In the Land of The Not so Free
May 26, 2010 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Robert King spent decades battling for his release from the 'hell-hole' of America's notorious Angola Prison. Now free, he's still crusading for its inmates.
The late Anita Roddick was the powerhouse behind the making of the Documentary In Land of the Free.
Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and encarcerated in solitary confinement, for nearly 37 years. Robert was freed in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain behind bars.
Angola not only has solitary confinement it has the prison within solitary confinement – The Hole

The 8th amendment in the US Constitution talks about Cruel and Unusual Punishments.

The "essential predicate" is "that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity.

As Gordon Roddick in his update after tonight's screening said: "Please write these guys a letter just to show them solidarity and send them some love".

( Related 1; 2)
posted by adamvasco (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
if you haven't read his autobiography - From the Bottom of the Heap - you really should...
posted by jammy at 3:38 PM on May 26, 2010

Whatever happened to becoming a more civilized people?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:10 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jesus. If only convicts had lobbyists.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:13 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

That's inhumane. Buddy Caldwell sounds like a particularly nasty, racist piece of work.
posted by unliteral at 4:31 PM on May 26, 2010

Come on guys, we have to be tough on crime! What kind of message would it send if the two innocent men who were convicted by racists because they were black militants were set free? Why, imagine the uppitiness that might cause!
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:15 PM on May 26, 2010

("tough on crime" being code for "let the minorities and underclasses know who's boss")
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:17 PM on May 26, 2010

("tough on crime" being code for "let the minorities and underclasses know who's boss")

Just wait until you see what "equal justice under the law" means. One of the neatest tricks the status quo ever pulled was making people believe that the Supreme Court and the Constitution were bastions of liberty designed to uphold justice - and that cases like this are abberational signs that we are not living up to our potential. This is our potential. This is who we are as a people.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:26 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

AFAICT, the Supreme Court is a bastion of corporatism, designed to get bad corporate actors off the hook.

You watch, BP is gonna get away with murder.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:41 PM on May 26, 2010

Angola has (or had) another "hero," a guy who began to put out a newspaper, which was approved (each issue) by the prison authorities and became an award-winner..I had years ago subscribed to it...for more on this amazing editor, writer (published a book) and the prison newspaper:
posted by Postroad at 6:36 PM on May 26, 2010

Few things sicken me more than articles about the prison system in the United States. Somehow, the proximity of it all, and the complete and utter avoidability of these sorts of miscarriages of justice, make it seem worse than plenty of far-off crimes affecting more people.
posted by Dasein at 6:53 PM on May 26, 2010

Doing Time, And Doing Good, In La.'s Angola Prison (from the above link discussing the prison newspaper)
posted by mecran01 at 6:55 PM on May 26, 2010

Angola is a fucking mess. Don't believe me, check out the Angola Rodeo. Bring the kids.
posted by nola at 8:15 PM on May 26, 2010

Fantastic post, Angola Prison is one of the most inhumane prisons in the world.

Think about that for a sec.
posted by Sphinx at 8:18 PM on May 26, 2010

Interesting fact: the warden can sign papers that keep a prisoner in solitary but only for 90 days at a time. That means that for the last 36 years, every 90 days, the current warden signs paperwork necessary to keep these men in continual solitude for another 3 months at a time.
posted by ColdChef at 8:33 PM on May 26, 2010

Signing solitude papers is the perfect job for a sociopath.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Angola is a fucking mess. Don't believe me, check out the Angola Rodeo. Bring the kids.
Holy hell! nola, that's bedlam.
posted by unliteral at 9:52 PM on May 26, 2010

It's odd but I have learned to at best, dislike every "Buddy" I have ever met or even read about.
posted by arse_hat at 10:11 PM on May 26, 2010

Wait... did these guys kill Brent Miller or not? Looks like King was never implicated directly but it was Woodfox & Wallace who were found guilty of Miller's murder. Would it have been less degrading to the human dignity of Woodfox & Wallace had they been electrocuted?
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 10:35 PM on May 26, 2010

I found this part touching:
By stacking empty drinks cans to create a stove fired by burning tissues, King used butter packs and sugar sachets, as well as smuggled pecans, to make pralines. Risking stints in the dungeon, he sold his candy to other inmates and made donations to the men on death row. He says: "It was something I could do, and something different I could give people who might never see daylight again – myself included."
He still makes and sells these, here's the NPR story.
posted by chaff at 10:58 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

>: "Wait... did these guys kill Brent Miller or not?

According to this L.A. Times article, a guy named Irvin "Life" Breaux confessed the Miller murder to Billy Wayne Sinclair, one of the inmate journalists from the prison newspaper mentioned upthread. Breux was then subsequently killed for stopping a prison rape.

American prisons and the cultures surrounding them are as fascinating as they are horrific.
posted by chaff at 11:12 PM on May 26, 2010

Innocent prisoners do have lobbyists. I worked last month with The Innocence Network, helping to facilitate the exoneree track at their annual conference. I met and worked with dozens of these men and women and their families. Meeting guys like these, many of whom had done time in Angola and other maximum security prisons in the United States was both sobering and inspiring. To hear what they went through in order to secure exoneration shakes your faith deeply in American "democracy" and "justice." To hear what it took for them to survive decades in prison harbouring the faintest hope for freedom gave me an astonishing glimpse at the resilience of the human spirit.

Every single one of the 70 or so exonerees I met has given huge amounts of time and money to trying to get others out as well. They are eloquent, powerful lobbyists for other people who have been wrongfully convicted and are serving time in these hells for crimes they never committed.

You can read more about their stories here. I was especially moved by meeting folks like Curtis McCarty, and Orlando Boquette. Orlando escaped from prison before he was cleared and the state actually argued that he should do time for the escape, even though he was wrongfully imprisoned in the first place.
posted by salishsea at 12:04 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Despite Legal Win, Inmate Back In Solitary
Woodfox had been expected to be released to the custody of his niece who lives in a gated community outside New Orleans. That hope ended last month when Caldwell's prosecutor sent an e-mail from a private account to the community association warning that Woodfox was dangerous. Caldwell is unapologetic and says it's the defense attorney's own fault for not being upfront with neighbor.
Am I missing something here? I know I come from a different culture but this is just astounding in its prejudice. Why is not US mainstream media over this like a rash? Is it because it's Louisiana? How can the USA cry foul about others countries human rights abuses when this shit goes down?
posted by adamvasco at 1:34 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

No discussion of Angola is complete without Jonathan Stack's documentary "The Farm". One case featured in the film is that of Vincent Simmons, who was convicted of rape on some extremely shaky evidence and was sentenced to 100 years.
posted by rollbiz at 5:40 AM on May 27, 2010

I used to work with a fellow who took his wife and children to watch the Angola rodeo. Listening to him tell me this is something I think I will never forget. The most normal looking fellow you would ever see. I have no idea how his children will turn out. They could well have no conscious memory of the brutality they were exposed to for hours. This ain't playing Grand Theft Auto; this is reality.
posted by bukvich at 7:23 AM on May 27, 2010

You probably don't want to hear about the Calgary Stampede, buk.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:01 AM on May 27, 2010

I sure am glad ferdinand.bardamu is once again on hand to explain how these particular black people sure are guilty, and how misplaced our sympathy is. How refreshing!
posted by [citation needed] at 9:05 AM on May 27, 2010

I know, I know, it's just the internet and I can't draw any real conclusions, but...

1. 'Hipsters' appropriate native culture in ill-advised 'fashion': 211 comments
2. Aggro review of Sex and the City 2: 195 comments
3. Three plainly innocent men brutally stripped of dignity by racists in the "greatest country in the world", a country that arguably holds the lion's share of economic, cultural, and intellectual power in the world: 26 comments.

Somebody stop the world, I'm ready to get off right about now.
posted by mister-o at 9:25 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

You think that's bad, mister-o; can you believe that Lee won American Idol last night?! Like, OMGWTF!?!?!?
posted by hincandenza at 9:57 AM on May 27, 2010

Conditions locally are so horrible, that everyone in who is ordered to spend time in Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans practically begs to go 'upstate' to Angola.

Hipsters wear 'angola prison rodeo' t-shirts around New Orleans.

The 13th Amendment reads:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. [emphasis mine]
posted by goneill at 10:20 AM on May 27, 2010

Would it have been less degrading to the human dignity of Woodfox & Wallace had they been electrocuted?

Um... yes? Seriously: Prison, as we know it, was invented by reformers like Jeremy Bentham, who considered it a humane and rational alternative to hanging, flogging and transportation. Given the state of the prison system in the US, it's hard to guess what the hell they were thinking.
posted by steambadger at 2:13 PM on May 27, 2010

good god.

the video presentation for the angola rodeo just made my stomach turn.
what kind of person wants to go see some malicious sickness like that first hand?

my friend daniel burton-rose helped put out the prison legal news back in the nineties and got me a copy of the farm. we had a public showing at our place for a good sized gang of friends and compatriots one night. later, i had to talk one of my friends down in the bathroom she was crying so hard.

when angela davis said you can judge a society based on the character of its prisons, this was the shit she was talking about.

[working link for the article on angola's prison newspaper,via NPR: "Doing Time, And Doing Good, In La.'s Angola Prison" ]
posted by artof.mulata at 2:14 PM on May 27, 2010

I just watched the video.

I'm not understanding the outrage. It looks like a bog-standard rodeo to me. What makes this one any more "sick" than others?
posted by five fresh fish at 3:28 PM on May 27, 2010

The only thing I can say about the Angola Rodeo, having actually attended it, is that they emphasize repeatedly that anyone participating is a willing volunteer. There is (again, according to the literature and loudpseakers) no one in that arena that didn't willingly walk there.

The finale to the show is the event where they suspend a "poker chip" between the horns of a bull, and the inmate that grabs it wins. I believe it was a cash prize. There is a separate set of stands just for the inmates. When they announce the beginning of the event, whoever wants to participate gets up and goes down to the arena.

I realize that these people are in some way being coerced into participating because of the promise of a monetary reward. However, anyone that was on that dirt was there of their own free will.

Yes, a trip to the Angola Rodeo convinced me that it's a pretty barbaric show, but if you think there are guns to the backs of those inmates, making them rope calves and ride broncos, it's not like that.
posted by komara at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2010

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