(PHOTO: At the New York State Capitol in Albany, former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn calls for the release of prisoners in response to COVID-19.)
A funny thing happened on the way to getting our Spring newsletter out...
The whole universe stopped and all of a sudden, there are now more people in lockdown then ever before- albeit, it's lockdown at home, which in almost every instance is far better than a 6x9 cell. However, it's a form of isolation that most of our supporters, friends and family never dreamt they'd be experiencing.
Albert and King are sanguine as always, using the skills they honed in decades of lockdown and appreciating the perks of locking down on the outside.
We'd hoped the March newsletter would have been filled with all the special events that Albert was attending and the awards and honors he is receiving, as well as an update on King and Kenyatta's building project. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control, just about everything has been postponed, cancelled, modified, televised or simply forgotten about. Albert should have been in Marin doing a special keynote for Marin College's Umoja program a few days ago. The New Orleans ACLU was then planning to honor him at their annual event on April 2nd.
At this point, things are looking pretty quiet, at least through June. As many of us are discovering, things like staying home, breaking our routines and not being able to visit and travel, has both it's upsides and it's downsides.
For Albert, it's an opportunity to spend some time at home, resting. He's been on the go since his release and this is a rare opportunity to rest. King and Kenyatta's plans to open their space soon have been upended, but the work on their project continues and they hope to be able to be open by Fall.
We asked Albert and King about how they managed to endure decades in a small box. They have some advice for those of us new to 'sheltering in place.'
First, develop a routine, something that provides some structure to the day and keeps you engaged in some activity.
Second, exercise as much as possible. Move your body!
Third, take the time you have to learn new things. Albert and King did this through reading, reading and more reading. Those of us at home with an internet connection can take online classes, watch you tube videos and more. This is a great opportunity to expand your skills and horizons.
Fourth, communicate with your loved ones by phone, letter, or online conferencing. With all the technology at most people's disposal, there's no reason to be totally isolated.
Finally, King recommends giving yourself time to sleep and dream :-)
Albert points out that their job of explaining to people about how miserable solitary is will be much easier after this crisis is over. At that point, we will all have experienced a dose of restrictions and limits. Now imagine having those restrictions for decades with no real hope for change in sight.
Albert, Robert and the entire Angola 3 crew send our best wishes for your safety and well-being. We hope to have better news to report in the coming months.
We dedicate this newsletter to the men, women and children in detention centers, jails and prisons, where they are unable to social distance or sanitize--leaving them to anxiously wait for the virus to take hold in their facilities.
We are featuring several articles and petitions regarding decarceration of all elderly prisoners, those with compromised health systems and the hundreds of thousands unable to pay bail in what has become a nation of debtors prisons. Please encourage your local governments to take action before the virus hits.
We just learned that all active COVID-19 cases in Louisiana prisons and jails are being sent to Louisiana State Prison in Angola and Allen Correctional Center in Kinder. Like most facilities in Louisiana, these are overcrowded, old and dirty. There is no way to keep a distance from others or to sanitize.
No matter what your circumstances are, you can be pretty confident that they're worse in the prisons, so please take some time daily to contact your local legislators and let them know how important it is to release prisoners as soon as possible.
WAYS TO TAKE ACTION: Change.org petition to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards II Write the BOP for Leonard Peltier II Ask your Congressperson to support Chairman Nadler's bill II Five ways the criminal justice system could slow the pandemic II Free them all for Public Health (spotlights relevant action campaigns)
LOUISIANA NEWS: Louisiana prisons lag in inmate releases as coronavirus spreads behind bars (March 31) II Inmates at two Louisiana state prisons have tested positive for coronavirus (April 1) II 4 Inmates Dead from Coronavirus as Outbreak Spirals at Louisiana Federal Prison (April 2)
Albert's Interview with Washington Post Magazine, Reprinted in South Africa
Asked how he survived Angola, Albert said:
It was a combination of things that allowed me to survive 43 years and 10 months in solitary confinement. The foundation laid by my mother gave me the internal strength to endure, and I dedicated my life to the Black Panther programme to better your life. So one gave me the foundation, the other gave me a purpose.
The party gave me an awakening, a sense of self-worth. Listening to what the Panther brothers were teaching was one of those moments the light goes off in your head. Like, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not who I've been taught my entire life that I was". They helped me to realise that I was a decent human being and could achieve things if given the opportunity. I firmly believe that in life, an event or an individual can raise your level of consciousness. And once your level of consciousness is raised, then you can no longer continue to be the person you were. So [fellow Panthers] Robert, Herman and I, we formed schools, we taught men how to read and write, we taught men history, we worked to teach ourselves the law because we knew our struggle couldn't continue to be physical, that our bodies just wouldn't survive the constant beatings and gassings that we were going through. So we had to take our struggle to another level. We figured the court would be the best place. And so we had to teach ourselves the law.
--Read the full interview, reprinted by the South African news website IOL, here.
A3 In The News
Albert was interviewed by WDSU News, at the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana's screening of the new Michael B Jordan film "Just Mercy" here. The NOLA.com article about the screening has photos and additional coverage here.
--Watch Woodfox in conversation with Katherine M. Kimpel, current Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School and formerly one of Woodfox's legal representatives, speaking at the Politics and Prose bookstore here.