Saturday, February 20, 2016

Longtime Political Prisoner Albert Woodfox Free at Last

Longtime Political Prisoner Albert Woodfox Free at Last

by Stephen Lendman

Woodfox was one of the so-called “Angola Three,” Robert King freed in 2001. Herman Wallace died two days after release from 41 years of solitary confinement.

He and Woodfox were wrongfully charged, prosecuted and convicted for killing white prison guard Brent Miller - based solely on another inmate bribed to lie in return for special treatment. 

No forensic crime scene evidence connected either man to the killing. Another inmate later confessed. King was blamed but never charged.

After 43 years of solitary confinement in a six-by-nine-foot cell, brutalizing torture by any standard, Woodfox was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) - one of America’s most brutal, racist prisons.

He and Wallace were judged guilty by accusation - targeted solely for their activism. 

They founded the Black Panther Party Angola chapter, organized other inmates to improve prison conditions through nonviolent hunger and work stoppages.

The Louisiana ACLU earlier called LSP America’s “most abhorrent in terms of violence and horrible living conditions.”

Following Woodfox’s release, it said “nothing will truly repair the cruel, inhuman and degrading solitary confinement that the state of Louisiana inflicted upon him. But this belated measure of justice is something he has been seeking for more than half his life.”

Complaints about LSP treatment  include guard beatings, sexual assaults, overcrowding, poor medical care or denying it altogether, longterm arbitrary solitary confinement, mistreating mentally ill inmates, and other horrific abuses amounting to torture and abuse.

LSP once operated as a slave plantation, continuing today in new form, technically legal under the 13th Amendment, stating:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Lawyers representing Woodfox and Wallace said they endured longterm cruel and unusual punishment, gravely impairing their fundamental rights, health and well-being.

Wallace barely lived 48 hours after release. Improperly treated liver cancer complicated by other chronic ailments took him. 

Woodfox suffers from arthritis, hypertension, kidney failure, hepatitis, diabetes, high blood pressure, memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety and depression.

He once said he feared he’d “start screaming and not be able to stop. I’m afraid I’m going to turn into a baby and curl up in a fetal position and lay there like that day after day for the rest of my life.” 

“I’m afraid I’m going to attack my own body, maybe cut off my balls and throw them through the bars the way I’ve seen others do when they couldn’t take any more.”

“No television or hobby craft or magazines or any of the other toys you call yourself allowing can ever lessen the nightmare of this hell you help to create and maintain.”

Both men were model prisoners - buried alive longterm for a crime they didn’t commit. Longterm solitary confinement induces “isolation panic.”

Symptoms include panic, rage, a sense of total loss of control, regressive behavior, self-mutilation, lethargy, insomnia, dizziness, despair, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, at times an emotional breakdown and inability ever to live normally outside confinement, the result of irreversible psychological damage.

Up to 100,000 US inmates nationwide are isolated longterm at any time, brutalizing torture, what no society should tolerate - turning otherwise normal inmates into zombies.

America's 8th Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. International law bans torture in all forms for any reason with no allowed exceptions.

Solitary Watch calls isolation "one of the most pressing (unaddressed) domestic human rights issues in America today,  one of the most invisible.”

Now aged 69, Woodfox spent over half his life buried alive. Last November, US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Dennis described his appalling treatment as follows:

“For the vast majority of his life, Woodfox has spent nearly every waking hour in a cramped cell in crushing solitude without a valid conviction.”

In a statement released by his lawyers, Woodfox said he’ll “direct all (his) efforts to ending the barbarous use of solitary confinement and will continue (his) work on that issue here in the free world.” 

His release came after the state of Louisiana dropped its threat to subject him to a third trial for prison guard Brent Miller’s 1972 killing - in return for pleading no contest to lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary, crimes he didn’t commit, admitting them the only way to be free.

He said “although (he) was looking forward to proving (his) innocence at a new trial, concerns about (his) health…age, (and ability to survive), caused (him) to resolve this case now” by accepting a plea bargain.

His conviction was twice overturned earlier - in 1992 on grounds of improper defense representation, then in 2008 for grand jury racial discrimination.

Last year, the state of Louisiana said they’d try him a third time. With earlier defense witnesses long gone, his lawyers called a new trial legal mockery.

Woodfox attorney George Kendall said he “survived the extreme and cruel punishment of 40-plus years in solitary confinement only because of his extraordinary strength and character.” 

“These inhumane practices must stop. We hope the Louisiana department of corrections will reform and greatly limit its use of solitary confinement as have an increasing number of jurisdictions around the country.” 

Despite longterm inhumane confinement of hundreds of thousands of US inmates, many thousands held as political prisoners, countless others on false charges or ones too inconsequential to matter, federal authorities did nothing to intervene responsibly.

No prospect of responsible prison reform looms at the federal, state or local levels. 

America’s homeland gulag is the world’s largest, one of its most inhumane and brutal - a testimony to US viciousness.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

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