Albert Woodfox, who died Aug. 4, 2022, was unbroken by more than 40 years in solitary confinement in the notorious Angola Louisiana State Penitentiary. He was one of the Angola 3; the other members of the group were Herman Wallace and Robert King.
Woodfox was a prison reform advocate and a former member of the Black Panther Party. He did legal work to help other prisoners with their cases. He taught other prisoners how to read if they struggled.
As the Angola 3, Woodfox, Wallace and King organized protests, filed grievances, and won lawsuits that made the infamous Angola prison more humane. The more than four decades that Woodfox spent in solitary confinement were for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, a crime for which he maintained his innocence.
Woodfox contended that authorities targeted the Angola 3 because of their political affiliations and not on the basis of evidence. In 2013, Wallace was released but died three days later. A court overturned King’s conviction in 2001 after 29 years in solitary confinement.
Woodfox’s conviction was the last to be overturned. With two previous convictions already tossed out, a lower Louisiana court ordered his immediate release because he could not get a fair trial.
Woodfox’s release came in early 2016 on his 69th birthday. In a 2008 disposition, Angola Warden Burl Cain confirmed that Woodfox’s political affiliation accounted for the seemingly permanent stay in solitary confinement.
Woodfox shares his journey in his published biography, Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope (2019). He details how he was able to maintain his humanity while living in solitary confinement for so long.
“We were locked down for 23 hours a day. At first, I ignored the pressure of the cell. There was so much going on. And I never for one moment thought I’d be confined to such a small area for more than a few weeks or even months at the most,” wrote Woodfox.
Woodfox saw that not all Americans are “innocent until proven guilty” and not all Americans receive equal justice under the law. Skin color, background, and the influence of powerful accusers were dominant factors in his case.
Woodfox’s relentless activism and his triumph over inhumanity and degradation is an inspiration to all. Rest in Peace!