26 February 2016

Albert Woodfox Free at Last

On February 19, his 69th birthday, Albert Woodfox finally walked out of a Louisiana prison a free man after spending nearly 44 years in solitary confinement—the longest such stint of any U.S. prisoner. The Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee salute this courageous man, and we join his many supporters in hailing his release from prison.

Woodfox entered the infamous Angola prison in 1971 and later founded a Black Panther Party chapter with fellow prisoners Herman Wallace and Robert King, who became known as the Angola Three. They were directly targeted by their jailers for organizing work stoppages and protests denouncing prison conditions. Shortly after his release, in a Guardian (20 February) interview Woodfox described the vendetta against the Angola Three: “Our political activities marked us and that’s why they locked us up in solitary confinement, where I remained until yesterday.”

When an Angola prison guard was fatally stabbed in 1972, Woodfox and Wallace were convicted of murder without a shred of physical evidence. King was later framed up for the killing of a fellow inmate. The Angola Three fought their convictions for decades. King was released in 2001 and Wallace was finally freed in 2013, only to die of liver cancer three days after his release. It is an absolute outrage that Woodfox and his comrades were robbed of decades of their lives for their political activities.

Woodfox’s conviction had been overturned twice, but his jailers were hell-bent on seeing him die in prison despite his clear innocence. The state was preparing to try him for the murder a third time. On the day of his release, Woodfox, whose serious health concerns were exacerbated by his incarceration, pleaded no contest to lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to 45 years and released for time served—mostly “served” in a six-by-nine-foot box.

The capitalist state’s treatment of Woodfox was always intended to be a chilling example for all those who stand up against the horrible conditions in prison hellholes. Woodfox maintained his strength and dignity in the face of horrific torment. In his Guardian interview, Woodfox stated: “I promised myself that I would not let them break me, not let them drive me insane.” A free man now, Woodfox plans to spend time with family, get much-needed medical care and speak out for others still languishing in solitary confinement.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1084, 26 February 2016)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.