A life stolen by Angola

Last week, just days after being released from Angola prison in Louisiana because of rapidly declining health, Herman Wallace passed away. The former Black Panther spent more than 40 years in prison--most of it in solitary confinement--making him one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the U.S. In a statement, the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 pays tribute to one of the three.

Herman Wallace while in prisonHerman Wallace while in prison

ON OCTOBER 4, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long-term solitary confinement, and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man. Just three days before his passing, he succeeded--his conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones. Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace's early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow South often found him on the wrong side of the law, and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery. While there, he was introduced to the Black Panther's powerful message of self-determination and collective community action, and he quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after, he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption, and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow Panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary. Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary, but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6-foot-by-9-foot solitary cell.

Herman's criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long-term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and through his comrade Albert Woodfox's still active and promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman was only nine days shy of 72 years old. Services will be held in New Orleans. The date and location will be forthcoming.

First published at Angola 3 News.