'Angola 2' Leave Solitary Cells in La. After 36 Years

Two former Black Panthers imprisoned in Louisiana are out of solitary confinement for the first time since the 1970s. State corrections officials say Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were moved into a "maximum security dormitory" earlier this week. Louisiana prison officials once said the men, known as the Angola 2, would never be moved.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two prisoners who've been held in solitary confinement for 36 years have been moved out of their cells at a Louisiana state prison. It is believed the men have spent more time in solitary than any other inmates in the United States.

Prison officials said, at one time, that the men known as the Angola 2 would never been moved. But in a surprise about-face, this week, administrators sent them to a high-security dorm instead.

NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox went to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1972. Wallace had robbed a bank. Woodfox was convicted of armed robbery. The two didn't know each other, but that quickly changed when a guard was stabbed 35 times and died. Wallace and Woodfox were fingered as the killers and sent to solitary. And that's where they stayed, until Monday. It surprised even their lawyer, Nick Trenticosta.

Mr. NICK TRENTICOSTA (Lawyer): By chance, co-counsel was visiting on Monday and was brought to a new location to visit them.

SULLIVAN: To understand just how significant this move is, you have to consider that for three-and-a-half decades, every warden who has run the prison has stamped the same papers keeping them in solitary every 90 days.

Mr. TRENTICOSTA: Thirty-six years. If the SPCA were locking up dogs like they lock up Herman and Albert, the SPCA would be shut down a long time ago.

SULLIVAN: Being in solitary at the prison, which is commonly called Angola, means 23 hours a day alone in a cell. The other hour brings a walk to the shower. Once every three days, inmates are allowed an hour outside in a small caged exercise pen.

Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond says there's little contact with the outside world, other inmates or each other.

State Representative CEDRIC RICHMOND (Democrat, Louisiana): When Herman would go outside for his recreation time, he would stop by the window to Albert's cell and yell, and they could communicate that way.

SULLIVAN: Richmond was granted a rare visit to see the two men last week. He says the growing political pressure and the men's civil lawsuit about the conditions brought about the change.

State Rep. RICHMOND: Any time you shed national spotlight on something, it always seems to expedite it a little bit.

SULLIVAN: In a statement, Angola prison officials say they moved them because they need the space for other inmates, and it's cheaper to house them in a dorm.

Tammy Herring, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, says she can't comment, because they men's lawsuit is still pending and they are currently in negotiations with the men's attorneys.

In addition to that suit, though, the two men also have a wrongful conviction case in the courts. New witnesses have now come forward, and their lawyers say they have discovered evidence they believe clears the men. A third man has already been exonerated. The men's lawyer, Nick Trenticosta, hopes the move to the dorm will give the men a boost.

Mr. TRENTICOSTA: I hope that it is encouraging for them to see this, because we're moving forward to the ultimate goal to have innocent men released from prison because they are innocent of this crime.

SULLIVAN: Wallace and Woodfox, who are both in their 60s, will now get to see each other face-to-face. But they will also wake up every day in the same dorm room as 17 other maximum security inmates one-third their age.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: