Albert Woodfox has spent the last 40 years alone in a tiny US prison cell. His old friend Robert King – who was also imprisoned for decades in the notorious Angola prison – tells us how Albert’s political courage and global support are keeping him going, despite the pain and isolation.
“Angola was considered the bloodiest prison in America. There was slave-like labour – people worked 17 hours a day for two and a half cents an hour. There was a lot of raping going on – the prison guards sold the younger inmates [into sexual slavery].”
Robert Hillary King is describing Louisiana State Penitentiary, a massive former slave plantation known as Angola in the southern US state, where he spent 29 years alone in a cell.
Today, Robert is an energetic 72-year-old, dapper in a blue silk shirt, preparing to give a lecture about the US justice system at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Around his neck hangs a gold medallion from the West African country of Benin, decorated with three figurines. They might symbolize the Angola Three, of which Robert is one member.
He and two other young black men, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, became known under this name after they rebelled against the prison’s vicious, racist regime in the early 1970s, and ended up spending a record total of over 100 years in solitary confinement.
They will never be able to break my spirit.
“You experience things like insomnia, hallucinations, intrusive thoughts and severe paranoia. Suicide rates are disproportionately higher for people held in isolation. After just a few weeks your eyes can’t adjust to anything far away.”
“Being politicized gave me buoyancy, a sense of purpose and the courage of my convictions. I was in prison, but prison wasn’t in me.”
“Albert became a full-fledged BPP member when he escaped from prison and went to New York.” “It was the first time he had seen black men standing tall, being proud of who they were.”
A campaign of vengeance
Soon after, in 1972, Albert and Herman were convicted of murdering a prison guard, Brent Miller. They have always maintained their innocence, a claim supported even by the victim’s widow, Teenie. Albert believes their conviction was a reaction to their politics.
The lack of social interaction is incredibly damaging
‘they will never be able to break my spirit.’