Monday, 1 March 2010

The Angola Three

A new film entitled In the land of the free... tells the story of the Angola 3, Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, each forced to spend thirty years or more in solitary confinement, ostensibly for the murder of a prison guard. Robert King is now free, having been exonerated in 2001, but Wallace and Woodfox remain in prison, having now clocked 37 years in continuous solitary confinement. All three initially arrived in prison for unrelated robberies, once inside they began organising one of the only recognised prison chapters of the Black Panther Party. It is their belief that their subsequent conviction for the murder of Brent Miller was motivated by their vocal support for the Panthers. Convicted by an all white jury in a trial riddled with innuendo and obfuscation, the transcript of which refers explicitly to "that Panther shit". The prosecution had two "eye" witnesses: one a blind man, the other compromised by the promise of release; yet refused to investigate the only material evidence, a bloody fingerprint. This clear, full print, found at the scene of the crime matched neither the accused nor the deceased, but simply must match either a prison inmate or guard, all of whose fingerprints would be readily available on record. Robert King came to Angola a little later than Wallace and Woodfox, in fact after the death of Brent Miller, but was still questioned under suspicion of involvement and subsequently convicted of another murder under equally dubious circumstances.
Combining the lengths of time spent in Closed Cell Restricted solitary confinement, it would stretch back to Louisiana State Penitentiary's former life as an 18 hectare complex of plantations. The site was known as Angola as that was where most of the workers came from. With a still heavily segregated population, three-quarters of whom are African-American, forced to complete back-breaking manual labour, harvesting cotton and sugarcane, the Angola Prison remains one of the last bastions of slavery in modern America. In 1952, after 31 prisoners slit their Achilles tendons in protest against conditions, Angola was named America's worst prison. 85% of inmates sent to Angola will die there. With such history, the persecution of Black Panthers is grimly predictable. The new film, directed by Vadim Jean (Leon The Pig Farmer), seeks, in the grand tradition of Errol Morris's Thin Blue Line, not just to entertain with its stylish camera angles and Samuel L. Jackson voice-over, but to actually intervene in the real, and set right a real world injustice. The appeals of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox are in process even now, and since the film was edited both have been transferred back to solitary confinement, and Wallace taken to a different prison, preventing practically any communication with Woodfox. In the land of the free... is an excellently constructed film with a brilliantly argued case and a pressing urgency. Robert King will be in the UK to introduce certain screenings when the film is released nationwide on March 26th.