As you know I've been closely following the case of the Angola 3, in which three men stood up to a racist and brutal prison system at Angola and were silenced by authorities who framed them for murders they didn't commit and threw them in solitary confinement for 30 years (two of them are still there).
You would think that would be bad enough, but imagine serving that same prison sentence while enduring constant harassment by the authorities. The worst part is, you never know when it will strike or what form it will take. I was outraged to learn recently that the cells of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 were searched last week with devastating consequences.
According to my friends associated with the case, unusually high-ranking officers spent three hours reading every scrap of paper in Albert's cell and ended up illegally confiscating a legal file he is using to prepare an appeal. In Herman's case, guards seized political materials, including a Black Panther newsletter that they said was "racist." Then they moved him to what authorities at Angola call "the dungeon." There he sits in an empty cell with no clothing other than a sack-like jumpsuit. He has no possessions other than pen and paper. He has a video camera trained on him 24 hours a day. In a letter to me, Herman perceptively noted the irony of the situation. "It's very interesting how a racist system can have the audacity to accuse me of racism," he wrote. "The bastards have lost their minds."
I was terribly concerned and upset when I heard this latest news. My first thought was that my decision to become involved in the A3 case has somehow provoked retaliation. In September, I placed a full-page ad about the case on the back cover of Mother Jones magazine (shown here). Following that, I was interviewed for an extensive news story for Free Speech Radio News that was aired last week. Since this search and seizure happened afterwards, I was left sadly wondering if the treatment these men are receiving was not some sort of response to my actions.
Their attorneys inform me there is yet another possible reason for this harassment. It seems the federal court is taking a civil-rights suit filed by the Angola 3 very seriously. Herman, Albert and Robert King Wilkerson (who is the 3rd member of the Angola 3 and was released in February 2001), filed a suit charging the state with cruel and unusual punishment for their 30 years in solitary. In a victory for them, the court has ordered discovery to proceed, meaning that the A3 can begin to demand documents from the state to help prove their claims. I suppose it's not surprising that prison officials are fishing for anything they can use to discredit these men.
The lawyers consoled me by reminding me that these men have endured these kinds of actions -- and far worse than this -- for decades. Some consolation! But it made me think of a sentiment close to my heart, a statement made by the abolitionist David Ruggles in the 1800s, "Action is everything." It's a call heard by the bravest people I know. And in the end, I was reassured by Herman himself. He wrote, "No matter what they do to me, or what happens in the process of this struggle, I ask only that you continue to push full speed ahead."
Find out more about the Angloa 3 and get involved here and here.