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Solitary by Albert Woodfox – Remarks

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en Martes, 19 de enero, 2021


Copyright © 2019 by Albert Woodfox

Solitary is a chronicle of rare power and humanity: the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement in notorious Angola prison in Lousiana, for a crime he did not commit.

Aware that bitterness would destroy him in solitary, sustained by the solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance.

That he was able to emerge with his humanity and sense of hope for the future intact is a triumph of the human spirit and makes Solitary a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.

Albert Woodfox was born in 1947 in New Orleans. A committed activist in prison, he remains so today, speaking to a wide array of audiences, including the Innocence Project, Harvard, Yale, and other universities, the National Lawyers Guild, as well as at Amnesty International events in London, Paris, Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium. He lives in New Orleans.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • It has been my experience that because of institutional and individual racism, African Americans are born socially dead and spend the rest of their lives fighting to live.
  • Mom: “A man ain’t nothing without his word”.
  • Without the responsability and respect he (Daddy) was given in the Navy, he lost his self-steem. He started drinking and took his frustration and rage out on my mom. Daddy never hit me or my brothers or sister. He beat my mom. We never knew when he was going to explode in anger and bitterness. Nothing warned us in advance how he would react on any given day so we lived in constant confusion and fear.
  • Since she (Mom) was functionally illiterate she couldn’t get what would be considered a regular job. So, she took odd jobs and did whatever was necessary to provide for us, and sometimes that included prostituting herself. Mama told us she wanted us to have better than what she had when she was a child. She always got us something new to wear for the first day of school. I didn’t realize until I was much older the sacrifices she made to give us these basic necessities.
  • I never believed in God, even as a child. I couldn’t understand the idea of an all-powerful being. But I always considered myself to be spiritual. For me, spirituality is a feeling of connection beyond yourself.
  • Sometimes I snuck into her room after she went to bed and hid the money she made that night so if her boyfriend came around that day he wouldn’t get it. If my mother was in love with a man she would give him anything she had, including her money.
  • As I got older I noticed white people would address black grown-ups as “boy” or “girl” and I felt the disrespect of it.
  • The first time I was called a nigger by a white person I was around 12. The pain I felt from that young white girl calling me nigger will be with me forever.
  • We always knew the police picked up the men in our neighborhood because they were black and for no other reason. We never talked about it though. We couldn’t have articulated racism if we tried. We didn’t understand the depths of it, the sophistication of it. We only absorbed the misery of it.
  • I didn’t realize at that time that my mom didn’t have choices, that she worked in bars to take care of me and my brothers, and I was unforgiving. Deep down I never stopped loving my mom. But I hated her too. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I allowed myself to believe that the strongest, most beautiful, and most powerful woman in my life didn’t matter.
  • Like all blacks, I was scared to death of the Klan.
  • Playing sports was the only time in my life I knew what to do at any given moment.
  • Somewhere inside me I was done with school. I turned my attention to the street. There, I quickly learned everyone had one choice: to be a rabbit or a wolf. I chose to be a wolf.
  • Frederick Douglas: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”.
  • We never thought we were committing crimes. We thought we were outsmarting the world. But we watched out for police. If the police grabbed us in those years they’d take our money and beat us until we ran away as fast as we could.
  • By age 13 I wasn’t obedient to my mom anymore. I call this period of my life the guilt of innocence. We didn’t know any better. Around this time, we started to think of ourselves as a gang.
  • I learned that courage doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. Courage means you master that fear and act in spite of being afraid. I never let fear stop me from doing anything.
  • When gang members from other wards came on our turf we beat them up or chased them out. No one had guns at that time. We only fought with fists. Gang members never attacked the family members of other gang members. If there was a feud between gangs it stayed within the gangs. It was understood that family was off-limits. Everybody honored that.
  • By the time I was in my midteens I had a reputation for being very tough. Only I knew differently.
  • We ran, and were chased, even when me weren’t doing anything wrong. I got really good at jumping fences while being chased by police. For a while they let us go; when we got older they dragged us to juvenile hall. It never ocurred to us to tell anyone they beat or robbed us. It was accepted. That was just the way life was at that time.
  • After I was put out of school I had more time on my hands and started taking more risks. I broke into stores at night and stole money directly from cash registers. Nothing in my days, or nights, was planned. I never considered the consequences of my actions.
  • My only feeling of relief and release in those years came from racing horses with my friends. We didn’t have saddles so we raced bareback. We ran those horses until their mouths foamed. When I was riding horses, it was the only time in my life that I wasn’t afraid of going to jail. My only fear was not being able to ride horses anymore.
  • I’d seen guys in my neighborhood come back from Angole throughout my childhood. They were given the highest respect. I thought it would be an honor to go there. I chose Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola).
  • I learned from being in a gang that I could master my fear and still act. That lesson served me well at Angola.
  • In 1901, the state of Louisiana took over and purchased the land, which became the state penitentiary, but it was always called Angola, after the African country where the plantation’s original slaves were born.
  • I was scared shitless but kept it hidden. Being cool can be the difference between life and death in prison.
  • As soon as I arrived at RC I heard prisoners talk about “fresh fish day”, the day first-time prisoners were taken from RC in to the prison population. It was also the day sexual predators lined up and looked for their next victims. Sexual slavery was the culture at Angola. The administration condoned it. They wanted prisoners to fear one another and abuse one another; it made them easier to control.
  • If you were raped at Angola, or what was called “turned out”, your life in prison was virtually over. You became a “gal-boy”, a possession of your rapist. You’d be sold, pimped, used, and abused by your rapist and even some guards. Your only way out was to kill yourself or kill your rapist.
  • Freemen and inmate guards were able to control some of the most violent and powerful prisoners by threatening to move their gal-boys away from them.
  • I had to seem much more confident than I felt to keep guys from trying stupid shit with me. I couldn’t look weak. I couldn’t show any fear. So I faked it. Luckily, I had a reputation as a fighter who never gave up. There were prisoners at Angola I had known on the street and they knew me or knew of me. Word spreads quickly in prison. Word was if you whip my ass today you have to whip it again tomorrow. You have to beat me every day for the rest of your life if necessary. That helped me a lot.
  • Everything was stolen unless you knew somebody in the dorm who would watch your shit.
  • It wasn’t just clothing that prison officials stole. High-ranking officials would steal food and toothpaste, soap and toilet paper, anything they wanted that was meant for prisoners. If they didn’t use the merchandise, they sold it on the side.
  • Fighting never came easy to me, even in prison. It was always a conscious act that I willed myself to do. Sometimes I got into bullshit fights over something stupid, but most of the time I only fought when I had to: when I was protecting myself or when my reputation was at stake. To protect your reputation, you had to carry yourself a certain way. If someone challenges you and you don’t fight you’ve lost your reputation; it’s gone. What’s good one day is not worth shit tomorrow.
  • There were all kinds of dos and don’ts, a field of land mines.
  • If you weren’t willing to fight at Angola you’d get eaten alive.
  • I never ever let my guard down. If it wasn’t the other prisoners to worry about it was the security staff.
  • Being sent to the dungeon, being “locked up”, was a constant threat.
  • It’s painful to remember how violent Angola was in those days. Freemen and inmate guards could physically assault prisoners in any way they wanted.
  • A shank was the easiest thing in the world to do. Men wrapped magazines and phone books around their chests and backs for protection. They wore sunglasses while lying on their bunks so they could look awake while they were sleeping and fake sleep while they were awake.
  • I prided myself on my hustle out on the street but something about the prisoners’ constant manipulation and hustle got on my nerves.
  • The biggest myth in the world is that there is honor among thieves. Guys ratted on each other left and right. They wouldn’t do it in front of anyone, but if a prisoner was isolated by himself, nine times out of ten he would make a deal to get out of trouble.
  • Every prison has a black market, and the black market at Angola was epic. Everything is bought or bartered in prison. Almost anything could be bought, and nearly everyone could be paid off.
  • I had nothing to barter with. I got by because my mom always left me some money in my account when she visited. It was always a tussle for my mom to find enough extra money to visit but she came almost every month.
  • We were pushed to go as fast as we could the whole time. It was the speed they pushed on us that made it so hard. They would put the fittest, fastest workers in the group that went first. Everyone else was supposed to keep up with them.
  • I didn’t think I could be shocked by anything, but the brutality and pain in the dungeon were worse than anything I’d ever seen.
  • The dungeon could destroy every fragment of a man’s dignity and self-respect. The harsh conditions were so hurtful that strong men would cry. They broke.
  • In those first months I’d adjusted to Angola.
  • I was always scared though. Always. I was far from home. I was constantly seeing acts of violence, constantly seeing guys being raped, and I lived with the knowledge that that could be me at some point in time.
  • I had no purpose, no direction, and no goals, but I had survived Angola.
  • Having learned absolutely nothing in prison except how to become a better predator I picked up where I left off when I got home. My family’s routines had become alien to me.
  • The conditions in the Red Hat were a test, I told myself. My anger, my hate, the heat, the stench, the filth, the rats, and the pressure shaped me into something new.
  • In prison, you never talk about your charge but you talk about everything else. Multiple times. Multiple ways. Multiple versions. What you (supposedly) did, what someone did to you, what you will do when you get out.
  • Stories in prison are endless daydreams, described in detail and spoken in the flow and rhythm of Ebonics. The beauty of Ebonics is that it’s so specific, and forever changing.
  • In prison, you are part of a human herd. In the human herd survival of the fittest is all there is. You become instinctive, not intellectual. Therein lies the secret of the master’s control. You develop a six sense as a means of survival, instincts to help you size up what’s going on around you at all times and help you make all the internal adjustments necessary to respond when it will save your life, but never before. Taking action at the wrong time could get you killed.
  • By some grace, maybe the love of my mother, I hadn’t totally lost my humanity. I was poised to be aggresive, but I also knew it wasn’t who I was.
  • That high you get when you first start shooting heroin is the best feeling I ever had. But at some point, I no longer experienced that wonderful high. I started shooting to keep from getting sick. I was a weekend junkie at first. I was handling dope because I never got sick during the week. That’s how I knew I was addicted. I wasn’t getting high. I was shooting to be normal, to function.
  • Writing about this time in my life is very difficult. I robbed people, scared them, threatened them, intimidated them. I stole from people who had almost nothing. My people. Black people. I broke into their homes and took possessions they worked hard for; took their wallets out of their pockets. I beat people up. I was a chauvinist pig. I took advantage of people, manipulated people. I never thought about the pain I caused. I never felt the fear or despair people had around me.
  • When I look back on that time I see that the only real human connection I had in those years acame from my visits with my mom and those hours I spent at her house and around my family, but at the time I didn’t think of it like that. Her house was nothing more than a rest stop for me. I only thought of myself.
  • A prisoner’s reputation and his word were all he had.
  • After robbing people on the streets and jacking dope pushers i eventually started robbing bars and grocery stores while they were open.
  • I’ve never raped anyone but I was charged with rape twice.
  • If you had one felony conviction in New Orleans and got a new charge, your sentence could be increased if you were found guilty, up to life in prison, even for nonviolent crimes.
  • I found out they were members of the Black Panther Party. I’d never seen black peoploe proud and unafraid like that before. They were so confident, even around police. These Panthers weren’t intimidated. Instead, it was the police who seemed scared.
  • First you figure out the routine, which doesn’t take long because every day is the same. Then you learn the culture and how to play between the lines. The faster you do that the quicker you adjust. At any prison there is always a pecking order. The strong rule over the weak, the smart over the strong.
  • At Angola men would stab each other over a game of dominoes.
  • After reading A Different Drummer I started to believe, for the first time in my life, that one man could make a difference.
  • My mom used to tell us she missed a lot of school because she only went when she had shoes. I had judged her harshly for not being able to read.
  • The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was started in October 1966 by two college students in Oakland, California (Huey Newton and Bobby Seale) who wanted to stop police brutality in their neighborhood. Black people were harassed, intimidated, chased, beaten, shot, and killed by police in their neighborhoods on a daily basis.
  • It’s a common myth that the Black Panther Party was a racist organization. Racial hatred was never taught in the party.
  • The Black Panther Party wasn’t a violent organization. If you check the history you will see that whatever violence Panthers were involved in was a response to being attacked first. Yet the mainstream media painted the Panthers as a violent militia.
  • Much of the violence attributed to the Black Panther Party was caused by infiltratos on the FBI’s payroll. In 1967, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover expanded the bureau’s covert “dirty tricks” operation known as COINTELPRO, which stands for Counterintelligence Program, created in 1956 to fight communism, in order to focus on and attack the Black Panther Party. The FBI spent millions of dollars to infiltrate the Black Panther Party, create divisiveness and mistrust among its members, murder and incarcerate its leaders, hamper fund-raising for community programs and lawyers, and leak false information to the press and law enforcement authorities, all to destroy the party.
  • When Panthers raised a clenched fist, it was for unity. If you raise an open hand your fingers are separate, you are vulnerable. When you close those fingers and your hand comes together into a fist you have a symbol of power and unity. The mainstream media turned it into a rebuke against other races, which it was never intended to be.
  • On the street, the word “pig” was, and still is, used to describe any corrupt official, anyone in power who betrayed the people, any policeman who brutalized people, white or black. Black policemen who hurt people, black DAs who framed people were, and are, pigs. When you have no power you often use language as a defense mechanism. In many case language was all we had.
  • When I first became interested in the party I was acting more on emotions than intellect. My ability to form theories and understand ideas was very limited at the time. I was impressed by the principles, even though I didn’t understand the depths of them.
  • 10-point Program of the Black Panther Party:
    1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
    2. We want full employment for our people.
    3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalism of our black and oppressed communities.
    4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
    5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
    6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
    7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
    8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, country, and city prisons and jails.
    9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group form their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
    10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.
  • Desperation will make men do irrational things.
  • The cries of the other prisoners hurt me the most. I was in physical pain but the greater pain was seeing men break. I understood their agony and suffering, but in my mind no matter what happens, you don’t cross a certain line. Crying, begging, calling some of the guards “boss”, saying “Please don’t hit me”, “Please, have mercy on me”, or “I’m going to be good”. The things they were saying were so degrading. It was humiliating to me to see men reduced to that.
  • In June 1971, I was put on a plane back to New Orleans. On the outside, nothing had changed from the day I had escaped the courthouse 20 months earlier. I was a black man with a long prison sentence ahead of me. Inside, however, everything had changed. I had morals, principles, and values I never had before. In the pat, I had done wrong. Now I would do right. I would never be a criminal again.
  • Before I left Orleans Parish Prison, I took an oath on C-1 to become a member of the Black Panther Party.
  • Nelson Mandela: “Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality. Our survival depended on understanding what the authorities were attempting to do to us, and sharing that understanding with each other”.
  • I came with orders to start a chapter of the Black Panther Party. I was told to resist, educate, agitate. I gave my word that I would live my life by the principles of the party. I was prepared to sacrifice my life to keep my word.
  • original entry: https://raulbarraltamayo.wordpress.com/2021/01/19/solitary-by-albert-woodfox/
  • In prison, first they reduce your value as human being, then they break your will.
  • It took me a while to catch my stride and learn how to talk to the prisoners. Through trial and error. I learned that the best way to reach each man on the yard was at his own level of consciousness. Over time I realized that my own personal conduct, the way I behaved, was almost more important than anything I said.
  • I thought it was sad that I had to come to prison to find out there were great African Americans in this country and in his world, and to find role models that I should have had available to me in school.
  • The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves, Franzt Fanon wrote, and we found that to be true.
  • When I looked at his face I realized, for the first time in my life, the brutal consequences of rape. I was seeing the face of a person who had his dignity taken, his spirit broken, and his pride destroyed. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my newfound awareness. I felt a new awareness in my core that harming another human being, in any way, was morally wrong and completely unacceptable, and with that came a lot of shame, because I was flooded by memories of fighting the physically hurting people. I had been violent and cruel to survive the street. With recognition that I’d been wrong came a great deal of pain.
  • Our list of enemies was long. It wasn’t just the prisoner pimps and drug dealres, both white and black, who hated us. Snithces gravitated to us too, trying to get information they could sell. We knew we were a threat to the status quo.
  • I forced myself to learn how not to give in to fear. That was one of my greatest achievements in those years. I didn’t let fear rule me. You don’t fight to win, you fight so that when you look in the mirror the next time you don’t drop your eyes in shame.
  • In the seventies we were gassed so often every prisoner in CCR almost became immune to the tear gas.
  • Our resistance gave us a identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will.
  • They thought they would stop our organizing by separating us but all they did was spread our influence. Wherever they put us, we started over, organizing our tiers. Pooling resources. Educating prisoners. Setting examples by our own conduct.
  • In adjusting to day-to-day life in the cell as the months and years passed, every aspect of survival was a battle. I became living proof that we can survive the worst to change ourselves and our world, no matter where we are.
  • For more than 100 years stte and federal judges refused to adjudicate prisoner abuses at all in their courts because legally, according to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prisoners are slaves of the state. The same amendment that abolished slavery in 1865 (Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States) includes the clause “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”. Judges used this clause as an excuse not to deal with violations and abuses against prisoners.
  • Robert King was wrongly convicted for the murder of a prisoner on his tier. He was setup for the same reason Herman and I were set up: to punish him for being militant, aggresive, outspoken, and resistant.
  • One of the most degrading practices in CCR was being served our meals on the floor.
  • When the body doesn’t get nourishment, it starts to feed on itself, at least that’s what it felt like.
  • Reading was my salvation. Libraries and universities and schools from all over Lousiana donated books to angola and for once, the willful ignorance of the prison administration paid off to us, because there were a lot of radical books in the prison library: Books we wouldn’t have been allowed to get through the mail. Books we never could have afforded to buy. Books we had never heard of.
  • When I read George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, I saw how even though he was fucked around by the system he never used that as an excuse not to step up.
  • Malcom X taught me how to think of the big picture, to connect the dots.
  • I requested biographies and autobiographies of women and men even if I didn’t agree with their politics or principles. Studying them helped me develop my own values and my own code of conduct.
  • I loved philosophy, geography, economics, biology, and other sciences. I could always find something valuable in whatever I read.
  • It’s one of the most humiliating experiences a human being can endure. We were strip-searched every time we left the tier, before and after. The strip search always entailed a visual cavity search. After removing our clothes, we had to open our mouths, raise our scrotum, lift our feet to show the bottoms, turn around, bend over, and spread our buttocks.
  • For me, taking African names represented freedom, to be born again, to take back my African heritage. We called them “freedom names”, representing our liberation.
  • Nelson Mandela taught me that if you have a noble cause, you are able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Malcom X taught me that it doesn’t matter where you start out; what matters is where you end up. George Jackson taught me that if you’re not willing to die for what you believe in, you don’t believe in anything.
  • Solitary confinement is used as a punishment for the specific purpose of breaking a prisoner.
  • All of us in CCR were dealing with strong, powerful emotions all the time, maybe the strongest that exist: the fear of losing control over yourself, the fear of losing your mind.
  • I’d seen men who’d lived for years with high moral principles and values suddenly become destructive, chaotic.
  • Every time somebody new came on the tier I had to learn his personality, likes, dislikes, and what set him off.
  • Some of these men were damaged people, with no sense of honor, no sense of decency, no moral values, no principles. Prison is a very violent place. There always the threat of being attacked.
  • I tried to deal with each man as an individual, in the present moment. You learn there are layers to people. You look for the good. This can set you for disappointment.
  • Every day you start over. You look for the humanity in each individual.
  • Exercise is important to keep depression away.
  • The old saying that unchecked power corrupts is true.
  • A change in routine could destroy a man’s logic. I’ve seen dudes start shaking down yelling and screaming for a breakfast tray when it didn’t come on time.
  • I developed a mental toughness. I told myself that I could survive anything but death.
  • What surprises me in looking back on it is how much the human body can take.
  • A lot of times for cuts and bruises I used an old remedy my grandmother taught me: my own saliva. It worked well to speed healing.
  • Years of cell confinement, lack of exercise, and low-quality food had taken their toll on my health. In my thirties, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication.
  • In my sixties, when my lawyers got me to a non-prison-doctor for the first time in 40 years, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. I didn’t ever think about the sadness of it, or the pain of it, or the unfairness.
  • My attitude about my health has always been: I’m alive, keep moving.
  • There were always guards who enjoyed the absolute power and control they had over another human being, guards whose whole life and identity were tied up in the way they acted out against prisoners.
  • One of my favourite sayings is: “The mouth can say anything but the ass is proof”. When you put your ass behind what comes out of your mouth, that’s what counts.
  • Every black man and boy knew what it was like to be picked up by police for no reason. Police could legally hold the men for three days on vagrancy charges. After being in jail for three days men lost whatever jobs or means of support they had and had to start over.
  • I trusted Herman and King implicitly. With other men in prison, there were only degrees of trust, depending on the person’s character, or lack of character. It was something I had to evaluate as I interacted with each person. I trusted them to have my back, no matter what. I never had to worry if they were going to be there. No matter what I did they would be there for me. They trusted me in the same way.
  • This kind of trust is very rare behind bars. In prison, you have to question everything around you. Prison teaches you that most acts of kindness have strings attached; something in return will be expected at some point and what is expected might be conduct you find appalling, a violation of your moral code and system and values. To preserve your dignity and honor, you learn to reject what people offer.
  • Nelson Mandela wrote that the challenge for every prisoner is “how to survive prison intact, how to emerge from prison undiminished, how to conserve and even replenish one’s beliefs”.
  • We had been through so much brutality, so much pain and suffering that we had every right to be hard, bitter, and hateful toward almost everyone and everything in life. But instead, we did not allow prison to shape us. We defined ourselves.
  • It took me months to really enjoy contact visits.
  • Sojourner Truth: “I feel safe even in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail”.
  • In my forties, I saw how I’d developed a moral compass that was unbreakable, a strong sense of what was right or wrong, even when other people didn’t feel it. I felt it. I tasted it. If something didn’t feel right, then no threat, no amount of pressure could make me do it. I knew my life was the result of a conscious choice I made every minute of the day. A choice to make myself better. A choice to make things better for others. I made a choice not to break.
  • As a member of the Black Panther Party, I gave my word I would make it my duty to protect other prisoners, to teach them how to stay focused on life outside prison, to show them that they belonged in  this world. I kept my word.
  • In my forties, I fully understood all that my mom had sacrificed to take care of her children. Everything my mother ever said to me came back to me over the years. Lessons she taught me that I had lost in the arrogance of childhood became the foundation of my own wisdom. Looking back I saw that she was telling me not to let poverty and difficulties of my childhood define me. She was telling me to let the pain and circumstancies of my life roll off my back.
  • Frederick Douglas: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power cedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.
  • Malcom X: “Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time”. Malcom gave me direction. He gave me vision.
  • By age 40 I had learned that to be human is to grow, to create, to contribute, and that fear stops growth. Fear retards the process of growing. Fear causes confusion and uncertainty. Fear kills one’s sense of self-worth. By eradicating fear on the tier, I learned that men can deal with each other better. They can get along.
  • Frantz Fanon: “In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself”.
  • Justice delayed is justice denied.
  • On February 11, 1990, the entire tier watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison on TV after 27 uears. Mandelas was an inspiration to me.
  • Every morning in CCR I woke up with the same thought: Will this be the day? Will this be the day I lose my sanity and discipline? Will I start screaming and never stop? The closest I ever came to breaking in prison was after my mom died, on December 27, 1994.
  • I used to tell me: “If you can breathe you can get through anything”. When my mom died my breath was snatched from me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t catch my breath.
  • One of the cruelties of being in prison is that you are always the last to know what’s going on in your own family.
  • The grief hit me hard. I was also enraged. I wanted to hurt somebody. My emotions were all over the place. I wasn’t accustomed to feeling out of control.
  • My cell partner could seem normal for weeks and then go wacko and start messing with me, looking for a fight, or start beating on the toilet one night out of the blue, screaming.
  • Most of the prisoners were so young it broke my heart.
  • If you are not willing to struggle, if you are not willing to sacrifice, then you can never change things. Struggle is the essence of change and that’s how I  try to live my life. I’ve paid a heavy toll for it but I don’t have one regret.
  • It was very difficult to think about being put back in solitary after almost three years in the general prison population.
  • The biggest lesson I learned from Malcom X is that change is possible, that you can transition from what society has made you, as a result of your race and your economic situation, and redefine yourself. Malcom also taught me how to look beyond my immediate surroundings.
  • Most of the men in the dungeon were mentally ill. I forced myself to have an intellectual response to everything going on around me. Sometimes it was the only way to stay sane.
  • As with all prisons, what’s written down on paper is not what happens. A guard could have a bad day and take it out on a prisoner, or just be cruel. Prisoners were exposed to harassment, mind games, provocation, beatings, and the constant threat of being put back a level.
  • Mexican proverb used by the Zapatista movement: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”.
  • Our personal safety was never an issue in our lives. We were willing to risk anything and everything to uphold our political beliefs.
  • True change can be very painful because you have to let go of part of yourself.
  • Gandhi: “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if t he step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him”.
  • I knew from experience the judicial system is not concerned with innocence or justice.
  • The art of a great soldier is not in his ability to fight but in his ability to maintain his dignity, pride, and self-respect, and most of all, his humanity in his darkest hour.
  • A guard could threaten you with being moved to the Treatment Unit (TU), the “mental ward”. Once you’re taken off the tier to TU you could come back a zombie. The drug of choice for prisoners in those days was Prolixin. I don’t know if they overmedicated people, or if it was the nature of the drug, but Prolixin almost made men immobile. It broke my heart to see men on this rug.
  • Every time I had a visit I had to break down the layers that I used to protect my sanity and my physical safety on the tier. When I went back to the cell, I had to put all those layers back. I had to shut my emotional system down. I buried my emotions, so that things that would normally touch me or move me didn’t touch me or move me.
  • If you can’t get out of the cell nothing they give you makes a difference. The pressure of being in the cell never goes away. The fight for sanity never goes away.
  • Craig Haney’s research shows that only 15 days in solitary confinement can create anxiety, withdrawal, irritability, hallucinations, aggresion, paranoia, rage, loss of control, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, hypersensitivity, self-mutilation, and thoughts of suicide.
  • I described my claustrophobic attacks and my problems with sleeping, the fact that I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time.
  • It’s a reflex, the way we function in here, it is a survival mechanism. You have to repress and deny your feelings. You worry about what would happen if you release your feelings and your tears … You can’t break down, you can’t moan out loud, if I don’t [keep control] I don’t know what will happen to me.
  • I’ve managed to survive without going insane, without having a nervous breakdown from being in a cell 23 days a day.
  • If you want to smear an African American man’s reputation, all you have to do is say the word “rape”. It is a bell that can’t be unrung.
  • I believe in the human spirit and I believe human beings have a greater capacity than we understand.
  • I didn’t feel the highs and lows that people in society feel anymore. I lived in the middle of every emotion.
  • The other prisoners on the tier were loud, screaming, moaning, talking to themselves day and night, it was their way of dealing with the pressure.
  • You don’t know the horrors of fighting for your sanity. The pressure of being locked in the cell required all of my mental, emotional, and physical will to survive.
  • The visual anal cavity inspections were humiliating and stressful. They made me feel hopeless and helpless.
  • I was reminded of a valuable lesson I’d learned, and relearned, many times before. Whenever you don’t think you can take another step, the human spirit keeps going, even when you don’t want to.
  • When you see organizations like Back Lives Matter under attack for being “racists”, you are seeing the agenda of an unjust economic system at play, a system that seeks to separate groups of people within the majority to benefit the top 1 percent.
  • Capitalism can’t be “fixed” or made to be fair or just; it must be destroyed. The very nature of a capitalistic economy prevents unity and fosters class struggle. Under capitalism there is division in labor and division among the workers themselves because they are taught to look out for the individual and not for their fellow workers. There is no equal distribution of the wealth of the nation under a capitalist system. We have to come together and look out for one another.
  • Lousiana and Oregon are the only two states in America where defendants can be convicted by fewer than 12 jurors, a system created to marginalize the votes of black jurors when courts were first required by law to allow blacks on juries. Since it is easier to get a conviction with a nonunanimous jury, the system was also established in Lousiana to help fill its prisons when it relied on convict labor to replace slave labor during Reconstruction.
  • I was offered a chance to get out of CCR if I gave up my political beliefs, and I refused. I was offered a chance to lie about Herman to benefit myself, and I refused.
  • I was asking myself, could I live with myself for lying to take a plea? If I made a deal I’d have freedom. But I’d never get justice. My lawyers reminded me if I lost at trial I wouldn’t get justice or freedom. I was almost 69 years old. It had taken 18 years in court to get to this point, a new trial.
  • By pleading nolo contendere I wouldn’t be innocent in the eyes of the law. But I knew I was innocent. The struggle inside me didn’t go away. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about breaking my word to take that plea.
  • Ultimately, the deal was for me to plead to manslaughter, and Lousiana tacked on a burglary charge in order to compute the punishment to match the exact amount of time I had been held in prison.
  • I stood before Judge William Carmichael. When he asked me for my plea on manslaughter and burglary, I replied, “Nolo contendere”.
  • I was being forced to choose freedom over the integrity of my word, which was everything to me. My word was my mother’s gift to me. For 44 years I survived by my word. My word kept me alive in the darkest darkness; it kept me safe, it kept me sane, it kept me human. Now I was breaking my word. I was innocent. Herman was innocent. Part of my heart had been ripped from me too.
  • My one fear upon getting out of prison was that I wouldn’t be accepted in my community, in the African American community, in the Treme community, where I had grown up and did so much damage and harm.
  • We took flowers to my mom’s grave. I felt the loss of her as if her death was fresh, as if she had just died. It was more painful than anything I experienced in prison. I told her that I was free and I loved her.
  • In my mind, heart, soul, and spirit I always felt free, so my attitudes and thoughts didn’t change much after I was released.
  • To be in my physical body in the physical world again was like being newly born. I had to learn to use my hands in new ways, for seat belts, for cell phones, to close doors behind me, to push buttons in an elevator, to drive. I had to relearn how to walk down stairs, how to walk without leg irons, how to sit without being shackled. It took about a year for my body to relax from the positions I had gotten used to holding while being restrained. I allowed myself to eat when I was hungry.
  • Judge Brady was correct in his assessment that I would never get a fair trial in the state of Lousiana.
  • I can still only sleep a few hours at a time. I am often wide awake around 3 a.m., when I used to get some “quiet time” in prison.
  • Sometimes I walk into a room in my house and I don’t know why, and then I walk into all the rooms for I don’t know what reason. I still get claustrophobic attacks. Now I have more space to walk them off. For peace of mind, I mop the floors in my home.
  • People ask me how America has changed in 44 years. I see changes, but in policing and the judicial system most of them are superficial.
  • Racism today isn’t as blatant as it was 44 years ago, but it is still here, underground, coded. We have to make changes that are deeper, as a society. Without roots, nothing can grow.
  • We will never advance as a species if we see each other as enemies based on race.
  • I have hope for mankind. It is my hope that a new human being will evolve so that needless pain and suffering, poverty, exploitation, racism, and injustice will be things of the past.
  • The year of my release, quarterback Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” during the national anthem before National Football League games to protest and bring awareness of the deaths of black people at the hands of police and other social injustices. He was abandoned by the NFL, exiled from the game he loved. He put his career on the line to use his platform to speak for those who aren’t being heard. His efforts weren’t in vain. Because of his actions, taking a knee has come to mean something different now.
  • Another bright spot for me was to see how Black Lives Matter had spread.
  • One of our biggest concerns is that people do not realize there are political prisoners in the United States, men who were set up by COINTELPRO and similar illicit actions decades ago and are still in prison: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Leonard Peltier, and many others, all repeatedly denied parole, denied release, denied justice.
  • We were the tip of the iceber. Bias, prejudice, racism, laziness, and an aggressive “need to win” mentality on the part of district atorney’s offices and others haunt our “halls of justice”.
  • Bail for poor people today is as much of a problem as it was when I was in the Tombs back in 1970. Excessive bail for petty crimes keeps people locked in public and private prisons. It’s a business. The overwhelming majority of people held in city and county jails have not been convicted of a crime; many of them simply can’t afford bail. Too often the families of the people in jail have to choose between paying bail or buying groceries. The cost to these human beings who can’t make bail cannot be calculated: people lose their jobs; their children are taken by social services.
  • People have to see solitary for what it is, morally reprehensible. Solitary confinement is immoral. There are still more than 80,000 men, women, and children in solitary confinement in prisons across the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That figure doesn’t include county jails, juvenile facilities, or immigrant detention centers.
  • We need to admit to, confront, and change the racism in the American justice system that decides who is stopped by police, who is arrested, who is searched, who is charged, who is prosecuted, and who isn’t, as well as look at who receives longer sentences and why and demand a fair and equal system. Racism in police departments and in courtrooms is not a secret. It’s been proved. Racism occurs at every level of the judicial process.
  • A 2014 study published by the University of Michigan Law School found that, all else held equal, black arrestees were 75% more likely to face a charge by prosecutors with a mandatory minimum sentence than white arrestees, for the same crime.
  • Money is made off prisoners’ backs. Prisoners are forced to shop in prison stores. They (or their families) are forced to pay astronomical feeds to outside companies to make phone calls, and in some cases, forced to visit through video services, which also cost the prisoner money. In some prisons, immates are force to work full-time making products for multinational corporations for almost no pay. The legal definition of “slavery” is “the state of one person being forced to work under the control of another”. The U.S. prisons are contracted by a range of government entities and private corporations to make their products. In most prisons, wages are well below poverty level. In some states prisoners aren’t paid. It’s legal slavery to exploit prisoners in this way. Under the 13th Amendment prisoners are slaves of the state and are treated as such.
  • Private prisons, prisons run by corporations in order to make a profit, are dangerous. When the goal of a prison is to make a profit, human beings suffer. Corners are cut; rules are devised to keep people in prison longer; there is no incentive to rehabilitate prisoners. The private prison industry is booming.
  • As human beings, we need to insist on the humane treatment of prisoners and the rehabilitation and education of prisoners.
  • If there’s a moral to my story it’s that salvation comes with the will to be a better human being.
  • I have been asked many times what I would change about my life. My answer is always the same: “Not one thing”. All I went through made me the man I am today. I had to be a better person, a wiser person, a more disciplined person to survive.
  • King, in his autobiography, From the Bottom of the Heap: “My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It mourns continously”.
  • Look at me and se ehow the strength and determination of the human spirit defy all evil. For 44 years I defied the state of Lousiana and the Department of Corrections. Their main objective was to break my spìrit. They did not break me. I have witnessed the horrors of man’s cruelty to man. I did not lose my humanity. I bear the scars of beating, loneliness, isolation, and persecution. I am also marked by every kindness.

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