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Herman Wallace, Held in Solitary Confinement for 41 Years, Dies After Three Days of Freedom

December 10, 2013


The movement for human rights and justice mourns the loss of Herman Wallace, a former prisoner of the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola prison) who was held in solitary confinement for forty-one years before having his conviction and sentence for murder vacated by a judge this week.

Wallace was released from prison because his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law had been violated when he was convicted by a jury with no women. The judge immediately moved to have Wallace released. Only after the district court judge threatened to hold the state in contempt of court if they did not obey him and let him go free did the prison allow him to be put into an ambulance that would take him to a hospital.

This conduct on the part of the state took place in spite of the fact that the man known as a member of the Angola 3 was dying from advanced liver cancer and would be dead very soon.

Yet, the callousness did not stop there. Two days after he was sent home to die amongst his friends and family, the terminally ill political prisoner and former Black Panther was re-indicted by a grand jury in Louisiana.

Wallace’s legal team reacted, “If it is true, we are shocked that a state grand jury was asked to indict a man who has only days to live.”
West Feliciana District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla said, “I say he is a murderer, and he is not innocent,” and, “The conviction was overturned because the federal judge perceived a flaw in the indictment—not his murder conviction.”

D’Aquilla made it seem like the state was being compassionate by not moving to immediately have him jailed again and by planning to not schedule any dates in court until December. However, anyone familiar with Wallace’s case will understand that the state was nothing but barbaric toward Wallace and that is because he tried to organize a Black Panther Party chapter in the prison in the 1970s.

Several details highlighted by NPR help prove Wallace did not murder the prison guard he was convicted of killing. Hezekiah Brown, a serial rapist who claimed to be the key witness to the murder, was apparently offered a pardon for his testimony. The deputy warden even recalled that “you could make him say anything you wanted him to say.” There was a “single bloody fingerprint ” found at the scene. It did not match Wallace, but the print was never tested by the state because it said it was not going to test the fingerprint.

Anne Butler, a forewoman of the grand jury that reindicted him in the 1990s, was the former wife of a warden in the Angola prison, Murray Henderson. She is known to have passed around a book to fellow jurors informing them that Woodfox and Wallace committed the murder. She even wondered why she was allowed to be a part of the jury and said to the district attorney at the time, “You are going to put me off this,” and he said “no.”

On top of that, Wallace was never given an opportunity to challenge his cruel confinement conditions. Every time officials “reviewed” his status in the prison, he was never given a chance to speak and would be handed a piece of paper indicating that nothing would change. And the reason for this was the fact that he had a past history of “Black Pantherism” and could not be allowed to be in the prison organizing younger inmates.

Angola 3 News, which has been advocating for justice for not just Wallace but also Albert Woodfox (who remains imprisoned for his involvement in the same murder despite the fact his conviction has been overturned), published a tribute to Wallace, who it described as the “Muhammad Ali of the criminal justice system.”

This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world.  It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.

Herman never did anything half way.  He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.  He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.  May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.

Below is a short obituary/press statement for those who didn’t know him well in case you wish to circulate something.  Tributes from those who were closest to Herman and more information on how to help preserve his legacy by keeping his struggle alive will soon follow.

The fight is not over. Attention should be turned now to Albert Woodfox. He remains in solitary confinement and it was Wallace’s hope that his case would help ensure that others like his good friend did not “continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement” even after he was gone.

Woodfox remains in solitary confinement and, according to Wallace’s lawyer, George Kendall, is being subjected to further degrading treatment in the prison:

GEORGE KENDALL…[H]e has just recently again been subjected to anal searches every time he leaves his cell, whether it’s just a walk down the tier to take a shower. Albert, 30 years ago, on his own, filed a lawsuit and won a lawsuit that prohibited the Department of Corrections from engaging in those kind of searches. And we called that to the attention of the Corrections Department when they started doing it again, and they said, “We’re going to continue to do it.” We filed yesterday in federal court in Baton Rouge a lawsuit seeking an injunction barring the Department of Corrections from using that kind of search on Mr. Woodfox and others in that cell block.

AMY GOODMAN: The judge who issued the order that he should not be strip-searched like this—anal cavity, oral cavity strip-searched—died.

GEORGE KENDALL: That’s correct.

There is a lawsuit involving violations of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment that is set to go to trial in Baton Rouge in June next year. That will continue the effort to bring about some modicum of justice.

Amnesty International, which was a key advocate of justice for Wallace, explained in a post that he was “denied access to meaningful social interaction, work opportunities, education and rehabilitation programs.” Also, “During his 41 years in solitary confinement he was only allowed out of his cell for seven hours a week, which he would spend showering or in solitary recreation. Under international law, these conditions amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

“Amnesty International knows of only one other person in the US who has been held for longer under such harsh conditions,” the human rights organization added.

The organization has also pushed for Woodfox’s release from solitary confinement. “In a case that has always been more about vengeance than justice, the state should immediately withdraw their appeal, and allow Albert Woodfox his freedom before it is too late,” it declared.

The racial violence of the state of Louisiana is heinous. The complicity and indifference, which led him to remain in isolation for decades, is reprehensible, but let’s not end on that note. Let’s recall the spirit of Wallace as a fighter.

These words, published by Justice: Denied magazine in 1999, show the context in which he viewed his case.

On January 10, 1974, I was convicted of the 1972 murder of Brent Miller, a security guard who happened to be white. This was around the time of the “Prison Movement” around the country. There was “Death On the Yard,” Folsom Prison; The San Quentin Six, from the murder of the revolutionary George Jackson; and, there was the infamous “Attica.” Then, deep down in the swamp of Louisiana, we had the death of a white security guard at Angola Penitentiary, a prison dominated by black prisoners. All security guards and personnel were white. It is significant to mention race, because it played a role and continues to play a role in the frameup against me.

The times were sweeping the country with change, and that change was making its way to our swamp at Angola. After Guard Brent Miller’s death, fear struck the hearts of all security guards who were guilty of having beaten, mangled, and even killed inmates who could not be controlled. The guards became so fearful that they refused to work unless they were allowed to carry weapons. The National Guard was called in to fill in for those who refused to work, but peace was still far from arriving…

Even more moving and powerful is this poem written by Herman Wallace called “A Defined Voice.”

They removed my whisper from general population
To maximum security I gained a voice
They removed my voice from maximum security
To administrative segregation
My voice gave hope
They removed my voice from administrative segregation
To solitary confinement
My voice became vibration for unity
They removed my voice from solitary confinement
To the Supermax of Camp J
And now they wish to destroy me
The louder my voice the deeper they bury me
Free all political prisoners, prisoners of war, prisoners of consciousness.

The quote he reads before the poem is from social philosopher and author of The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon: “If death is the realm of freedom, then through death I escape to freedom.”

Today, Herman Wallace made his escape to freedom.

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