Appeal issued for two held in isolation for 40 years

Amnesty International just sent out an urgent appeal demanding justice for Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, who remain behind bars at The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) in Angola, La.

April 17 will mark 40 years that these men have been held in isolation 23 hours a day in cells that are 4 steps long and 3 steps across. According to Amnesty, “They may be allowed exercise in an outdoor cage three times a week, a few hours a week to shower or walk, only rare and fleeting human contact with prison guards, let alone with family.”

Treating pets or farm animals this way usually draws almost universal condemnation.

The goal of AI is to collect at least as many signers to their petition as the number of days each man has spent in isolation – 14,600. The petition demands an end to the cruel and unnecessary solitary confinement for Woodfox and Wallace, and you can sign by going here.

The men have been in solitary confinement because 40 years ago they organized their fellow prisoners against inhumane treatment at the prison, known as “the Alcatraz of the South” and their continued isolation is apparently based on their political activism.

This in spite of the fact that Wallace is now 70 years old, Woodfox is in his mid 60s, both have serious health problems and both have had clean disciplinary records for at least the last 20 years.

LSP is the largest maximum security prison in the U.S., with about 5,000 inmates and about 1,800 staff. It is located on a former plantation and one of its buildings was the area where slaves were quartered. 

Over the years there have been many scandals revealing the mistreatment and exploitation of LSP inmates for financial gain. The penitentiary has been the subject of several novels, films and songs.

From time to time there have been attempts at reforming LSP, usually after scandals were exposed, after prisoners organized for change or after riots broke out.

One of the more horrific aspects of LSP’s problems was described in former inmate Wilbert Rideau’s memoir “In the Place of Justice.”  He describes the inhuman situation that existed while he was there from 1961 through 2001: slavery was commonplace in Angola with perhaps a quarter of the population in bondage. Weaker inmates were raped, traded and sold like cattle. “The slave’s only way out was to commit suicide, escape or kill his master.”

Wallace and Wilcox arrived at LSP in the late 1960s and became active in the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party, organizing petitions and hunger strikes to protest conditions at the prison. Prison guards were implicated as sanctioning and facilitating systemic sexual slavery at LSP.

On March 5, the ACLU’s Amy Fettig appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Council to condemn the use of solitary confinement in the United States following a written statement submitted in February urging the Council to address what they describe as a “widespread” violation of human rights. The U.S. is unique in its use of solitary confinement as an integral and regular component of its treatment of prisoners:

“Though there are no official numbers, a conservative estimate is that about 80,000 human beings are locked alone for 22 hours or more each day in small, often windowless cells, isolated from any human contact (with the exception of very limited contact with prison staff), with no access to classes, job training, drug treatment, work or any other kind of rehabilitative programming. The mentally ill, disproportionately represented in solitary confinement, often become even more desperately ill, sometimes engaging in self-mutilation or even suicide. Even some healthy prisoners begin to exhibit symptoms of mental illness after a short time in solitary. Thousands of youth are also locked away in this manner each day, in both adult and juvenile facilities.” 

Photo: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 



Barbara Russum
Barbara Russum

Barbara Russum is a longtime reader and supporter of People's World, worked in production and program support 2003-2021. Former manager of the late, great Modern Bookstore, she values books, public libraries, and the struggle for universal literacy. She is a proud member of the Chicago News Guild/CWA.