Albert Woodfox, who survived 42 years in solitary confinement, died on the age of 75

Albert Woodfox, who spent 42 years in solitary confinement — perhaps longer than any other inmate in American history — died Thursday in New Orleans, but received acclaim with a memoir that said his spirit remained intact. He was 75 years old.

His lead lawyer, George Kendall, said the cause was Covid-19. Mr Kendall added that Mr Woodfox also had several pre-existing organ disorders.

J. Woodfox in 1972 was placed in solitary confinement after being accused of killing 23-year-old corrections officer Brent Miller. A tangled legal ordeal ensued, including two convictions, both overturned, and three indictments spanning four decades.

Many commentators have been troubled by this case. No forensic evidence linked Mr. Woodfox to the crime, so the government’s case depended on witnesses who over time have been discredited or turned out to be unreliable.

“The facts of the case were on his side,” editorialized The New York Times wrote in 2014 in an opinion piece on Mr. Woodfox.

But Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell saw things differently. “This is the most dangerous man on the planet,” he said told NPR 2008

Mr. Woodfox’s punishment defied the imagination not only in its monotony—he was alone 23 hours a day in a six-by-nine-foot cell—but also in its agonies and humiliations. He was gassed and beaten, he wrote in his memoir Lonely (2019), in which he described how he maintained his sanity and dignity while locked up alone. He was strip-searched unnecessarily, brutally often.

His plight first gained national attention when he became known as one of the “Angola Three,” men held in solitary confinement for decades at a Louisiana state penitentiary commonly called Angola, after the slave plantation that once stood on the site.

in 2005 a federal judge wrote that the amount of time the men spent in solitary confinement was “so far back” that it seemed as though there was nothing comparable in the annals of American case law.

Mr. Woodfox would spend more than a decade in solitary until 2016. would become the last of the three men to be released from prison.

He first worked in Angola in 1965, when he was convicted of a series of minor crimes committed as a teenager. The prison was notoriously harsh, even to the point of conjuring up the days of slavery. Black prisoners, like Mr. Woodfox, did manual labor in the fields, supervised by white prison guards on horseback, rifles on their knees. New inmates were often forced into a regime of sexual slavery encouraged by the guards.

Released after eight months, he was soon accused of stealing a car and spent another eight months in Angola. After that, he began a darker criminal career, beating and robbing people.

In 1969, Mr. Woodfox was again convicted, this time of armed robbery, and sentenced to 50 years. At the time, an experienced lawbreaker was able to sneak a gun into the courthouse where he was being sentenced and escape. He fled to New York and landed in Harlem.

A few months later, he was imprisoned again, this time in Manhattan’s Tombs, where he spent about a year and a half.

This proved to be a turning point, he wrote in his memoirs. At the graves, he met members of the Black Panther Party, who controlled his cell tier not by force, but by sharing food. He wrote that they debated, treated people with respect and intelligence. They argued that racism is an institutional phenomenon that infects police departments, banks, universities and juries.

Credit…via Leslie George

“It was as if a light went on inside me in a room I didn’t know existed,” Mr Woodfox wrote. “I had morals, principles and values ​​that I never had before.”

He added: “I would never be a criminal again.”

in 1971 he was sent back to Angola, believing himself to be a reformed man. But his most serious conviction for murdering an Angolan correctional officer in 1972, which he denied, still awaits him, and with it four decades in solitary confinement. pending a retrial.

The other two members of the Angolan trio, Robert King and Herman Wallace, were also Panthers and began their penitentiary in Angola the same year as Mr. Woodfox. The three became friends by yelling at each other from the cells. They were “our own inspiration to each other,” Mr. Woodfox wrote. In his spare time, he added, “I turned my cell into a university, a debating hall, a law school.”

He taught one inmate to read by teaching him to pronounce words in a dictionary, he said. He told him to call him at any hour of the day or night if he didn’t understand something.

Albert Woodfox was born in 1947. February 19 In New Orleans, 17-year-old Ruby Edwards. He never had a relationship with his biological father, Leroy Woodfox, but for most of his childhood he considered him to be the man he later became. married his mother, Navy Chef James B. Mable, his “dad.”

When Albert was 11, Mr. Mable retired from the Navy and the family moved to La Grange, NC. Mr Mable, Mr Woodfox recalled, began drinking and beating Ms Edwards. She ran away from the family home with Albert and his two brothers and took them back to New Orleans.

As a boy, Albert stole bread and canned goods when there was no food at home. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade. His mother tended a bar and occasionally worked as a prostitute, and Albert grew to loathe her.

“I allowed myself to believe that the strongest, most beautiful and most powerful woman in my life was not important,” he wrote in his memoirs.

His mother died in 1994 while he was in prison. He was not allowed to attend her funeral.

The first of the Angolan trio to be released from prison was Mr. King, whose conviction was overturned in 2001. The second, Mr Wallace, was released in 2013 after suffering from liver cancer. He died three days later.

Mr. Woodfox was released in 2016 in a deal with prosecutors. in exchange for pleading no contest to a 1972 murder charge. Until then, he was transferred from Angola.

His imprisonment was over, the first thing he wanted to do was visit his mother’s grave.

“I told her I was free now and I loved her,” he wrote. “It was more painful than anything I experienced in prison.

Mr. Woodfox is survived by his brothers, James, Haywood, Michael and Donald Mable; a daughter, Brenda Poole, from a relationship he had as a teenager; three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and his life partner, Leslie George.

Ms George was a journalist who began reporting on Mr Woodfox’s case in 1998 and met him in 1999. They became a couple when he was released from prison.

Ms. George co-wrote Mr. Woodfox’s book, which was a National Book Award finalist and Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction. Dwight Garner in The Times review called “lonely” “extraordinarily powerful”; By Thomas Chatterton Williams, writer for The Times Book Review described it is “more than mere advocacy or even memoir”, belonging more to “the domain of Stoic philosophy”.

Upon his release, Mr. Woodfox had to relearn how to climb stairs, walk without leg braces, and sit untied. However, interview he told The Times immediately after his release that he had been released years earlier.

“When I started to understand who I was, I considered myself free,” he said. “No matter how much concrete they used to hold me in a certain place, they couldn’t stop my mind.

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