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Herman Wallace, the ‘Muhammad Ali of the criminal justice system,’ joins the ancestors

October 4, 2013

by Angola 3 Coalition

This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest and brashest personality in the political prisoner world. It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.

Herman Wallace released in ambulance 100113 by Democracy Now
Two and a half days before he died at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 4, Herman Wallace was finally released from prison at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, after his conviction had been overturned that morning by U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson. Judge Jackson had ordered Herman released “immediately,” but the state appealed the ruling instead. So within hours the judge issued another order, saying that failure to release him would “result in a judgment of contempt.” Finally, he was released to his lawyers and a waiting ambulance, which drove him to a New Orleans hospital. He arrived to shouts of joy from supporters waiting there for him.
Herman never did anything halfway. He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled. He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

One of his attorneys, Carine Williams, told the BBC how Herman spent his time in solitary confinement: “He read material about the Black Panther Party, a 1960s revolutionary group – and anything else he could get his hands on, and kept up with current events.

“’I would say, “What’s going on in the Middle East?” and he would say, “OK, which country do you want to talk about?”’

“Wallace replied to letters – he got a steady stream of mail – and worked on his appeal. ‘This man is the Muhammad Ali of the criminal justice system. He just would not quit,’ Williams says.”

This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest and brashest personality in the political prisoner world. It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.

On Oct. 4, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man.

Just two and a half days before his passing, he succeeded: His conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones. However, he was re-indicted by a Louisiana grand jury on Thursday, according to District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla, who filed the charges. Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace fist, shackles 040213, web
Herman Wallace, his body already weak from liver cancer yet still shackled, stood strong and tall for this photo taken April 2, 2013.
Herman Wallace’s early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow South often found him on the wrong side of the law and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery. While there, he was introduced to the Black Panthers’ powerful message of self-determination and collective community action and quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow Panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary. Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary, but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6-foot-by-9-foot solitary cell.

Wallace died shortly after 5:30 a.m. Louisiana time on Friday morning, reports Common Dreams, aware of his freedom. “I am free; I am free” were among his last words.

“’He passed away in my home,’ said Ashley Wennerstrom, a long-time friend and program director at Tulane’s School of Medicine. ‘He was surrounded by friends and family and love in his last few days.’

“’He completed that mission,’ said longtime friend Parnell Herbert. ‘And he was able to see himself a free man. He passed away peacefully in his sleep.’”

Wallace died shortly after 5:30 a.m. Louisiana time on Friday morning, reports Common Dreams, aware of his freedom. “I am free; I am free” were among his last words.

On Thursday, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! wrote in “Herman Wallace, Free at Last”:

Angola 3 mosaic on house in Chiswick, West London suburb 082508 by Carrie Reichardt
On a house known as The Treatment Rooms in the West London suburb of Chiswick is a 40-foot long mosaic dedicated to the Angola 3 and their comrade Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, also a Black Panther. The intrepid freedom fighters known as the Angola 3, along with Zulu, called the fourth member of the trio, have let the world know how little has changed in the U.S. since slavery. Angola Prison was a 18,000-acre slave plantation and remains so to this day in the form of a state penitentiary. The largest maximum security prison in the country, Angola is named for the area in Africa from which most of those who originally worked its fields had been stolen. Today, the overseers on horseback are armed prison guards. – Photo: Carrie Reichardt
“As he lies dying, Herman Wallace knows that after a lifetime of enduring the torture of solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, he is now a free man. …

“The Angola 3 were united for the last time Tuesday. The prison rules allowed King and Woodfox to say their final goodbyes to Wallace, not because he was leaving prison, but because he was dying. By sheer coincidence, that was when the judge overturned Wallace’s conviction, and they were the ones who gave Wallace the news. Robert King described their final moments together: ‘Albert’s last words were, “Herman, we love you, and you’re going to get out today.”’ King described how Albert Woodfox leaned over, hands and feet shackled, and kissed Herman goodbye on his forehead. …

“Wallace was transferred to an ambulance and driven to the Louisiana State University Hospital in New Orleans. He has dreamed of his release for years, and describes it in ‘Herman’s House’:

Herman Wallace icon from Chiswick mosaic
This is a close-up of the icon of Herman Wallace in the monumental Chiswick mosaic.
“’I got to the front gate, and there’s a whole lot of people out there. … I was dancing my way out. I was doing the jitterbug. … I turn around, and I look, and there are all the brothers in the window waving and throwing the fist sign – it’s rough, man. It’s so real. I can feel it even now.”

“Herman Wallace was strapped into an ambulance, not dancing, as he left the prison, hanging on to life by a thread. But he was free, after almost 42 years in solitary confinement, longer than any other prisoner in U.S. history.”*

“Nothing can undo the authorities’ shocking treatment of (Wallace), which led more than 200,000 people to act on his behalf,” said Amnesty International USA Executive Director Steven Hawkins, referring to Amnesty’s petition and vigorous campaign for the Angola 3. “The state of Louisiana must now prevent further inhuman treatment by removing Wallace’s co-defendant Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement.”

“Tragically, this step toward justice has come as Herman is dying from cancer with only days or hours left to live,” wrote Hawkins. “No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years.”

'Free the Angola 3' by Rigo 23 mural in New Orleans
This mural in New Orleans was painted by the world renowned artist Rigo 23.
Herman’s criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment.

“It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3’ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone,” said the Angola 3 legal team.

Also still active in court is Albert Woodfox’s promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman’s criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment.

Herman was only nine days shy of 72 years old. Services will be held in New Orleans.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind. May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life and to justice.

Hans Bennett, a journalist who strongly supports political prisoners, has been chronicling the Angola 3 for the past several years. This story first appeared on his blog, Angola 3 News. For more information, also visit www.angola3.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: Another political prisoner, Hugo Pinell, who worked closely with Black Panther Field Marshal George Jackson, has also been held in solitary confinement for over 40 years – 43 years, according to supporters – the last 23 in the infamous Pelican Bay SHU. With Herman’s passing, efforts must escalate to win the freedom of all the longtime freedom fighters still behind enemy lines.

 

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3 thoughts on “Herman Wallace, the ‘Muhammad Ali of the criminal justice system,’ joins the ancestors

  1. Kathy

    My goodness look at the expression on Herman Wallace's face and that body language! Shining example of life's greatest lesson: it's not about where you are in life or what struggles you're facing, but how you handle them. There are elite rich who have not yet learned this simple lesson!

    Reply
  2. Aiden

    Without a single shred of doubt, Herman Wallace is the biggest, bravest and brashest personality in the political prisoner world. I am really sorry to read news of his sad passing. May his soul rest in peace, amen…!!!

    Reply
  3. Anna

    One of my friends was assaulted badly by his neighbours in a fury, as my friend tried stopping him from playing loud music, because his children were busy preparing for their exams, so we had to help him out at that critical moment, and take him to the hospital in the injured condition. Later, the hospital staff reported the matter to the police, and we had to seek the <a rel="dofollow" href="http://lawyers-auckland1.co.nz/criminal-lawyer-auckland/">help of criminal lawyer in Auckland for fighting the court case.

    Reply

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