If you haven't heard of the Angola 3, it might just be because they were convicted before you were born. Two of them are still in prison, and now there is renewed interest in their case; literature relating to them has turned up here in London.
Note this article is filed under Crime rather than under Politics, this is because these men are convicted murderers, and murder is a criminal rather than a political act, especially when one of their most high profile supporters is himself a convicted murderer. After spending close to thirty years on death row, convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal has had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment
. Now, he is the subject of a new film Long Distance Revolutionary
, which portrays him as just that, some sort of revolutionary. The names of the usual suspects come up here, including Mumia's most eloquent braindead academic supporter, Johanna Fernández. It is difficult indeed to believe this woman is a full professor. Maybe one day she'll ask Mumia to explain
that empty gun, the one that was found at the crime scene, the one that was registered to him, the one he had been carrying in a holster the night Daniel Faulkner's head was blown off. Then again, maybe she won't.
While there is no doubt about the guilt of Mumia Abu-Jamal, nor any real doubt about the guilt of the Angola 3, it is their treatment rather than the legal process that should concern all thinking citizens here. The Angola 3 website
makes out - or attempts to make out - a case for their innocence, but its rhetoric is a dead giveaway, for example
: "40 years ago, deep in rural Louisiana, three young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US", blah, blah, blah.
The men known as the Angola 3 are Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox. They were all inmates at Angola Prison, Louisiana when they murdered one of their guards on April 17, 1972. Brent Miller was stabbed no fewer than 32 times. King is the only member of the 3 to have been paroled. Although he is referred to routinely as a former Black Panther, he was also a small time criminal with convictions for both burglary and robbery.
Herman Wallace did not testify
at his trial, something an innocent man might have been expected to do under the circumstances.
The murder of a prison official or indeed any murder committed by a serving prisoner is obviously regarded as especially serious. Last year, Jeffrey Motts was executed in South Carolina; he was already serving a life sentence for a double murder when he murdered another inmate
for no apparent reason. The Angola 3 did not face execution because at the time of their conviction there was a moratorium on the death penalty in the United States.
Whether or not Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox deserve to be paroled or ever are, their punishment is to be deprived of their liberty, yet they have been in solitary confinement for nearly four decades in particularly cramped cells under conditions that should make Ian Brady
thank his lucky stars.
Admittedly, if they were put back on general population they would not be rubbing shoulders with the nicest of people, but there are serial killers serving their sentences in less inhumane conditions than this; Wallace and Woodfox are now old men. What can justify their incarceration under such conditions?
There are, it is true, some men who are so dangerous they must be forever segregated from the world. Britain's most dangerous prisoner is Robert Maudsley; he is kept in a box and is never allowed to associate with other prisoners. His life might be described as a living hell, but when you read his curriculum vitae
, you will understand why. It is difficult to make out a similar case for the treatment of Wallace and Woodfox, and the prison authorities have not done so, at least not in a public forum.
The usual suspects - including Amnesty
- have joined in the Angola 3 campaign. In view of Amnesty's long track record of dishonesty, as in the Terry Williams case
, anything they say is to be treated with reserve, but a common sense approach to this case shows this sort of punishment can't be right for these men.
They are of course far from the only such prisoners confined in conditions that would drive most of us insane if we had to endure them for any length of time. The United States is now housing convicted terrorists and other highly dangerous individuals increasingly in such conditions in supermax prisons
The crimes many of these men have committed are so heinous that few will have any sympathy with them, but again, their sentence is to be locked up for life, or for a period of time that is in effect life, not to be tortured - physically or psychologically. The way they have treated other people should not be used as a pretext for us to degrade and dehumanise even the most dangerous and odious of mass murderers.