Forty years in solitary: two men mark sombre anniversary in Louisiana prison

Herman’s House – Trailer – Herman Wallace / Angola 3 Documentary 2012

Published on Mar 19, 2012 by HermansHouseTheFilm

Please sign the Amnesty Int’l petition to end the decades of isolation in Louisiana state prisons http://bit.ly/amnestyactionFor more information about our film please visit the website http://www.hermanshousethefilm.comThere are 2.2 million people in jail in the U.S. More than 80,000 of those are in solitary confinement. New Orleans native Herman Wallace has been there longer than anyone.In 1972, Herman was serving a 25-year sentence for bank robbery when he was accused of murdering an Angola Prison guard and immediately thrown into solitary. Many believed he was wrongfully convicted. Then in 2001 he received a letter from art student Jackie Sumnell, who posed the provocative question:”What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”An inspired creative dialogue led to a collaborative art project: “The House That Herman Built.” The exhibition has brought thousands of gallery visitors around the world face-to-face with the harsh realities of the American prison system.But as Herman’s House reveals, the exhibition is just the first step.

Their journey takes an unpredictable turn when Herman asks Jackie to make his dream a reality. As her own finances dwindle, Jackie wonders if she will ever succeed. Meanwhile, the Louisiana courts consider Herman’s latest appeal. Along the way we meet former “stick-up kid” Michael Musser; Herman’s sister Vickie, a loyal and tireless supporter; and former long-term solitary inmate and fellow Black Panther activist Robert King.

With compassion and meaningful artistry, Herman’s House takes us inside the lives and imaginations of two unforgettable characters–forging a friendship and building a dream in the struggle to end the “cruel and unusual punishment” of long-term solitary confinement.

  • They’ve spent 23 hours of each day in the last 40 years in a 9ft-by-6ft cell. Now, as human rights groups intensify calls for their release, a documentary provides insight into an isolated life

in New York,guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 April 2012

Herman Wallace, left, and Albert Woodfox in Angola prison in Louisiana. Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3, had his conviction overturned and was released in 2001.

“I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door,” Herman Wallace says as he describes the cell in which he has lived for the past 40 years. “If I turn an about-face, I’m going to bump into something. I’m used to it, and that’s one of the bad things about it.”

On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana‘s notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since.

They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, “exercise” three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards.

A new documentary film takes us into that cell, providing rare insight into the personal psychological impact of such prolonged isolation. Herman’s House tracks the experiences and thoughts of Wallace as he reflects on four decades banged away in a box.

The film is based on recorded telephone conversations between Wallace and the documentary’s director Angad Bhalla. Wallace, a New Orleans native now aged 70, speaks with powerful understatement about his time in solitary.

“Being in a cage for such an extended period of time, it has its downfalls. You may not feel it, you may not know it, you may think you’re OK, and you’re just perfunctory about it.” Continue reading

New Orleans: 6 years later, Katrina Victims Still Seek Justice:

The Real News Network Interviews Jordan Flaherty


Jordan Flaherty: “New Orleans is a canary in a coal mine warning of what the rest of us could all be facing”
Tue, 08/30/2011  — The Real News Network
This week marks the 6th anniversary of Katrina, the man-made disaster which almost certainly killed many thousands more than the fraudulent official estimated death toll.  The Katrina crisis provided corporate and national policymakers the pretext and opportunity to deport hundreds of thousands of mostly black residents out of the region and to reorganize its economic and political life.  Six years later more than a hundred thousand cannot return, and for those who have, challenges and roadblocks abound…

5 NOPD officers guilty in post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings, cover-up

[It took six years of mass struggle, keeping the spotlight of the world on New Orleans and Katrina, and the determined and unstoppable push of the victims families, to force this verdict out of a system that was blocking justice at every turn.  — Frontlines ed.]

Friday, August 05, 2011
By Times-Picayune Staff  — A jury this morning convicted all five New Orleans police officers accused in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which took place amid the chaos after Hurricane Katrina and claimed the lives of two civilians, and a cover-up of startling scope that lasted almost five years.

Lance Madison, left, whose brother, Ronald, was shot and killed on the Danziger bridge by New Orleans Police September 5, 2005, and who was jailed for allegedly shooting at police, gets a hug from prosecutor Cindy Chung next to lead prosecutor Barbara "Bobbi" Bernstein, right, Madison thanked the jury and the federal authorities who brought the case, while noting he will never get his brother back in front of Hale Boggs Federal Court Friday, August 5, 2011 in New Orleans, La. MATTHEW HINTON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

The verdicts were a huge victory for federal prosecutors, who won on virtually every point, save for their contention that the shootings amounted to murder. The jury rejected that notion, finding that the officers violated the victims’ civil rights, but that their actions did not constitute murder.

Sentencing for the five officers, all of them likely facing lengthy prison terms, has been set for Dec. 14 before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

Four of the five officers — Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso — have been in custody since their arraignment.

The fifth, retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, who was not involved in the shootings but headed the police investigation into them, remains free on bail.

Story by Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy, Staff writers

In remarks on the courthouse steps shortly after the verdicts were rendered, lead prosecutor Barbara “Bobbi” Bernstein said she was “in awe” of the relatives of the bridge shooting victims. Without their persistence, she said, the truth about the incident would never come to light. Continue reading

Did New Orleans Media Contribute to Police Violence After Hurricane Katrina?

24 June 2011

by: Jordan Flaherty, Truthout

Jury selection began June 22 in what observers have called the most important trial New Orleans has seen in a generation. It concerns a shocking case of police brutality that has already redefined this city’s relationship to its police department, and radically rewritten the official narrative of what happened in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. Five police officers are facing charges of shooting unarmed African-Americans in cold blood, killing two and wounding four, and then conspiring to hide evidence. Five officers who participated in the conspiracy have already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against their fellow officers.

The shootings occurred on September 4, 2005, as two families were fleeing Katrina’s floodwaters, crossing New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge to get to dry land. Officers, who apparently heard a radio report about shootings in the area, drove up, leapt out of their vehicle and began firing. Ronald Madison, a mentally challenged man, was shot in the back at least six times, then reportedly stomped and kicked by an officer until he was dead. His brother Lance Madison was arrested on false charges. James Brissette, a high school student, was shot seven times and died at the scene. Susan Bartholomew, 38, was wounded so badly her arm was shot off of her body. Jose Holmes Jr. was shot several times, then, as he lay bleeding, an officer stood over him and fired point blank at his stomach. Two other relatives of Bartholomew were also badly wounded.

Danziger is one of at least nine recent incidents involving the New Orleans Police Department being investigated by the US Justice Department, several of which took place in the days after the city was flooded. Officers have recently been convicted by federal prosecutors in two other high-profile trials. In April, two officers were found guilty in the beating of death of Raymond Robair, a handyman from the Treme neighborhood. In December, a jury convicted three officers and acquitted two in killing Henry Glover, a 31-year-old from New Orleans’ West Bank neighborhood, and burning his body. Continue reading

New Orleans: The Struggle for Recognition of the Historic 1811 slave revolt

Art by renown River Parishes artist Lorraine Gendron, depicts the revolt that hangs in the exhibit for the 200 year anniversary of the 1811 Slave Revolt in St. John and St. Charles Parishes that reverberated around the country.

The Louisiana Weekly

By: Edmund W. Lewis, Editor

Monday, January 10, 2011

A number of groups began commemorating the 200th anniversary of the 1811 slave revolt last week with programs designed to honor the estimated 500 enslaved Africans and free people of color who took a stand against oppression by forming a small military unit and attempting to convert New Orleans into a free republic for Black people.

Led by Charles Deslondes, a free man of color who was born in Haiti and knew well the story of the Haitian revolution, and men like Kook and Quamana, these revolutionaries put on military uniforms and rode horses as they picked up additional rebels and weapons as they headed east to New Orleans.

Ultimately, the revolt was turned back by a coalition of federal troops and a local militia that possessed superior weaponry and happened to stumble upon the rebels at an inopportune moment during their march to New Orleans. Had the revolutionary Africans reached New Orleans and had a chance to gather additional firepower and soldiers, historians might be telling an entirely different story about this uprising.

Many of the rebel slaves were tried by a panel of the very slaveholders they sought to overthrow and their bodies were mutilated and strewn throughout the River Parishes and Jackson Square in New Orleans along with their severed heads, which were placed on poles as warnings to other enslaved Africans about the cost of rebelling against slavery.

As it stands, those who are familiar with the story know that Charles Deslondes and the others who planned and carried out this revolt were every bit as brave and heroic as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Cinque, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. Continue reading

New Orleans: In split verdict, 3 cops convicted of shooting and burning Henry Glover

In Wake of Glover Verdicts, What’s Next for New Orleans’ Troubled Police Force?

Edna Glover, center, mother of Henry Glover, who three current and former police officers were convicted of shooting and burning his body in a car in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, talks to reporters with family and supporters outside the courthouse after a jury reached a split verdict against the men in New Orleans, Dec. 9, 2010.

ProPublica, December 10, 2010

by A.C. Thompson

One of the most striking moments in the federal civil rights prosecutions arising from the death of Henry Glover came when Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, a police officer lauded in New Orleans for his heroic work after Hurricane Katrina, took the stand.

Scheuermann told jurors  he watched his colleague, officer Greg McRae, set fire to a car containing the corpse of the 31-year old man, igniting a blaze that reduced the body to little more than bone fragments, ashes, and scorched meat.

McRae burned Glover’s body so thoroughly that a forensic pathologist had to saw off a piece of bone and send it out for DNA testing so the remains could be identified. For about nine months, Glover was known only as coroner’s case number 06-00189 while his family members searched to find out what had happened to him.

The jury found McRae’s behavior a crime, and reasonable people might view it as the sort of horrific conduct practiced by the security agents of authoritarian regimes. Yet as Scheuermann told the story, there was no indication he did anything to alert his superiors or co-workers or anybody else to the incineration of a human being — one who it turns out had just been shot by another police officer.

Last night a federal jury in New Orleans rendered a verdict  in the Glover case,  convicting two police officers (for burning the man’s corpse, violating civil rights, obstructing justice, and misleading federal investigators) and a former cop (for shooting Glover with a .223 caliber assault rifle).

New Orleans police Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, center, refuses to answer questions as he leaves federal court after he was acquitted of all charges in the Henry Glover case on Dec. 9, 2010. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

Scheuermann, a 23-year veteran of the force, won’t be going to prison: The jury cleared him of any wrongdoing (he’d been charged with participating in the arson, as well as civil rights violations and obstruction of justice). The jury also acquitted former Lt. Robert Italiano (he was accused of creating a bogus police report and lying to the FBI).The question now facing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Chief Ronal Serpas is: What verdict do they want to render?

Trials are a blunt instrument for reforming police departments — they typically target a small number of cops who may have committed a handful of acts whose criminality can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Juries are reluctant to convict cops, even without the extenuating circumstances created by the collapse in public order that was post-Katrina New Orleans. Continue reading