Thanks to a plea deal, Albert Woodfox, the last remaining member of the “Angola 3,” was finally freed from West Feliciana Parish Jail on Friday, Feb 19, after spending more than four decades in solitary confinement.
As the 69-year old drove off from the detention center with his brother, he told the media that one of the first things he wanted to do was visit his mother’s grave, given that he hadn’t been granted a temporary release to go to her funeral, BBC wrote.
Woodfox and his then fellow inmate the late Herman Wallace were found guilty of murder for the 1972 stabbing death of prison guard Brent Miller, 23, at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where Woodfox has been serving 5 years for armed robbery at the time.
However, over the years Woodfox always maintained that he had nothing to do with Miller’s death. Instead, he and his supporters claim that the murder was unjustly pinned on him and Wallace by prison officials in order to undercut their Black Panther activism from flourishing among other African-American prisoners, says NOLA.com.
This current plea deal, which includes time served, comes after decades of lengthy legal battles including three guilty verdicts and two thrown out convictions. In order to be free, Woodfox plead “no contest” to a lesser charge. However, he is clear: This was not an admission of guilt.
“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 now and obtain my release with this no contest plea to lesser charges,” he said in a statement on Friday.
He added, “On behalf of the Angola 3–Albert Woodfox, Robert King, and in memory of Herman Wallace–we would like to sincerely thank all the organizations, activists, artists, legal experts, and other individuals who have so graciously given their time and talent to the Angola 3’s extraordinary struggle for justice. This victory belongs to all of us and should motivate us to stand up and demand even more fervently that long-term solitary confinement be abolished, and all the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.”
As the news hit of Woodfox’s release, Twitter erupted:
It’s believed that the New Orleans native has the longest solitary confinement record in U.S. history with 43 years and 10 months. It’s estimated that since Woodfox was 25-years old he spent, “23 hours a day in cells measuring roughly 6-by-9-feet,” NOLA.com pointed out.
Currently it’s estimated that there are 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. who are in solitary confinement, according to American Friends Service Committee. Studies have found that being isolated in this way can cause visual and auditory hallucination, insomnia, paranoia, increased risk of suicide and uncontrollable feelings of race and fear. This is why numerous organizations are working to get solitary banned on a federal level, calling it “inhumane” and “barbaric.”