, for me, it’s just about learning how to live as a free person,” said Woodfox. “I’m just trying to learn how to be free.”