Herman Wallace: Free at Last
by Stephen Lendman
Free to die. More on that below.
Thousands of political prisoners fester in America’s gulag. It’s the world’s largest by far. It operates globally. It’s the shame of the nation.
It highlights America’s dark side. It’s brutally repressive and unfair. It’s viciously racist.
It targets America’s least advantaged. It systematically denies due process and judicial fairness. It pronounces guilt by accusation.
Today’s America is a modern day Jim Crow and much more. It mercilessly persecutes its own. It does so abroad against others.
Being Muslim, Latino or Black is dangerous. Herman Wallace endured US injustice for 42 years.
He suffered its most vicious form. He spent decades in solitary confinement. He’s stricken with terminal liver cancer. It’s too late to save him.
He’s dying. He’s at Interim Louisiana State University Public Hospital in New Orleans. Its medical staff will do whatever they can to help. At most they can relieve his suffering.
Prison authorities denied him proper treatment. It’s standard federal and state bureau of prisons practice.
Louisiana authorities could have released him years earlier. They could have done so in time to save him. They wanted him to die. They waited too long to assure it.
Wallace was one of three Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) prisoners known as the “Angola Three.”
The Louisiana ACLU calls the state prison system “the most abhorrent in terms of violence and horrible living conditions.”
Complaints include guard beatings, sexual assaults, other abuses amounting to torture, arbitrary solitary confinement, overcrowding, poor medical care, denying it altogether, mistreating mentally ill inmates, squalid conditions, and denial of access to attorneys.
Angola always was hellish. It’s called America’s worst prison for good reason. Three-fourth of its prisoners are black. They’re brutally abused. They’re treated like slaves.
In terms of acreage, LSP is America’s largest prison. It’s a maximum security one. It holds over 5,000 inmates. It has about 1,800 staff members.
Its 18,000 acres once operated as a slave plantation. It still does in new form. It’s technically legal under the 13th Amendment, stating:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
America is no democracy. It never was equitable and fair. For sure it’s not now. Maximum security harshness is brutal.
Solitary confinement is its most extreme form. America’s 8th Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Constitutional law is systematically spurned. It worst of all in prison. Abandon all rights those who enter. Expect special harshness for being Muslim, Latino or Black.
Many thousands suffer extreme brutality. Solitary Watch offers “news from a nation in lockdown.” It features “voices from solitary” and much more.
It brings America’s widespread barbaric “solitary confinement and other forms of torture…out of the shadows and into the light of the public square.”
It calls forced isolation “one of the most pressing (unaddressed) domestic human rights issues in America today – and also one of the most invisible.”
Many thousands suffer horrifically. They do so out of sight and mind.
“Today, inmates can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, using drugs, ignoring orders, or using profanity.”
They can be held there for any reason or none at all. In Virginia, a dozen Rastafarian men were held in solitary for over ten years for refusing to cut their beards or hair on religious grounds.
Long-term effects are profound. They include severe anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, emotional breakdown, hallucinations, profound despair and hopelessness, regressive behavior, paranoia, self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts, and other self-destructive behavior.
Long-term isolation in windowless cells 23 hour a day causes madness. Even the strongest-willed break.
Inmates have little or no human contact. They’re denied visits, phone calls, television, reading material, art supplies, and other common amenities most people take for granted.
They’re buried alive. They’re among the living dead. They endure what no society should inflict. America does it ruthlessly. Human beings are treated worse than wild animals.
Herman Wallace was one of any thousands affected. He was imprisoned for bank robbery. He was investigated for killing white prison guard Brent Miller.
Court records showed over 200 inmates were questioned. None were white. Wallace was wrongfully charged, prosecuted and convicted.
Doing so was based solely on another inmate’s testimony. He was bribed to lie. He got special treatment in exchange.
Forensic crime scene evidence was never properly analyzed. Other evidence was ignored or lost. Another inmate later confessed to the killing.
It didn’t matter. Wallace was guilty by accusation. So was Albert Woodfox. Robert Hillary King was blamed but never charged.
In 1973, he was wrongfully accused of killing another prisoner. In 2001, he was freed. It was under pressure to plead guilty to “conspiracy to commit murder.” It was that or stay buried alive for life.
American justice works that way. Especially for Muslims, Latinos and Blacks. Especially if they’re poor and disadvantaged. Especially because authorities want them locked away, brutalized and forgotten.
Wallace and Woodfox were targeted for their activism. They founded the Black Panther Party Angola chapter.
They organized other inmates. They worked to improve prison conditions. They did so through nonviolent hunger and work strikes. They paid dearly for doing the right thing.
Upon release, Wallace’s legal team issued the following statement:
“Tonight, Herman Wallace has left the walls of Louisiana prisons and will be able to receive the medical care that his advanced liver cancer requires.”
“It took the order of a federal judge to address the clear constitutional violations present in Mr. Wallace’s 1974 trial and grant him relief.”
“The state of Louisiana has had many opportunities to address this injustice and has repeatedly and utterly failed to do so.”
“Mr. Wallace has been granted a new trial, but his illness is terminal and advanced.”
“However, the unfathomable punishment of more than four decades which Mr. Wallace spent in solitary confinement conditions will be the subject of litigation which will continue even after Mr. Wallace passes away.”
“It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3’ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone.”
For over 40 years, Wallace and Woodfox spent at least 23 hours a day in isolated cells. Woodfox still does. He’s innocent but remains imprisoned. He’s at David Wade Correctional Center, Homer, LA.
He’s treated horrifically. In recent months he’s been strip-searched and subjected to anal cavity searches up to six times daily. You can’t make this stuff up.
Isolation cells measure 6 x 9 feet. At most, Wallace and Woodfox got one hour to shower or walk along the cellblock.
Lawyers representing their civil suit said they endured physical injury, cruel and unusual punishment. Doing so caused “severe mental anguish and other psychological damage.”
Medical reports show both men suffer from arthritis, hypertension, kidney failure, memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression.
Wallace is dying from liver cancer. He may not have long to live. Woodfox suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and hepatitis.
Both men and other prisoners endured the most extreme form of merciless cruel and unusual punishment. Nothing matches being buried alive longterm.
On October 1, Solitary Watch headlined “After 41 years in Solitary, a Dying Herman Wallace Has His Conviction Overturned – and Is Freed.”
Chief US District Court Judge for the Middle District of Louisiana Brian Jackson overturned Wallace’s wrongful conviction.
He ruled it unconstitutional. He ordered his immediate release. His decision was clear and unequivocal, stating:
“The record in this case makes clear that Mr Wallace’s grand jury was improperly chosen and that the Louisiana courts, when presented with the opportunity to correct this error, failed to do so.”
“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the state court’s grand jury indictment dated September 14, 1973 is QUASHED and that the jury’s verdict, the state court judge’s pronouncement of punishment, and the judgment dated January 19, 1974, in the state court criminal case against Mr. Wallace be, and are hereby VACATED.
“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the State immediately RELEASE Mr. Wallace from custody.”
“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that within thirty days from the signing of this order the State shall NOTIFY Mr. Wallace and this court whether it intends to re-indict Mr. Wallace in this manner.”
According to Solitary Watch, “Judge Jackson stoically refused to leave his quarters until Herman was released.” Against all odds, he was freed to die outside confinement.
An Angola 3 News statement said:
“We pray that Herman can still hear this all-important decision that he’s waited these four decades for.”
“Albert Woodfox and Robert King are meeting at the prison this morning to say their farewells and will instead have this amazing news to share with Herman and maybe even be able to take him home.”
Wallace unsuccessfully spent decades trying to overturn his wrongful conviction. Four witnesses said he had nothing to do with it.
He was elsewhere in confinement when prison guard Brent Miller was killed. He was unjustly framed. He always maintained his innocence. He’s free at last.
He dreamed of it for decades. He once described how it would feel, saying:
“I got to the front gate, and there’s a whole lot of people out there.”
“I was dancing my way out. I was doing the jitterbug.”
“I turn around, and I look, and there are all the brothers in the window waving and throwing the fist sign – it’s rough, man.”
“It’s so real. I can feel it even now.”
Wallace didn’t leave prison dancing. He left by ambulance. He was dying. His life hung by a thread. He didn’t last long. More on that below.
After decades of wrongful confinement, he’s free at last. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech perhaps said it best,” saying:
“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last.”
A Final Comment
On September 12, Wallace headlined a San Francisco Bay View article “Fighting spirit: a message from Herman Wallace,” saying:
“On Saturday, Aug. 31, I was transferred to LSU Hospital for evaluation.”
“I was informed that the chemo treatments had failed and were making matters worse and so all treatment came to an end.”
“The oncologists advised that nothing can be done for me medically within the standard care that they are authorized to provide.”
“They recommended that I be admitted to hospice care to make my remaining days as comfortable as possible. I have been given two months to live.”
“I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well.”
“We are just two of thousands of wrongfully convicted prisoners held captive in the American Gulag.”
“We mourn for the family of Brent Miller and the many other victims of murder who will never be able to find closure for the loss of their loved ones due to the unjust criminal justice system in this country.”
“We mourn for the loss of the families of those unjustly accused who suffer the loss of their loved ones as well.”
“Only a handful of prisoners globally have withstood the duration of years of harsh and solitary confinement that Albert and myself have.”
“The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”
“In 1970 I took an oath to dedicate my life as a servant of the people, and although I’m down on my back, I remain at your service.”
“I want to thank all of you, my devoted supporters, for being with me to the end.”
On October 1, Wallace was released from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, St. Gabriel, LA. He was transferred there in 2009.
A Sad Note:
On October 4, Angola 3 News headlined “The ‘Muhammad Ali of the Criminal Justice System’ Passes on,” saying:
“This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world. It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.”
“Herman never did anything half way. He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.”
“He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.”
“Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.”
“May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.”
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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