Former Black Panther and one of the “Angola 3” political prisoners, Albert Woodfox passed away yesterday at the age of 75 due to COVID-19 complications. Woodfox was imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as the Angola Prison, where he spent nearly 44 years in solitary confinement. He was the prisoner longest held in solitary confinement in U.S. history.
Woodfox, along with the other members of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace and Robert Hillary King, was sent to prison for armed robbery in 1971 for a 50-year sentence. Before his sentencing, he escaped to Harlem, New York, where he met members of the Black Panther Party for the first time and was radicalized. Later in 1972, he was also wrongfully convicted of lethally stabbing an Angola prison guard during a prison rebellion based on dubious evidence.
Longtime activist and 2019 presidential candidate Gloria La Riva said, after meeting Woodfox, “The only thing Woodfox was ever guilty of was resisting repression and injustice, but the state was threatened by his leadership and dealt with him like they do with other revolutionary political prisoners.” Woodfox also believed that the Angola 3 prisoners were framed because of the solidarity they had built amongst prisoners.
In a speech after his release, Woodfox recalled how he was inspired by the Black Panthers in Harlem: “For the first time in my life, I remember seeing African Americans walking around the neighborhood, not afraid and protected.” His experiences in Harlem helped his understanding to fight against inequality, racism and the prison industrial complex. He and Wallace set up a Black Panther Party chapter in prison and worked alongside the Muslim community to fight against horrific prison conditions, including a predatory culture of sexual assault against young and vulnerable inmates.
Woodfox spent nearly 44 years in a 6-by-9 foot cell under lockdown 23 hours a day. As a result, he developed chronic claustrophobia. Despite the conditions of his own imprisonment, he became a tireless fighter against inhumane prison conditions and he fought every day to prevent any other inmate from suffering the same fate. He also organized strikes against the prison’s terrible conditions, racial injustice and exploitative work hours.
Years later, in an interview, he said that he “buried himself in prison books, studying Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey,” and “organized games played up and down the line of solitary cells by shouting down the tier or banging on pipes — that way they held [math] tests and general knowledge quizzes about Black history.”
He also taught several other inmates how to read. “‘Every Thursday … new inmates were introduced to the general population, and I recall seeing young men with their whole lives in front of them, but with no light in their eyes … their lives were over. So, we took it upon ourselves to educate them in understanding the entirety of their situation, to ensure that they were working towards self-improvement,” Woodfox shared.
On February 19, 2016, Woodfox was finally released on his 69th birthday after a concerted legal and community battle against the state, and was the final member of Angola 3 to be released. Herman Wallace died just two days after being released.
Since his release, Woodfox and King toured the country raising consciousness about the depravity of U.S. prison conditions and against the brutality of the criminal justice system. He also documented his experiences in his 2019 book, Solitary, which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
These are only a few examples of Woodfox’s dedication to improving the lives of his fellow inmates despite himself experiencing one of the most inhumane prison conditions himself. The struggle of the Angola 3 highlighted the brutality of solitary confinement in the United States and the exponential increase of its use in U.S. prisons. The conditions and history of Angola Prison could provide no better example as it was built on the grounds of a former slave plantation.
With his passing, the world has lost a truly incredible human being, a heroic fighter and a revolutionary. The Party for Socialism and Liberation mourns Albert Woodfox and we extend our condolences to his family.
Albert Woodfox, presente!