“Last of Angola Three Free.” Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola Three, walked free. Albert Woodfox has the dubious distinction of having spent 43 years in the hole—solitary confinement—in the infamous prison farm and former slave plantation known as Angola, Louisiana. 43 years, in a six-by-nine-foot prison cell, 23 hours a day. Oh, that extra hour? In a concrete yard in shackles.
Since the men known as the Angola Three—Robert King, Herman Hook Wallace, and Albert Woodfox—were convicted of the 1972 murder of a prison guard, the men were sentenced to a special kind of hell for decades—and this, despite their innocence. King had his conviction overturned several years ago. Wallace was released in 2013 and died two days later of liver cancer. Woodfox, the last man standing, spent 43 years in the hole—perhaps the longest-held solitary prisoner in the U.S. and, perhaps, in the world.
All three men were innocent of murder, but guilty of Black resistance. Prison officials found them guilty of what they called—I kid you not—”Black Pantherism,” and consigned them to the hole for decades. The men did the unthinkable, yes: they formed a chapter of the Black Panther Party in the Angola Prison.
Last November, a federal appellate judge from the fifth circuit said of Woodfox, “For the vast majority of his life, Woodfox has spent nearly every waking hour in a cramped cell, in crushing solitude, without a valid conviction.” —Judge James Dennis.
Woodfox, after a no-contest plea, goes free after a lifetime in hell. For more information, contact angolathree.org. From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
“Butter Scores.” His name is Butter, but to lawyers, judges, and cops, he’s known as Terrence Williams, a man who, in 2012, had a date to die.
Williams was convicted in 1984 of a homicide robbery of a man who he argued had attacked him sexually. During his post-conviction hearing, a Philadelphia judge found the DA had improperly sanitized the victim by hiding evidence of his relationships with young men for years; such an act, said this judge, invalidated Williams’ death sentence.
Predictably, the DA appealed, and, just as predictably, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—composed of ex-prosecutors Including the man who initially decided to seek the death penalty—reversed the trial court and reinstated Butter’s death sentence. Butter’s lawyers appealed to the US Supreme Court, and on Thursday, June 9th, they issued their startling ruling. In a 5-3 decision written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court held that former DA and former Chief Justice Ronald Castile should have recused himself from Butter’s appeal, and, further, his failure to do so violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Butter’s cse thus became the law of the land and a warning to courts to recuse judges who played pivotal roles in prosecutions. Such a ruling was poo-pooed by Castile, who described his role—that is, authorizing prosecution of a death penalty case—as “merely procedural.”
Butter, who now suffers from serious psychological disturbances, Isn’t off the proverbial hot seat. The current DA is going to try to return him to death row.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
“Solitary: Arthur’s World.” His name is Arthur Johnson, and he has lived in his cell in the hole for 37 years. You heard me right: 37 years. He was first cast into the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections version of hell, officially known as solitary confinement, in December, 1979. Jimmy Carter was President. The Shah of Iran had just been overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. Tennis star John McEnroe won his first US Open Championship. Muhammad Ali wasn’t just alive—he had recently retired from the boxing ring. From that time to this very day, Arthur Johnson has been in continuous solitary confinement, locked in the hole and virtually forgotten. Until now.
Recently, the Abolitionist Law Center of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania filed an Eighth Amendment challenge to Johnson’s continuous solitary confinement and seeks an injunction in federal court. For 37 years. Johnson has lived in the hole, held in a seven-by-twelve-feet cell, held 23 hours a day (an hour is allowed in an outdoor cage) for an alleged attempted escape in 1979. Facing conditions such as these, the question arises: who wouldn’t want to escape? For 37 years, he hasn’t touched a woman’s hand, held a child in his arms, hugged a relative, or entered a classroom, prayed in a religious congregation, or walked more than 10 feet without being handcuffed or shackled.
He’s lived in—if you can call this living—nearly a dozen prisons: Forest, Huntington, Smithfield, Greaterford, Green, back to Huntington, but always only in the hole, never in general population, never free of handcuffs, chains, and shackles. When he came to prison, he was 18. He’s 63 now. That’s the face of Pennsylvania “Corrections.”
That’s the reality of solitary confinement: the hole. From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
“Maroon Prevails.” Russell Maroon Shoatz, after many years of hard struggle, has prevailed on his action to bar the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections from ever holding him in isolation again. In a remarkable settlement bringing an end to Shoatz v. Wetzel, Maroon won on all counts. The only thing lacking is a judge’s written opinion.
Upon learning of the settlement. Maroon stated,
“I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all the years I was in solitary confinement as well as helped to affect my release. Since joining the struggle for human rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight. Frederick Douglas was right when he said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand,’ so have no doubt that I see this settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for human rights.
Russell Maroon Shoatz.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the DoC has agreed to not place Maroon in solitary over his prior disciplinary record. He is to be single-celled for life, and Maroon was granted a monetary settlement. Maroon was held in solitary confinement from 1983 to 2014, with the exception of 19 months, he spent in federal custody at Leavenworth, where he lived in general population. So with 22 consecutive years—a lifetime—Russell Maroon Shoatz has been held by the State of Pennsylvania in isolation, conditions described as torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, who called for Maroon’s release from solitary.
Mendez served as a defense expert for Shoatz. Russell Maroon Shoatz was represented in this federal civil rights action by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel, Esquires of the Abolitionist Law Center of Pittsburgh; Harold J Engel, Esquire; and attorneys, Rick Eder and Stephanie Albert of the law firm Reed Smith.
The struggle continues, and, sometimes, you win. From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
“Cetewayo Freed from the Hole.” On the white card above his cell door, the name “Arthur Johnson” is neatly typed, followed by his prison number. Johnson has been held in solitary confinement in half a dozen Pennsylvania prisons since 1979, late December, when he unsuccessfully tried to escape. When he tried to escape, Jimmy Carter was President, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep won Oscars for “Kramer vs. Kramer,” and a beaming Sally Field won one for her portrayal of a heroic union organizer, Norma Ray. Newspaper headlines blared about an accident at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, known as Three Mile Island.
From that date to this, Arthur, known to his fellow prisoners as “Cetewayo,” the name of an African Zulu warrior, has been in solitary confinement, over 36 going on 37 years this coming December. Several days ago, a federal judge in central Pennsylvania ruled that Johnson’s endless isolation was unconstitutional, and ordered he be released into general population. Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner of Pennsylvania’s Middle District issued an extraordinary preliminary injunction against the Department of Corrections, writing in his 26-page memorandum opinion, the following,
“For the past 36 years, the Department has held Mr. Johnson in solitary confinement—his entire existence restricted for at least 23 hours per day to an area smaller than a horse stall. Astoundingly, Mr. Johnson continues to endure this compounding punishment despite the complete absence of major disciplinary infractions for more than a quarter century.” —- Judge Conner.
Arthur Cetewayo Johnson’s long night of cruel and quite unusual treatment is finally coming to an end. It is a stark indictment of the DoC and its Kafkaesque cruelties committed under the rubric of ‘corrections:’ solitary, isolation, the hole. For 36 years.
Why? Because they could, period. They are the State.
When the judge asked the State about the mental effects of such long term confinement on Johnson, the DOC said “He was okay because he had a window to see the cages in the prison yard.” I kid you not. But perhaps the final word belongs to Chief Judge Conner who wrote at opinion’s end, “After 36 years of isolation, Mr. Johnson deserves the opportunity to shake hands with someone other than his attorneys.”
Arthur Cetewayo Johnson was represented in this civil rights trial by Bret Grote, Esquire, and Pittsburgh’s Abolitionist Law Center. From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.