37 Years in Solitary
Mother Jones gives us a fantastic investigative report on Herman Wallace, a 68-year-old resident of New Orleans, who has been held in solitary confinement for 37 years. That’s 23 hours per day, 365 days per year, alone, in a 6’x9′ cell. About four paces, front to back.
Since 1990, Wallace has also been appealing his criminal conviction in the Louisiana state courts. He believes that he was targeted for the guard’s murder because of his involvement in Angola’s chapter of the Black Panther Party, which had been organizing against conditions in what was then known as “the bloodiest prison in the South.” Wallace contends that the prosecution’s witnesses—all of them fellow Angola prisoners—were coached, bribed, coerced, or threatened into giving false testimony against him by prison employees bent on revenge. “If they could have hung and burned the guys involved they would have,” one inmate witness later told Wallace’s lawyers. “But there was too much light on the situation.” Documents and testimony that have surfaced since the trial show that prosecutors knew a good part of their case was unreliable or manufactured. The state’s own judicial commissioner, assigned to study the case in 2006, recommended that Wallace’s conviction be overturned.
So it sounds like he was convicted on flimsy evidence, due largely to his political beliefs. But because of the serpentine Louisiana judicial system, Wallace has been kept in a spiraling limbo of appeals, postponements, and outright neglect.
According to the wardens, 37 years have not been long enough to “rehabilitate” Wallace and his “accomplice”:
Wallace says that Cain at least once offered to release the two men into the general population if they renounced their political views and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. He refused. Cain declared that “Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace is locked in time with that Black Panther revolutionary actions they were doing way back when…And that’s still their motive and that’s still their goal. And from that, there’s been no rehabilitation.”
The dignity and grace with which Wallace is surviving this ordeal cannot fail to inspire:
“I’m in this cell or in the hall 24/7, 23 hours in the cell, one hour on the hall,” he wrote in a letter earlier this year. “Either way you look at it I am locked up with no contact with any others. I use stacks of books for exercise and thereafter I am either writing or reading.” Wallace keeps himself together by concentrating on his case. “I have no time for foolishness,” his letter continues. “I am in a struggle against the state of Louisiana on two strategic fronts, and hear me when I tell you they are not fighting fair.”
I think it should be clear by now that solitary confinement is a blight upon our prison system and undoubtedly qualifies as “cruel and unusual” punishment. Futile though the sentiment may be, I genuinely hope this case brings to light the evils of solitary confinement.