by Ansel Herz
on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 11:08 AM
Watching this Democracy Now! segment, I thought of the Shawshank Redemption, which I recently re-watched. If you haven't seen it (you should rectify that, it's great), the movie is about a man wrongly convicted of murder who gets stuck in a hellish prison run by a twisted, evil warden. With extraordinary fortitude, the man survives repeated assaults on his dignity and person, including long, vindictive stints in solitary confinement. Despite all this, he manages to better his fellow prisoners.
That's practically the actual story of Herman Wallace, except the ending playing out now is far more sad than the movie's. Wallace was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola Prison) on Tuesday after a judge overturned his murder conviction and ordered his release. He'd been in prison for more than 40 years. The warden, according to DN!, flippantly told the judge he was off from work already and wouldn't be releasing Wallace that evening. So the judge issued another ruling, ordering the prison system to release him immediately.
Wallace, who is frail and dying of leukemia liver cancer, was rushed from an ambulance to a New Orleans hospital, where the ambulance drove past a throng of cheering supporters.
As he was released, Wallace told Robert King, "I'm going to hold on." Wallace, King, and Albert Woodfox are what many call "the Angola 3." The three former Black Panthers were sentenced in 1972 for the killing of a prison guard, even though there was little evidence tying them to the crime, Wallace's lawyer says. King's sentence was overturned and he was released ten years ago, after 29 years in prison, many in solitary confinement. Woodfox remains in solitary in Angola and is subject to regular anal searches for who knows why.
And just like the warden in Shawshank, the warden at Angola is a Christian creep, according to Wikipedia: "The Warden of Angola and Hunt prisons, Burl Cain, who promotes a 'Christian-based message' to turn [around] the lives of inmates, has 'more than once suggested' that Woodfox and Wallace must be held in solitary because they ascribe to 'Black Pantherism.'" If you want the full-on creepy, check out this Mother Jones profile of Cain.
Here's how King described the prison, speaking to DN!:
There were numerous rapes that were going on and that were being allowed by the prison officials. Inmate guards ran the prison. They were the backbone of security in prison. They sold younger prisoners to older inmates for sexual—you know, for sexual purposes and so forth... And even if we had not been members of the Black Panther Party, we still would have frowned upon this, because it was a dehumanizing practices in a dehumanizing environment. And we felt the need and went out with—into prison, and I joined Herman and Albert, having the same ideology and being a member of the Black Panther Party and being a struggle—struggler, because I felt the need to struggle. I joined them. I willingly joined their efforts to kind of combat some of the stuff that was going on. And as a result, like I said, we were successful.
And as a result, Herman and Albert has paid dearly for it: more than 40 years in solitary confinement, convicted for a crime that is, for the most part, questionable, in which all the evidence has been undermined, where actual, not just factual, innocence exists, but actual innocence also exists.