Saturday, February 20, 2016

Albert Woodfox interviewed by NY Times, UK Guardian, The Advocate and Time-Picayune

THE INTERVIEWS:   NY Times: For 45 Years in Prison, Louisiana Man Kept Calm and Held Fast to Hope  II  UK Guardian: 'I would not let them drive me insane'  II  The Advocate: Albert Woodfox savors freedom after decades behind bars  II  Times-Picayune: "I learned how strong the human spirit can be"


The New York Times (excerpt):

Now on Saturday morning, he was sitting in a hotel suite alongside one of his brothers and members of the legal team that had worked for years for his release. He was calm, composed, steady as a surgeon, but one imagines that survival would have been impossible without this sort of disposition.

“I don’t think I ever felt that I would die in prison,” Mr. Woodfox, who is black, said. But he acknowledged: “As the years passed, it became more difficult to feel that way.”

The Louisiana State Penitentiary, the 18,000-acre prison in an elbow of the Mississippi River, is known familiarly as Angola. This was the name for the cotton plantation that once occupied the same grounds, itself named for the part of Africa where the plantation’s slaves had come from. It is the largest maximum-security prison in the country, and in the early 1970s it was possibly the bloodiest.

“Almost every day, somewhere in the prison, somebody was getting stabbed or killed or beat with an iron pipe,” Mr. Woodfox recalled.

Read the full article here.


The UK Guardian (excerpt):

In his first interview since being released from West Feliciana parish detention center in Louisiana, Woodfox told the Guardian that in 1972, when he was put into “closed cell restriction”, or CCR, he made a conscious decision that he would survive. He and his comrades from the so-called Angola 3, Herman Wallace and Robert King, made a vow to be strong.

“We made a conscious decision that we would never become institutionalized,” he said. “As the years went by, we made efforts to improve and motivate ourselves.”

The key, he said, was to stay connected to what was happening in the outside world.

“We made sure we always remained concerned about what was going on in society – that way we knew that we would never give up. I promised myself that I would not let them break me, not let them drive me insane.”

Read the full article here.


The Advocate (excerpt):

For the first time in nearly half a century, Albert Woodfox was allowed to sit up front.

The 69-year-old member of the Angola 3, who was released Friday after spending most of his life in solitary confinement, said one of his first impressions of the world outside prison was having a wide, front-seat view of the landscape as his brother drove him away from jail.

“It felt strange because I was sitting in the front of his car rather than the back of a van,” Woodfox told The Advocate on Saturday in New Orleans, just over 24 hours since his historic release...

...Woodfox said he plans to start a community-based organization to aid people recently released from prison and to persuade lawmakers to move forward with progressive prison reform.

And he also hopes to correct the picture that’s been made of him as violent troublemaker. He claims he went almost 20 years without a disciplinary write-up.

“I’m not the monster that I was portrayed to be,” he said.

Read the full article here.


The Times-Picayune (excerpt):

Woodfox sat mostly still Saturday, sometimes raising a hand to make a point or touch his face. His brother, Michel Mable, had warned Woodfox was feeling overwhelmed. But Woodfox's voice was steady. He's lost his composure only one time since walking out of jail Friday, Woodfox said. It was when he hugged his daughter for the first time.

"That was something," he said, tucking his head into both his fists.

Adjusting to the outside may take some time, he said, but he's doing OK. He recognizes the streets of New Orleans, but the roadway seems narrower as buildings he doesn't recognize have popped up.

Woodfox's daughter, with whom he has only recently started to build a relationship, cooked his requested meal: cream corn, prepared the way his late mother used to make it, with rice and smoked sausage.

He credits the teachings of the Black Panther Party and his bond with Wallace and King for his mental survival through years of solitary confinement, referred to by the Louisiana Corrections Department as "closed-cell restriction."


"It's like we had some kind of magical connection," he said of Wallace and King. "We knew we had to turn outward, and stay connected to society and not become institutionalized."

Read the full article here.

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