Solitary | Albert Woodfox

Summary of: Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement
By: Albert Woodfox

Introduction

In the book ‘Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement’, Albert Woodfox takes us through his life journey from a childhood steeped in poverty and racism to an unjust imprisonment that spanned decades. Growing up in segregated New Orleans, Woodfox’s chaotic early life took a turn for the worse as minor offenses turned into serious crimes. This led to his incarceration in the notorious Angola prison, once a slave plantation, where he embraced the Black Panther Party philosophy. This new ideology motivated Woodfox to fight against racial injustice and prison abuse, but tragically landed him in solitary confinement, where he spent 43 years fighting for fairness and eventually his freedom.

Growing up Black in Poverty and Racism in New Orleans

Albert Woodfox’s early life was defined by poverty and racism in New Orleans. His mother worked hard to provide for their family, but making ends meet was tough, and often Woodfox had to steal just to eat. As he grew up, he noticed the impact of racial discrimination more and more. Woodfox’s life was one marked by petty crimes which later turned into more serious offenses that led him to the notorious Angola prison. Woodfox’s story sheds light on the harsh harsh reality of poverty and racism that existed in American society.

Angola’s House of Horrors

Louisiana’s Angola prison was a nightmare for its inmates, with racism, corruption, rape, violence, and brutal living conditions running rampant. Sexual slavery was a core part of life there, with prisoners frequently becoming possessions of their rapists. The prison guards mostly tolerated these atrocities and sometimes even participated in them. Men worked hard hours in sugarcane fields, with some even paying others to break their hands or legs to get out of it. If prisoners didn’t obey their guards, they were sent to the six-by-nine-foot dungeon, where they were treated as less than human. When Robert Woodfox arrived there in 1965, it didn’t seem much different from a slave plantation. Despite these unspeakable horrors, Woodfox endured the eighteen months he spent there before being released on parole, equipped with the toughness and courage he needed to live on the streets again.

Woodfox’s Journey of Injustice and Redemption

A tale of Albert Woodfox, a man who suffered from the systemic racism of the American Legal System. He was falsely accused of rape and was charged with numerous unsolved crimes, leading to a 50-year prison sentence. While on the run, he was jailed in Manhattan where he met three Black Panther Party members who revolutionized his mindset despite the dire conditions.

The Power of the Black Panthers

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale’s Black Panther Party for Self Defense fought against police brutality in black neighborhoods and provided a positive force for individuals like Albert Woodfox. Despite misconceptions about the party’s violence, the Panthers enforced a rule against unnecessary weapon use and were often targeted by FBI infiltrators. The Panthers taught Woodfox about institutionalized racism and the importance of fighting for freedom and justice for black people, leading him to make a commitment to do right.

Angola’s Black Panthers

A narrative about Woodfox’s creation of a prison chapter of the Black Panthers, their anti-rape efforts, and their false imprisonment for a crime they didn’t commit.

Woodfox initiated a new branch of Angola’s Black Panthers after he was impressed by their positive approach. His top priority was to address rape, so he joined forces with Herman Wallace, another Black Panther in prison. They established an anti-rape group that focused on fresh inmates on their first day in Angola. They informed the newcomers that the Black Panther Party would protect them and ensured their safe entry into their dorms. They didn’t hesitate to intervene if they saw a possible rape, either by providing a quiet warning or resorting to physical altercations. Their actions, however, caused unrest in the prison leadership.

Woodfox was falsely accused of the murder of a white Angola guard, Brent Miller, in an unfortunate turn of events. Woodfox was being set up, and the authorities wanted to put an end to Angola’s Black Panthers. Following Miller’s murder, a Deputy Warden told a reporter that he had no explanation for the killing. However, the next day, prison Warden C. Murray Henderson told the media that black militants were responsible and that they had discovered a typewritten, anonymous letter from a prisoner taking credit for burning another guard. The letter, signed on behalf of the Vanguard Army, an imaginary black power organization, did not exist and was a fabrication. Despite having no evidence against him, Woodfox was subjected to solitary confinement and torture in the Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) section of the prison.

In conclusion, Angola’s Black Panthers was a peaceful and positive movement that the prison officials viewed as a threat to their status quo. This narrative sheds light on Woodfox’s inspiring fight against rape and injustice within Angola’s prison walls, his false imprisonment, and the corruption of the system.

Surviving Solitary Confinement

Woodfox and his fellow inmates struggle to improve the inhumane conditions of their solitary confinement in prison.

In the cramped and bleak world of solitary confinement, Albert Woodfox made it his mission to resist and improve his living conditions. Confined to a small cell, with little to no amenities, the prisoners in the CCR were only allowed out of their cells for an hour each day. In this environment, Woodfox and his friends Wallace and King banded together and encouraged other prisoners to resist the unjust treatment they were receiving.

Their efforts were met with tear gas and beatings from the guards, but they persisted. Determined not to let the inhumanity of their situation break them, they taught themselves the law and began filing lawsuits about prison conditions. They slowly gained small but significant privileges, such as access to books, newspapers, and mosquito nets on their windows.

Despite the progress, life in solitary confinement remained a constant struggle for survival. The cramped and inhumane conditions weighed heavily on them, but Woodfox and his fellow inmates refused to be broken. Their story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity.

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