Albert Woodfox, Survivor of 42 Years in Solitary Confinement, Dies at 75

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His word successful solitary was the longest successful the federation and possibly successful American history. He described however helium kept his sanity, and dignity, successful an acclaimed memoir.

Albert Woodfox aft  his merchandise  from situation  successful  2016. A national  justice  said determination   was thing  “remotely comparable successful  the annals of American jurisprudence” to Mr. Woodfox’s 42 years successful  solitary confinement.
Credit...Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times

Alex Traub

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:51 p.m. ET

Albert Woodfox, who spent much clip successful solitary confinement — 42 years — than immoderate different captive successful the federation and perchance successful each of American history, yet emerged to triumph acclaim with a memoir that declared his tone unbroken, died connected Thursday successful New Orleans. He was 75.

His pb lawyer, George Kendall, said the origin was Covid-19. Mr. Kendall added that Mr. Woodfox besides had a fig of pre-existing organ conditions.

Mr. Woodfox was placed successful solitary confinement successful 1972 aft being accused of murdering Brent Miller, a 23-year-old corrections officer. A tangled ineligible ordeal ensued, including 2 convictions, some overturned, and 3 indictments stretching implicit 4 decades.

The lawsuit struck astir commentators arsenic problematic. No forensic grounds linked Mr. Woodfox to the crime, truthful the authorities’ statement depended connected witnesses, who implicit clip were discredited oregon proved unreliable.

“The facts of the lawsuit were connected his side,” The New York Times editorial committee wrote successful a 2014 sentiment portion astir Mr. Woodfox.

But Louisiana’s lawyer general, Buddy Caldwell, saw things differently. “This is the astir unsafe idiosyncratic connected the planet,” helium told NPR successful 2008.

Mr. Woodfox’s punishment defied imagination, not lone for its monotony — helium was unsocial 23 hours a time successful a six-by-nine-foot compartment — but besides for its agonies and humiliations. He was gassed and beaten, helium wrote successful a memoir, “Solitary” (2019), successful which helium described however helium had kept his sanity, and dignity, portion locked up alone. He was strip-searched with needless, brutal frequency.

His plight archetypal received nationalist attraction erstwhile helium became known arsenic 1 of the “Angola Three,” men held continuously successful solitary confinement for decades astatine the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is commonly called Angola, aft a enslaved plantation that erstwhile occupied the site.

In 2005, a national justice wrote that the magnitude of clip the men had spent successful solitary confinement went “so acold beyond the pale” that determination seemed not to beryllium “anything adjacent remotely comparable successful the annals of American jurisprudence.”

Mr. Woodfox would walk much than different decennary successful solitary earlier becoming, successful 2016, the past of the 3 men to beryllium released from prison.

His archetypal stint astatine Angola came successful 1965, aft helium was convicted of a bid of insignificant crimes committed arsenic a teenager. The situation was notoriously harsh, adjacent to the constituent of conjuring the days of slavery. Black prisoners, similar Mr. Woodfox, did tract enactment by hand, overseen by achromatic situation guards connected horseback, shotguns crossed their laps. New inmates were often inducted into a authorities of intersexual slavery that was encouraged by guards.

Released aft 8 months, helium was soon charged with car theft, starring to different 8 months astatine Angola. After that, helium embarked connected a darker transgression career, beating and robbing people.

In 1969, Mr. Woodfox was convicted again, this clip for equipped robbery, and sentenced to 50 years. By past a seasoned lawbreaker, helium managed to sneak a weapon into the courthouse wherever helium was being sentenced and escape. He fled to New York City, landing successful Harlem.

A fewer months aboriginal helium was incarcerated again, this clip successful the Tombs, the Manhattan jail, wherever helium spent astir a twelvemonth and a half.

It proved to beryllium a turning point, helium wrote successful his memoir. At the Tombs, helium met members of the Black Panther Party, who governed his tier of cells not by unit but by sharing food. They held discussions, treating radical respectfully and intelligently, helium wrote. They argued that racism was an organization phenomenon, infecting constabulary departments, banks, universities and juries.


Credit...via Leslie George

“It was arsenic if a airy went connected successful a country wrong maine that I hadn’t known existed,” Mr. Woodfox wrote. “I had morals, principles and values I ne'er had before.”

He added, “I would ne'er beryllium a transgression again.”

He was sent backmost to Angola successful 1971 reasoning himself a reformed man. But his astir superior transgression condemnation — for murdering the Angola corrections serviceman successful 1972, which helium denied — inactive laic up of him, and with it 4 decades successful solitary, a word breached for lone astir a twelvemonth and a fractional successful the 1990s portion helium awaited retrial.

The different 2 members of the Angola Three, Robert King and Herman Wallace, were besides Panthers and began their solitary confinement astatine Angola the aforesaid twelvemonth arsenic Mr. Woodfox. The 3 became friends by shouting to 1 different from their cells. They were “our ain means of inspiration to 1 another,” Mr. Woodfox wrote. In his spare time, helium added, “I turned my compartment into a university, a hallway of debate, a instrumentality school.”

He taught 1 inmate however to read, helium said, by instructing him successful however to dependable retired words successful a dictionary. He told him to outcry to him astatine immoderate hr of the time oregon nighttime if helium could not recognize something.


Credit...Patricia Wall/The New York Times

Albert Woodfox was calved connected Feb. 19, 1947, successful New Orleans to Ruby Edwards, who was 17. He ne'er had a narration with his biologic father, Leroy Woodfox, helium wrote, but for overmuch of his puerility helium considered a antheral who aboriginal joined his mother, a Navy cook named James B. Mable, his “daddy.”

When Albert was 11, Mr. Mable retired from the Navy and the household moved to La Grange, N.C. Mr. Mable, Mr. Woodfox recalled, began drinking and beating Ms. Edwards. She fled the household location with Albert and 2 of his brothers, taking them backmost to New Orleans.

As a boy, Albert shoplifted breadstuff and canned goods erstwhile determination was nary nutrient successful the house. He dropped retired of schoolhouse successful the 10th grade. His parent tended barroom and occasionally worked arsenic a prostitute, and Albert grew to loathe her.

“I allowed myself to judge that the strongest, astir beauteous and astir almighty pistillate successful my beingness didn’t matter,” helium wrote successful his memoir.

His parent died successful 1994, portion helium was successful prison. He was not allowed to be her funeral.

The archetypal of the Angola Three to beryllium fto retired of situation was Mr. King, whose condemnation was overturned successful 2001. The second, Mr. Wallace, was freed successful 2013 due to the fact that helium had liver cancer. He died 3 days later.

In a woody with prosecutors, Mr. Woodfox was released successful 2016 successful speech for pleading nary contention to a manslaughter complaint successful the 1972 killing. By past helium had been transferred retired of Angola.

His incarceration over, the archetypal happening helium wanted to bash was sojourn his mother’s grave.

“I told her that I was escaped present and I loved her,” helium wrote. “It was much achy than thing I experienced successful prison.”


Credit...Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times

Mr. Woodfox is survived by his brothers, James, Haywood, Michael and Donald Mable; a daughter, Brenda Poole, from a narration helium had successful his teenage years; 3 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; and his beingness partner, Leslie George.

Ms. George was a writer who began reporting connected Mr. Woodfox’s lawsuit successful 1998 and met him successful 1999. They became a mates erstwhile helium was released from prison.

Ms. George co-wrote Mr. Woodfox’s book, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize successful nonfiction. In a reappraisal successful The Times, Dwight Garner called “Solitary” “uncommonly powerful”; successful The Times Book Review, the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams described it arsenic “above specified advocacy oregon adjacent memoir,” belonging much “in the realm of stoic philosophy.”

After being released, Mr. Woodfox had to relearn however to locomotion down stairs, however to locomotion without limb irons, however to beryllium without being shackled. But successful an interview with The Times close aft his release, helium spoke of having already freed himself years earlier.

“When I began to recognize who I was, I considered myself free,” helium said. “No substance however overmuch factual they usage to clasp maine successful a peculiar place, they couldn’t halt my mind.”

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