Monday, October 26, 2009

Video Interview with Emory Douglas: The Angola 3, the Prison-Industrial Complex, and Abolishing Solitary Confinement



Emory Douglas first served as the art director for the Black Panther Party’s newspaper, and later served as Minister of Culture until 1980. Throughout these years, Douglas’ iconic artwork was published in the BPP newspaper and beyond. His artwork is featured in the new book entitled Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. For more information about Douglas, please click here.

Douglas was interviewed in San Francisco by Angola 3 News in October 2009. This is the first segment of our interview to be released. In this segment, Douglas speaks about the Angola 3, the prison-industrial complex, and abolishing solitary confinement.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Torturing Women Prisoners -- an interview with Victoria Law



Torturing Women Prisoners -- an interview with Victoria Law


By Angola 3 News


Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the new book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press), which was recently reviewed at Alternet. "This book is the result of seven and a half years of reading, writing, listening, and supporting women in prison," Law says about Resistance Behind Bars, noting that each chapter in her book "focuses on an issue that women themselves have identified as important." The chapters include topics as diverse as health care, the relationship between mothers and daughters, sexual abuse, education, and resistance among women in immigration detention. Resistance Behind Bars paints a picture of women prisoners resisting a deeply flawed prison system, which Law hopes will help to empower both the women held in cages and those on the outside working to support them.


In this interview, Law talks specifically about how women are affected by solitary confinement and other forms of torture in US prisons, and what women are doing to fight back. Exposing solitary confinement as torture has been the focus of recent campaigns in Maine, Pennsylvania, and around the US. This is also a central issue in the campaign to free the Angola 3, who are a trio of Black Panther political prisoners: Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace. King was released in 2001 after 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. Woodfox and Wallace remain imprisoned and have spent over 36 years in solitary confinement, where they remain today.


Angola 3 News: What do you think of the case of the Angola 3?


Victoria Law: The case of the Angola 3 is one of the most visible (and damning) indictments of the U.S. prison system.


As broadcasted by NBC Nightly News, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller has even stated that she wants justice and that, if Woodfox and Wallace did not kill her husband (and there is so much evidence that they did not), they should be freed. It’s interesting to note how the voices of victims and their family are used to whip up pro-imprisonment hysteria, but when they speak out against railroading people, they are ignored. For example, the widow of Daniel Faulkner publicly condemns Mumia and urges people not to let out her husband’s alleged killer. The media loves this and uses her to play on public opinion against freeing Mumia. However, when Brent Miller’s widow Leontine Verrett says, “If these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out,” her words are ignored.


Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace should be released. The fact that they have not been released clearly demonstrates the racism that is rife in the prison system and how “justice” isn’t really a factor in who goes to prison and why.


A3N: Do you consider the use of solitary confinement in US prisons to be torture?


VL: I most definitely consider solitary confinement a form of torture. Solitary confinement is used not only to break the woman (or person) who is resisting, but also to scare others around them into not only complying but ostracizing the person who is challenging prison rules or conditions. And, unfortunately, it often does.


A3N: What other practices in US prisons would you consider to be torture?


VL: I consider the whole prison system to be torture. But to narrow it down to actual practices: I would consider the use of strip status, in which all of a person’s clothes and belongings are removed from the cell, as a form of torture. You have to remember that over half of incarcerated women have suffered past abuse and trauma. To strip them of all of their clothing and place them in a bare cell with guards watching them retraumatizes them. I recently reread an account from Lisa Savage, a woman who was placed on strip status for talking to the other women on her unit about the psychological reprogramming of the Close Management unit (a unit where women are held in their separate cells 23 ½ hours a day). Being on strip status meant that everything was taken from her—clothes, toothbrush, bedding, and sanitary napkins. She wrote, “As bad luck would have it, I just started my monthly. Now, I must beg for a pad for hours before receiving it.”


Other practices that I would consider to be torture are:


  • The use of male guards in female prisons
  • The shackling of pregnant women while they are in labor
  • Loss of access and custody to their children simply because they are incarcerated
  • The denial of health care and the life-threatening slow health care in prisons


A3N: How is solitary confinement used against women prisoners? How does it effect women in ways that are different from male prisoners?

VL: Solitary confinement makes women more vulnerable to staff sexual assault since no one can see what is happening. In my book, I write about the experience of Christina Madrazo, a transsexual immigrant who was placed in INS detention. Originally, the INS (now called ICE) did not know what to do with her since her assigned gender at birth was male, but she identified (and was seeking asylum status) as a transgendered female. Madrazo was placed in solitary confinement where she was raped twice by a prison guard.


Even when they are not being physically assaulted, the women have no privacy—toilets are in full view of the cell door windows, guards can look through those windows at any time and, in many prisons, male guards can watch the women in the showers, on the toilet or when they are trying to dress or undress.


In addition, solitary confinement is used to punish women who have either reported being sexually assaulted by staff, or who have been discovered to have “consensual relationships” with staff members. I put “consensual” in quotation marks because, given the power dynamics in prison, especially the ability of guards and staff members to withhold services and/or provide small amenities, the relationship can never truly be consensual. I recently received a letter from a woman incarcerated in Colorado whose cellmate was accused of having a “consensual” relationship with a staff member. While the accusation was being investigated, the staff member was allowed to continue working in the prison. The woman was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the investigation and only released once the charge was found to be unwarranted.


Also, with women, there’s the prevailing notion that women need to be “good girls” and “to behave.” Thus, women are punished for behaviors that violate gender norms, behaviors such as spitting or cursing or not following orders, behaviors that men are not punished for. This is also why women are sent to segregation when they report sexual misconduct or engage in sexual activity; they’re violating what we, as a society, see as “good girl behavior.”


A3N: Do you believe activist prisoners are disproportionately targeted with solitary confinement?


VL: Yes! This is obvious in the case of the Angola 3. This has also been true among women who have been challenging prison conditions. Most female facilities have some form of solitary confinement. At California’s Valley State Prison for Women, the Special Housing Unit consists of eight-foot by six-foot cells with blacked-out windows where women are confined for 23 hours a day. Even in their cells, the women have no privacy — toilets are in full view of the cell door windows, guards can look through those windows at any time and male guards often watch the women in the showers. If the women complain, the guards turn off the water.


In 1986, the Bureau of Prisons opened a control unit specifically for women political prisoners in the federal prison at Lexington, Kentucky. It was built underground and entirely white. Women were prohibited from hanging anything on the white walls, cauisng them to begin hallucinating black spots and strings on the walls and floors. Their sole contact with prison staff came in the form of voices addressing them over loudspeakers. The unit was shut down in 1988 following an outside campaign and a court decision that determined their placement unconstitutional, but the solitary confinement is still used to punish and silence jailhouse lawyers and other incarcerated activists (of all genders, I should add).


A3N: How have women prisoners resisted the use of solitary confinement?


VL: In 1974, a woman incarcerated in Bedford Hills (the maximum-security prison for women in New York) filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of placing women in solitary confinement without 24 hours notice and a hearing (basically any sort of due process). She won a court injunction prohibiting this practice. In response, she was beaten by male guards and placed in solitary confinement (again with no due process). Other women in the prison protested by rioting.


More recent ways in which women have resisted solitary confinement aren’t as visible. While she was in the Close Management unit in Florida, Lisa Savage joined the StopMax campaign and became part of the Steering Committee. Her participation added gender to the way that people were viewing (and organizing around) the use of solitary confinement. She also wrote a long (16 pages!) piece about the Close Management unit for Tenacious, the zine that I publish of women prisoners’ art and writings. Writing about that reality is, in and of itself, a form of resistance, but she also included ways in which she, as an individual woman being held in the Close Management unit, was resisting:


I’ve finally gained a firm sense of self by holding fast to my beliefs in equality, liberty and life without threats or coercion. Each accomplishment, may it be emotional, psychological, or mental “growth,” is a form of resistance.


Every time I teach someone geometry or basic reading or tell them of their own intrinsic ability to be autonomous and secure with themselves, I resist the mentacide, and hopefully arm the women with ways to combat their own mental slow death sentence here in CM SHU…


Every time I get mail from you or Anthony of the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro or Abigail of Burning River or the meeting notes from StopMax (I am on the Steering Committee for the National Campaign to End Solitary Confinement and Torture in U.S. prisons), it confirms that I am part of this resistance movement.


As I conclude this piece, I have been informed of an increase in my custody to CM Level I. I know this is only a label, not who I truly am. DOC may have condemned me for my actions, but I know in my heart that for the past 7 months, I have taken the measures necessary to ensure my beliefs and integrity remain intact within a corrupt system. I have done my best to stand up for my CM sisters and myself. Yes, I have been DR’ed [issued disciplinary reports”] and “gave up” my privileges to take up for women who would spit on me if given a chance. I’ve asked nothing from them, I’ve only tried to show them that they must fight for their beliefs and happiness. I’ve wanted to show them that they do not have to be the label placed upon them—dumb ho, loser, etc—that they can achieve positive healthy goals even while locked in a cell 24/7. I wanted them to have a piece of my courage until they could find their own. Yes, I shouted about the unjustifiable psychological abuse they suffer—I shouted so that they could at least whisper of their own hurts in their own hearts…For this I have no regrets, and I will not apologize.


These aren’t ways that are clearly visible to those on the outside looking for instances of prisoner resistance. Still, her actions are forms of resistance to solitary confinement.

--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. Like this interview with Victoria Law, we are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our online video series has now released interviews with author J. Patrick O’Connor titled “Kevin Cooper: Will California Execute An Innocent Man,” author Dan Berger titled “Political Prisoners in the United States,” and Colonel Nyati Bolt titled “The Assassination of George Jackson.”




Sunday, October 18, 2009

Photos from Herman Wallace Birthday Event in New Orleans

Angola 3 supporters in New Orleans set up a slide show with cupcakes and information to commemorate Herman's 37th Birthday in solitary confinement. The slide show was projected out into the street. Passersby, and on occasion, driversby were welcome to a handmade cupcake decorated with "37/68" and information on the Angola 3.

Herman's writ seeking a new trial was denied late Friday afternoon by the Louisiana State Supreme Court with no comment from the Court. The denial was no surprise to the A3 legal team and supporters who have become accustomed to injustice at the hands of State and local officials. Although disappointed, Herman, Albert and Robert remind supporters that Herman's case can now begin new life as a habeas petition in Federal Court--the same judicial process that already succeeded in overturning Albert's conviction.


This news is added to the fact that Herman has been placed in Extended Administrative Lockdown for the next 90 days for reasons yet unknown--overall this makes for a rotten way to spend a 68th birthday, even after 37+ in solitary. Send Herman some love and let him know we're here for the long haul. Write to:

Herman Wallace

#76759
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center
Unit 5, D-Tier
PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776












Friday, October 16, 2009

The Assassination of George Jackson -- an interview with Colonel Nyati Bolt

PHOTO: Colonel Nyati Bolt in his cell at Angola Prison in 1973. A "Free the San Quentin Six" poster is on the wall behind him.


Angola 3 News is excited to release the third interview in our new video-series focusing on the Angola 3 and the many issues that are central to their story, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

This new interview features Colonel Nyati Bolt, who was an inmate at California’s San Quentin Prison at the same time as George Jackson (Sept. 23, 1941 - Aug. 21, 1971), the legendary Black Panther Party Field Marshal, and author of two books written behind bars: Soledad Brother and Blood In My Eye. The story of George Jackson and his legacy today will be the focus of many of our upcoming videos.

Bolt remembers the day of Jackson’s assassination in 1971, when Bolt was working in the medical unit. He explains that he was ordered to bring gurneys down before he’d heard any gunshots, leading him to believe that the guards’ shooting of Jackson was planned. When Bolt arrived outside and began to approach Jackson’s body to provide medical attention, he was shot at by guards, who forced him to retreat.

Please stay tuned for part two of our interview with Bolt, talking about his experience later at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. As Bolt recently told National Public Radio, he walked from his cell to the cafeteria with Albert Woodfox, of the Angola 3, and was in the cafeteria with him on April 17, 1972, when a prison guard was killed at another part of the prison. Woodfox and co-defendant Herman Wallace would both be wrongly convicted of murdering the prison guard, and have now spent over 36 years in solitary confinement.

Bolt was immediately put into Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) solitary confinement on April 11, 1972, officially because he was under suspicion for involvement in the prison guard’s death. A few months later he was questioned by prison guards, where he told them that he’d been with Woodfox during the time period that the prison guard was killed. After questioning, Bolt was sent back to CCR, where he spent the next 20 years in continuous solitary confinement, until his release in 1992. Prison authorities officially justified continuing his CCR status on the original grounds that he was suspected of involvement in the prison guard’s death. Bolt believes that the continuous CCR was actually in retaliation for his statement to prison authorities that provided an alibi for Woodfox, which he would later testify to at Woodfox’s trial, and maintains to this day.

For more information about the Angola 3, please visit www.angola3news.com as well as our You Tube page for the latest in our new video series, including our two previous releases: an interview with author J. Patrick O’Connor about death-row prisoner Kevin Cooper and an interview with author Dan Berger about prison movements in the US. Angola 3 News is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

A3 Newsletter: Moving Up - Herman's Writ Denied‏


Moving Up -- Herman's Writ Denied


Herman's writ seeking a new trial was denied late Friday afternoon by the Louisiana State Supreme Court with no comment from the Court. The denial was no surprise to the A3 legal team and supporters who have become accustomed to injustice at the hands of State and local officials. Although disappointed, Herman, Albert and Robert remind supporters that Herman's case can now begin new life as a habeas petition in Federal Court--the same judicial process that already succeeded in overturning Albert's conviction.


Herman Moved to More Restrictive Cell!


This news is added to the fact that Herman has been placed in Extended Administrative Lockdown for the next 90 days for reasons yet unknown--overall this makes for a rotten way to spend a 68th birthday, even after 37+ in solitary. Send Herman some love and let him know we're here for the long haul.


Mother Jones Article By James Ridgeway


In his new article written Friday evening, James Ridgeway provides an excellent analysis of Herman's case. Ridgeway writes:


The Louisiana State Supreme Court Friday denied an appeal from Herman Wallace, who has been held in solitary confinement for more than 37 years. Wallace and Albert Woodfox are members of what has become known as the Angola 3, whose story has been covered extensively by Mother Jones. Convicted of the 1972 murder of a prison guard at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, both men maintain their innocence; they believe they were targeted for the crime and relegated to permanent lockdown because of their organizing work with the prison chapter of the Black Panthers. Wallace, who is now 68 years old, was recently transferred from Angola to the Hunt Correctional Center near Baton Rouge, where he continues to be held in solitary. Two days ago, Wallace descended even deeper into the hole, placed in a disciplinary unit called Beaver 5 for unknown violations of prison policy.


Read the full article here.


Read the Mother Jones series "Angola 3: 36 Years of Solitude" here.


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Albert & Herman

Herman Wallace
#76759
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center
Unit 5, D-Tier
PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776

Albert Woodfox
#72148
CCR, Lower A5
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Angola, LA 70712

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A3 Newsletter: Happy Birthday Herman!

Happy Birthday Herman!



On October 13th, Herman Wallace will be turning 68, having spent most of his life in solitary confinement. Please Write Herman and wish him Happy Birthday. Write to: Herman Wallace #76759 Elayn Hunt Correctional Center Unit 5, E-Tier PO Box 174 St Gabriel, LA 70776 USA

Herman is optimistic about his appeal now pending at the State Supreme Court, where a decision is expected anytime. On September 19, 2006, State Judicial Commissioner Rachel Morgan recommended overturning Herman's conviction, on grounds that prison officials had withheld evidence from the jury that prison officials had bribed the prosecution's key eyewitness, Hezekiah Brown, in return for his testimony. However, in May 2008, in a 2-1 vote, the State Appeals Court rejected Morgan's recommendation and refused to overturn the conviction. Herman has appealed this to the State Supreme Court, which will either affirm or reverse the lower court's decision.

If you haven't heard them yet, be sure to listen to Herman's many broadcasts at Prison Radio. Listen here.

Kudos To Parnell Herbert!



The new play "Angola 3", written by Parnell Herbert, premiered at Loyola University in New Orleans, LA on September 18. Read the review and interview with Parnell Herbert on pages 10 and 11 of the Data News Weekly here. For more information about this amazing play, read here.


Our Newest Video: Political Prisoners in the United States






Angola 3 News has just released a new interview with author/activist Dan Berger that is mostly based on Berger's essay "The Real Dragons: A Brief History of Political Militancy and Incarceration: 1960s to 2000s," which is featured in the book "Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners" (PM Press, 2008).

Watch the two-part video interview here. Also, be sure to watch our previous video focusing on death row prisoner Kevin Cooper here.



The Secret World of Deaf Prisoners





In his new article, published by The Crime Report, James Ridgeway writes:

The deaf face a nightmare when they fall into the criminal justice system. They live in a world apart to begin with; but in prison they are thrown into a dread new environment where they literally can't understand the language of either their jailers or the other prisoners. When people who have never heard a spoken word try to speak,the sounds come out jumbled and weird-leading ill-informed jailers to think they are obstreperous or crazy. As a consequence, some deaf prisoners can end up in solitary.

I discovered numerous examples of abuses and violations of the rights of deaf prisoners as part of an ongoing investigative reporting project. But the most troubling discovery I made was how little has been done about the problem in the criminal justice system-and how little is known about it outside prison walls.

Read the full article here.



Fax Jerry Brown Monday October 5! Drop the Charges Against Cisco Torres!

Support Cisco in court Friday, October 9
8am Rally, 9am Court, 850 Bryant Street, San Francisco


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The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights writes:

Dear Friends,

Once again we are asking for your help with a phone and fax campaign to demand that CA Attorney General Jerry Brown drop the charges against Francisco Torres, the last of the SF8 still facing prosecution. Brown has not yet dropped the charges against Francisco Torres, but he knows there is no case against him. He needs to get the message from people all over the country that we will not give up this just demand.

Please Take Action Here.

Solitary Confinement is Torture!

The Maine Prisoner Action Coalition has launched an important new campaign to end solitary confinement and other forms of torture in Maine State Prisons.


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Over the past three months, concerned Maine citizens have worked to develop appropriate legislation to address longstanding abuses in the segregation units of Maine State Prisons. Last week, Representative Jim Schatz (Blue Hill) submitted the legislation. This is an important step to create the critical dialogue necessary to advocate for true prison reform in this state and end human-rights violations in our correctional facilities. Attached to this email is the bill language in its entirety. READ THE PDF HERE.

Now the Legislative Council will decide whether to accept the bill for the upcoming 2010 legislative session. THEY MAKE THEIR DECISION ON OCTOBER 15th. The Legislative Council comprises of leadership from both the Democratic and Republican parties from both the House and the Senate. Every other year in Maine, the state's legislative session is a "short" or "emergency" session.

Take Action Here.

Check out these new brochures made for the campaign, parts one and two. The Coalition can be contacted at mainepac@gmail.com and 207-252-5379

Journalist Lance Tapley has written an excellent series of articles detailing the numerous abuses in Maine Prisons. Read the full series.

Albert & Herman

Herman Wallace
#76759
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center
Unit 5, D-Tier
PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776

Albert Woodfox
#72148
CCR, Lower A5
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Angola, LA 70712