How Did Freed Black Panther Activist Alfred Woodfox Make History In Prison?

How Did Freed Black Panther Activist Alfred Woodfox Make History In Prison?

He was released from a Louisiana penitentiary on Friday.

Published February 21, 2016

On Friday, February 19, 2016, Albert Woodfox was released from Louisiana’s state penitentiary, where he's been imprisoned since 1971. Woodfox, 69, is notable for his allegiance to the Black Panther party and for being a part of the so-called "Angola 3," and also because he spent 43 straight years in solitary confinement — the most of any prisoner in United States history. 

Just before his release, Woodfox pleaded no contest to charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary in the 1972 death of corrections officer Brent Miller at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Already imprisoned for armed robbery in 1971, a year later Woodfox and his fellow inmate Herman Wallace were convicted of stabbing 23-year old Miller despite the fact that no forensic evidence was found on either of the accused and witness accounts proved to be inconsistent. A third man, Robert King, was not charged. The case has been protested for years, with activists arguing there is no evidence tying the three men to the crime.

Over the next four decades, both Woodfox and Wallace fought the court to overturn the sentence with very little progress. In an interview with the New York Times, Woodfox said, “I don’t think I ever felt that I would die in prison,” however he did admit, “As the years passed, it became more difficult to feel that way.” He spent his time in a nine-by-six foot cell and was allowed out one hour per day.

The case has been the subject of at least three documentaries, including Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation, Herman's House and In the Land of the Free..., narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.

Herman Wallace was released in 2013 due to his advanced lung cancer and died three days later. After his no contest plea, Woodfox was finally granted parole to live the rest of his years outside of prison. He celebrated his newfound freedom with the Black Panther Party, of which he's been a part since his imprisonment back in 1971.

"Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case," he said upon his release. Now, after more than four decades with minimal human contact, he’s just “trying to adjust to being free.”

 (Photo: AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Written by Evelyn Diaz


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