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Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Angola 3 supporters bring demands to state Capitol - Free Albert Woodfox

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Angola 3 supporters bring demands to state Capitol

By Lauren McGaughy, NOLA.com | The Times Picayune

on October 21, 2013 at 2:19 PM, updated October 21, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Supporters of the last imprisoned member of the trio of inmates known as the Angola 3 gathered on the Capitol steps in Baton Rouge on Monday, and demanded the state drop its latest attempts to keep Albert Woodfox in jail.
Albert Woodfox was jailed in 1972 for armed robbery but found himself in permanent lockdown after he was charged with the murder of Brent Miller, a prison guard at the state penitentiary more commonly known as Angola, or "The Farm." Herman Wallace, who was also charged with Miller's murder, was released on Oct. 1 after it became clear he had only days to live. He died on Oct. 4 from liver cancer. 
Both spent 42 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana's prisons, always insisting their conviction was a political act predicated on their founding of Angola's first chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Now, Amnesty International, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and others are again demanding Woodfox's release. And they aren't alone -- more than 50,000 people signed a petition requesting the state drop its appeal to keep Woodfox in prison.
The petition was delivered to Gov. Bobby Jindal's office Monday. The signatures weren't received by the governor, who is in Clinton as part of his 64-parish tour, but were delivered instead to his secretary.
"I ask that for a moment you imagine yourself standing at the edge of nothingness, looking at emptiness. That is insanity." -- Albert Woodfox
In advance of the delivery, Woodfox's supporters gathered on the Capitol steps to reiterate their plea for his release. Speakers included Woodfox's brother Michael Mable, Angola 3 member Robert King -- who was exonerated in the murder of another prisoner and released in 2001 -- and Billie Mizell, an investigator in Woodfox's case.
Teenie Rogers, Miller's widow, was also in attendance but did not speak. She believes the two men were not involved in her husband's death and has previously called for their release.
"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."
Jasmine Heiss of Amnesty International called Woodfox's continued imprisonment "a case of injustice compounded" and reminded the assembled crowd that his murder indictment has been overturned three times.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell appealed the latest ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, keeping Woodfox behind bars after the court cleared him of the murder charge. His supporters hope Wallace's release and the petition will convince Caldwell to change his tune on the 65-year-old inmate.
The attorney general's office did not return requests for comment. In response to the petition, Pam Laborde of the state corrections department confirmed Woodfox's continued imprisonment in closed-cell restriction, or CCR.
"Offenders in CCR have access to visitors, exercise, television, library materials and canteen purchases, among other privileges," Laborde said, not commenting on Woodfox's case. "If those opportunities are revoked (in CCR or other assignment), it is because the offender has committed violations that threaten the safety/security of employees, fellow offenders and/or the general public."
CCR in Louisiana involves spending at least 23 hours a day in a 6' x 9' cell. Interactions with the general prison population is barred.
Malik Rahim, the Black Panther alumnus who first exposed the Angola 3's decades spent in CCR, was also in attendance at the gathering Monday. He read a letter from state Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, which detailed her support of Woodfox's release.
Rahim also said he intended to meet individually with all of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, as well as some White Democrats, to discuss Woodfox's case. Even with Smith's support, Rahim said, he was disappointed more lawmakers haven't spoken out.
"This has now become a human rights issue," Rahim said. "What happened to those (lawmakers) that represent New Orleans? Where are they?"
One could ask the same question about Woodfox's supporters. While around 20 people stood behind the podium on Monday, holding signs that said "Free Albert Woodfox" and "Remember Herman Wallace," the crowd listening was limited to a few reporters and passersby.
Even though few might have been in attendance, Heiss hoped to send a clear message to Jindal and Caldwell -- "the world is watching."

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Lauren McGaughy is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at lmcgaughy@nola.com or on Twitter at @lmcgaughy.
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