After 40 years in solitary, activist Albert Woodfox tells his story of survival

The Guardian – By Albert Woodfox – March 04, 2019

The former Black Panther and member of the Angola 3 reflects on how he turned his cell from a place of confinement to a space for personal growth.

My wrists were handcuffed to my waist by a leather strap. These restraints would become standard for me for decades to come. They walked me to a car and I got in. A captain next to me started elbowing me in my chest, face, and ribs. They drove me to a building just inside the front gate that housed the reception center and death row. Inside was a cellblock called closed cell restricted, or CCR: another name for solitary confinement. In the stairwell they beat me viciously. I couldn’t fight back or defend myself because of the restraints.

My body was badly bruised from being beaten but I was still able to move around the cell on my own. I walked to shake off the pain. The cell was 9ft long and 6ft wide. I could take four or five steps up and back the length of the cell.

In the late afternoon of 17 April 1972, the guards brought my friend Herman Wallace in and put him in the cell next to me. He had been beaten badly in the dungeon and in the stairwell of CCR. I couldn’t see him but we stood at our bars next to each other and talked. We talked about how we could let our families and party members know what happened to us. We both thought that the Black Panther party would save us and there would be a movement to free us. I thought there would be mass protests in the street. “The people will rise up and not let us be railroaded,” Herman said. That’s how naive we were.

We were locked down 23 hours a day. There was no outside exercise yard for CCR prisoners. There were prisoners in CCR who hadn’t been outside in years. We couldn’t make or receive phone calls. We weren’t allowed books, magazines, newspapers, or radios. There were no fans on the tier; there was no access to ice, no hot water in the sinks in our cells. There was no hot plate to heat water on the tier. Needless to say, we were not allowed educational, social, vocational, or religious programs; we weren’t allowed to do hobby crafts (leatherwork, painting, woodwork). Rats came up the shower drain at the end of the hall and would run down the tier. We threw things at them to keep them from coming into our cells. Mice came out at night. When the red ants invaded they were everywhere all at once, in clothes, sheets, mail, toiletries, food.

Our meals were put on the floor outside our cell doors. We stuck our hands through the bars to pull the trays underneath the door into our cell. Anytime we were taken off the tier, even if we were moving just outside the door to the bridge, we were forced to strip, bend over, and spread our buttocks for a “visual cavity search”, then after we got dressed we were put in full restraints.

If there is one word to describe the next years of my life it would be “defiance”. White inmate guards virtually ran CCR at the time. These inmate guards were brutal in their treatment of prisoners housed in CCR. They liked to threaten and taunt us, but they made sure to do it only if they were outside our cells or when we were in restraints.

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Posted by Teri Perticone


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