BATON ROUGE, La. — Last month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and Amnesty International USA delivered a 20,000-signature petition calling for the immediate release of the last member of the “Angola 3” still in prison. Albert Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for more than 41 years despite his conviction for murder having been overturned three times.
The petition was delivered to Gov. Bobby Jindal's office Oct. 21.
The Rev. Dr. Patricia Bates, an ordained United Methodist deacon who serves as Peace with Justice Coordinator for the Louisiana Conference, represented NRCAT at the event. “Our faith compels us to speak out today,” Bates said a gathering on the Louisiana State Capitol steps prior to delivering the petition. “We believe there is no moral justification for holding one of God’s children in solitary confinement for 41 years.”
Bates pointed out that despite his conviction for murdering another inmate being overturned repeatedly, Woodfox is still locked down, alone, 23 hours a day with only one hour to get into a larger solitary cage for exercise.
End to immorality and inhumanity
“Jesus taught us that what we do to prisoners, we are doing to him,” Bates emphasized. “We call for an end to the immorality and inhumanity of his confinement. This grave injustice compels us to call for Mr. Woodfox’s release without delay.”
We call for an end to the immorality and inhumanity of his confinement.
Bates pointed out that more than 80,000 men, women and youths in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers are subjected to solitary confinement on any given day. “Such conditions have long been considered a form of torture,” she said. “We people of faith recognize that such isolation denies the essential God-given need for community and destroys not only the individuals subjected to such conditions but also punishes the families, communities, and loved ones of those subjected to such inhumane treatment.”
Other speakers included Robert King, a member of the Angola 3 who was freed after 29 years in solitary confinement; Michael Mable, Woodfox’s brother; and Jasmine Heiss, a campaigner at Amnesty International USA.
Woodfox was jailed in 1972 for armed robbery and was placed in permanent lockdown after he was charged with murdering a prison guard at the Angola state penitentiary. Herman Wallace, also charged with Miller's murder, was released Oct. 1 because he was dying from liver cancer. He died Oct. 4.
Wallace and Woodfox were convicted though no physical evidence tied them to the crime scene and their conviction was based on questionable testimony. In total, Wallace and Woodfox spent the equivalent of more than eight decades in solitary confinement. The duo insisted their conviction was political because of their founding Angola's first Black Panther Party chapter.
A third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, was exonerated in the murder of another prisoner and released in 2001.
Woodfox’s brother read a letter from the prisoner that said in part:
I do not have the words to convey the years of mental, emotional and physical torture I have endured," Woodfox said in a letter read by his brother. "I ask that for a moment you imagine yourself standing at the edge of nothingness, looking at emptiness. That is insanity.
The state attorney general appealed the latest ruling overturning Woodfox’s murder conviction to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to keep him incarcerated.
Woodfox is being held in Closed-cell Retention (CcR), which allows access to visitors, exercise, television, library materials and canteen purchases. CcR involves at least 23 hours a day in a 6' x 9' cell and no interactions with general prison population.