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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

An American nightmare in Angola CCR

America: home of big dreams of freedom and self-worth; a place where men may prosper as they please with the knowledge that certain "inalienable Rights" that were "endowed by their Creator" are theirs to call upon in times of need.

Louisiana: a member of a band of the Southern states of America, which has a heritage of white pride and racial segregation. As it stands today Louisiana has a strong Republican temper and is by no means a "swing state" for elections.

Angola prison: state penitentiary of Louisiana and biggest prison in America. This prison boasts a heinous track record of inmate abuse at the hands of its predominantly white staff and has been the home of two particular men with a ghastly story of injustice to tell.

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox make up two parts of the Angola 3, a legendary trio of black Americans who ended up being held in solitary confinement for decades in connection with a crime they perpetually protest against having committed.

The current situation focuses on these two men, now in their 60s, who were convicted by judge and a completely biased white jury in a courthouse in St. Francisville for the murder of a prison guard Brent Miller in 1973.

Since that fateful conviction Wallace and Woodfox have been contained within Angola prison's maximum security Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) block for the longest period of solitary confinement ever recorded in America - so much for the American dream.

The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, escaped this American nightmare in Angola prison after spending an astonishing 29 years in CCR alongside his compatriots. King saw his conviction overturned in 2001 when Federal court permitted a retrial.

But unfortunately there have not been so many opportunities for the prolonged lockdown of Wallace and Woodfox's lives in prison to be legally refuted and brought to fair trial in courts that haven't seen prejudicial tampering persuade them.

While they were present in Angola prison at the time of Miller's murder - King was not yet at Angola, also known as "The Farm", but was soon moved their for allegedly conspiring towards the incident - there was no tangible evidence or reliable witness testimony to suggest any involvement by the two in the murder at all, except a biased hunch.

Sadly these kinds of cases are not uncommon in this part of the world. The incomprehensible is easily twisted to become believable evidence against innocent men. In Angola prison alone there is an African-American majority of 80% - this also is not unusual in America.

Despite recent political developments there is no doubting the cagey persistence of racial hatred in areas of America not so in-touch with the greater morality. Revelations about unprecedented numbers of assassination threats towards President Barack Obama are hardly unexpected given the weight of tradition in certain American cultures and the stressful economic circumstances affecting the lower brackets of society.

However, this case concerning the Angola 3 is especially disturbing given that we are living in an age saturated by constant reminders of human rights. The single most appalling aspect of this case is that no substantial judicial review has yet prevailed in securing these men their right to freedom.

A new documentary film by Vadim Jean, a friend of the late humanitarian Annita Roddick who had campaigned for the Angola 3, titled Land of the Free is to be released later on this month. It is hoped more public response to this civil outrage will be accrued through an ongoing campaign that this film supports.

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