After 29 Years in Isolation
Robert King Wilkerson, one of the prisoners known as \”the Angola 3,\” was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary today after spending twenty-nine years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit.
Wilkerson, 57, was convicted of the 1973 murder of a fellow Angola prisoner despite the fact that another man confessed and was convicted of the murder. After two prisoners who testified against Wilkerson – the only evidence ever presented against him – retracted their testimony and revealed that it had been coerced by prison officials, the United States Court of Appeals in December issued a ruling that almost certainly would have led to his release.
In response, in what his supporters characterized as a face-saving move, the state offered Wilkerson a plea bargain, which he accepted. Six hours later, to the cheers of a throng of family and supporters, Wilkerson walked out of Angola a free man.
He has pledged to dedicate his life to winning freedom for Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, the other two members of the Angola 3, and for all of the other innocent men with whom he was incarcerated for the past three decades.
\”I may be free of Angola, but Angola will never be free of me,\” Wilkerson said.
Woodfox and Wallace have also been held in solitary confinement for 29 years. They were convicted of the 1972 murder of an Angola prison guard – a murder that they have unwaveringly claimed they did not commit. In recent years, new evidence of their innocence has surfaced. Even though the new evidence was suppressed at the time of their trials, they have thus far been unable to win justice from the courts.
Wilkerson, Woodfox, and Wallace have always believed that they were framed by prison officials because they organized the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party. Prior to being placed in solitary confinement, the men led campaigns to end prisoner rape, improve race relations, and ameliorate conditions at the slave plantation-turned-prison.
All three men entered prison on unrelated robbery charges and quickly joined the prisoners\’ rights movement that was sweeping the country in the late 1960s. In the ensuing years, the men continued their activism from within solitary confinement by organizing hunger strikes, educating other prisoners, and by becoming highly-skilled jailhouse lawyers.
The American Civil Liberties Union is currently pursing a federal lawsuit alleging that the men\’s 29-year stay in solitary confinement amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
Now that he is free, Wilkerson plans to travel and speak out against the imprisonment of Woodfox and Wallace and the continuing growth of the American prison-industrial complex.
For more information contact Marina Drummer, National Coalition to Free the Angola 3, (510) 655-8770.