Albert Woodfox attends his birthday party as a free man, happy to ‘give others hope’

by Wanda Sabir

Friday, Feb. 19, Albert “Shaka” Woodfox, the only member of the Angola 3 remaining in prison, was released after nearly 44 years in solitary confinement. His release ended the longest documented time spent in solitary confinement by any prisoner in U.S. history.

Beaming joy and power, Albert Woodfox greets family and supporters the day of his release, on Feb. 19, 2016. – Photo: AP
Beaming joy and power, Albert Woodfox greets family and supporters the day of his release, on Feb. 19, 2016. – Photo: AP

Footage of Woodfox’s release from Feliciana Parish Detention Center shows him walking with his brother Micheal’s arm around his shoulder, then in the car fielding questions about his release, thoughts about solitary confinement, Angola State Prison and freedom, until his brother announced, “I am taking him away now.” Woodfox stated that he wanted to visit his mother’s gravesite. He had not been allowed to attend her funeral when she died.

Saturday, Feb. 20

In a phone conversation this morning with Robert King, the first of the Angola 3 to win his freedom, Woodfox described the wait at the Feliciana Parish Detention Center in St. Francisville, La., yesterday as “hot, but worth it.” Standing outside the prison reminded King, he said, of his release 15 years ago, also in February, Feb. 15, from Angola State Prison located in the same parish up the road a bit.

King said the crowd wasn’t huge yesterday, but it was mighty (smile). It’s a great day for justice today and Woodfox’s release – on his 69 birthday – “gives others hope.”

Earlier that month, Ashé Cultural Arts Center had scheduled a screening of the film, “Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution,” directed by Stanley Nelson, at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate Albert Woodfox’s birthday that day, Feb 19. The panel assembled that evening included Robert King, Theodore Quant, Malik Rahim and Parnell Herbert. When the news of Woodfox’s release that day was announced to the audience and that the newly released comrade would come by later that evening, people stayed after the screening and discussion.

Malik Rahim, who had regenerated support in the ‘90s for his Black Panther comrades, the Angola 3, and rescued Robert King when he was stranded by the Katrina flood, joyously announces the arrival at his own birthday party – planned to be celebrated once again without him – of Albert Woodfox. Beside Albert is his brother, Michael Mable, who picked him up at the prison, and, at right, Parnell Herbert, a childhood friend of Albert, who wrote the acclaimed stageplay, “Angola 3.” The party, held the evening of Albert’s release, Feb. 19, was held at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. – Photo: Max Becherer, AP
Malik Rahim, who had regenerated support in the ‘90s for his Black Panther comrades, the Angola 3, and rescued Robert King when he was stranded by the Katrina flood, joyously announces the arrival at his own birthday party – planned to be celebrated once again without him – of Albert Woodfox. Beside Albert is his brother, Michael Mable, who picked him up at the prison, and, at right, Parnell Herbert, a childhood friend of Albert, who wrote the acclaimed stageplay, “Angola 3.” The party, held the evening of Albert’s release, Feb. 19, was held at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. – Photo: Max Becherer, AP

The evening turned into an actual birthday party for Woodfox, whose entrance was greeted with tears, shouts, foot stomping and much joy. At Ashé were Woodfox’s comrades in the struggle for liberation, human rights, dignity and freedom.

The party was as much his as theirs and for that reason that much sweeter, ‘cause NOLA folks know how to throw down (smile). The felicitations continue for Woodfox this afternoon, Feb. 20, with another party hosted by King’s family with barbecue and more birthday cake.

Friday, Feb. 19

As we drove down to Chowchilla to visit with incarcerated women at the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the state, I called King to see if he expected Woodfox to walk out free that day. He was cautiously optimistic at 6 a.m. PT, so the big smile in the text he sent me after the court released Woodfox (several hours later) was celebrated that afternoon by the California Coalition for Women’ Prisoners’ visiting team as we debriefed over a late lunch at 4 p.m.

Freedom is a constant struggle

Yet, Woodfox’s release was not without stipulations, the main one was to not contest his conviction for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, which carried a 42-year sentence. His release gives him credit for “time served.” It is the same with Robert H. King, who put his right – not left – hand on the bible when he agreed to the false terms offered, so he would, as Albert did, walk free.

The compromise or last judicial word is not the last word, because Albert Woodfox, Robert King and Herman Wallace’s trials, sentencing, confinement and the context of their release – Herman just two days before his death – shows without a doubt how immoral the American judicial system is. Justice is not a part of its system nor is truth.

Punishment, often cruel and unusual punishment, not human dignity and rehabilitation, are implicit goals of incarceration. Therefore, the conclusion of this chapter of the Angola 3 story is proof that the entire system needs dismantling.

Woodfox’s victory is a victory for all of us. Without a doubt, his freedom from physical bondage is the kind of shift in the wind which should lift our sails and increase our resolve to continue the fight until All of Us – those in minimum and maximum incarceration – are freed from such tyranny.

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing said we are at war, that the systemic killing and incarceration of Black men and boys is central to a strategic battle being waged by a white supremacist system looking to continue racial dominance.

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Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.