“It’s a type of suffering that comes when the writer has found almost the right words. They’ll suffer until they find the exact words.”- Amir Silliman
*Note: This article was not written by The PBS Blog, it is featured as part of the continuation of an ongoing series and is written by Laura Dimon. This is the last part which includes my commentary. Please view our Guest Feature or Article Section for Parts 1 & 2*
In King’s trials, the juries were all white, with one black person. This past March, Glenn Ford, 64, walked out of Angola a free man after 30 years on death row. He was Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, yet he’s just another black man who was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury. King said Angola today still reminds him of a slave plantation, but not as much as it reminds him of a graveyard. “There seems to be an artificial sanitation that is disturbing to me,” he said. The land is “beautiful, whitewashed, looks like a college campus.” But underneath, “The bones are rottin’.”
Angola exists in the shadow of slavery, a time when black men did not have rights. In a state with the motto “Union, justice and confidence,” there is certainly a lingering stink of a bygone, ugly era for which “union and justice” is simply not a fitting description. The other two members of the Angola 3 are Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace. There is overwhelming evidence of their innocence and accordingly, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution and inadequate defense. But Louisiana’s Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell holds the ultimate power, and has contested the rulings, claiming they were based on technicalities.
To this day, after 42 years, Woodfox remains in solitary confinement in Angola. He’s thought to be the longest-serving inmate in solitary. In the documentary film, he says, “If a cause is noble enough, you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I thought my cause, then and no, was noble. So therefore, they would never break me.”
“They might bend me a little bit. They might cause me a lot of pain. They may even take my life. But they will never be able to break me.”
Wallace was released in October 2013 with advanced liver cancer. King went with Woodfox, who was permitted to leave briefly, to visit their friend and tell him he was out of Angola for good. “We told him,” King said. Wallace couldn’t move or respond. “[But] we saw it in his eyes. … He knew he was getting out.” Wallace took his last breaths a free man, after over 40 years. He died three days later.
King continues the fight for Woodfox. So when he is asked about his own release, he responds with this apt adage: “I was free of Angola, but Angola would not be free of me.”
Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King
The disturbing reality, is that no so called African American should be surprised by this article. At some point we must realize that under the fine print of America’s democracy you were never intended to be citizens. Your stay here in this country was never received with the certificate of adoption and thus you were never granted the same rights of America’s children, and that is why such institutions such as the Angola Facility still exist in the first place. You have Civil Rights but you have no Human Rights. It is no surprise then, that the mental state of the African American people is worse today than it was during slavery. Even during the Civil Rights Era your state of consciousness was not like it is now; for Freedom Rides denoted an understanding that you were not free here and you understood that. But the worse thing about mental enslavement however is that if the mind thinks itself free it doesn’t really matter what happens to the body. You can continue to mistreat it and it will still not grasp the understanding that it remains confined. You can put it in a hog pen, lock it up inside the inner rooms, isolate it and because the mind has been warped it will still think it possesses some kind of freedom. In The Mis-Education of The Negro Carter G. Woodson said it best, “when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.“
- Prison institutions determine how many more beds to add to their facility, based on how many black boys can’t read by the 4th grade
- According a recent Brookings Institution report, black men born in 1975 who dropped out of high school had a 70 percent chance of ending up in prison by their mid-thirties. The probability is actually greater for young black men who drop out today.
- The bible prophecy’s of black men being hidden in prison houses and that their heavens will be bronze and their earth iron (Deut. 28:23, Lev. 26:19)
- According to Prof. Michelle Alexander’s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are now more black men in prison than were enslaved in 1850.
- The so called African American was never included in the U.S. Constitution; his civil rights were amended or added on, this means they can also be removed
- The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery continue.
It surrounds me and takes a hold of my mind
(It has me thinking about it all the time)
Sometimes I have to repent cause the feeling’s so good it has to be a crime
Taking me back and forth from past slavery days to my time
(to support it I think I spent all of my dimes 😦 )
I am addicted to poetry
It sits and wraps it words around my thoughts
It sits somehow waiting to be taught
Somehow attempting to read my mind
Finding itself inside of my dreams, my back is bent over and I’m searching the floor like a fiend
I mean, this poetry stalks me!
It wants to know the secret to the life that I live
And then devour these set-apart words that I spill
Nevertheless I am addicted to it
Searching the corners of this blog, I long for words that can satisfy these fluids
Wrap the pen around my wrist and forget it let’s do it!
I am addicted to poetry!
With it I spend all of my time
Hungry, mouth dry and thirsty (nothing seems to satisfy my stomach but this poetry)
I become another person when it’s in me you see…
May hair is all over my head
My voice tends to rise from the dead
It is no longer shy but loud instead
No one can control this state that I’m in
Defending my knack for poetry till the end
Itching to scratch on this paper and pen
I am determined to tie that knot from—wait, I think my husband may count that as a sin
I am addicted to poetry
I am forever exercising my mind
Looking up and finding the new definitions to words
Excitement rushes through me as I wiggle my toes
Ink fumes reaching the far back of my nose and forcing out words that are untold
I think I better stop before my skin looks old and my body frame is way too thin!
I can’t seem to stop this state that I’m in!
These walking wonderful worlds of many words planning a feast in my head
Allowing me to feast on its beauty instead
Biting my nails I am starting to get paranoid
T-t-t-there s-seems to be a-a void
a thing called writer’s block that is blocking my thoughts
its forcing me to say things that I don’t wanna say
(dragging my feet I am now in PA class)
Surrounded by brothers and sisters who are also addicted to words
Looking around like they see flying birds (they call them metaphors though)
It’s now finally my time to be heard
But I’m looking around I don’t know what t-to say
I haven’t had my s-s-strong d-dose of words all day
And the bloggers are urging me to speak
But instead I’m shaking my leg and chattering my teeth until finally I admit
I AM ADDICTED TO POETRY!
*Note: This article was not written by The PBS Blog, it is featured as part of the continuation of an ongoing series and is written by Laura Dimon. Please view our Guest Feature or Article Section for Part 1*
In 1972, the prisoners were virtually all black. Merciless guards — all white men, called “freemen” — worked the inmates like slaves. Sugar cane was the main crop, King said. In the documentary film In the Land of the Free, it’s stated that the inmates labored all day every day for a measly $.02 per hour. The abuse didn’t stop there. As NPR reported, “There was a prisoner slave trade and rampant rape; inmates slept with J.C. Penney catalogs tied to their waists for protection.” King was one of three men who formed the famous Angola 3 group, leaders of the Black Panther Party’s Angola chapter. King said they were fighting for equality, but he later realized their efforts had been misaimed: “We were focused on civil rights, but we didn’t have human rights,” he said.
In our most recent conversation, I asked King, “How’s it going?” “It’s … ongoing,” he replied. It’s easy to see why: Little has changed at Angola. It remains a time warp, a living, breathing relic of a shameful past. Of about 6,000 inmates currently in custody, roughly 70% are black and 30% are white. In October 2008, NPR reported, “In the distance on this day, 100 black men toil, bent over in the field, while a single white officer on a horse sits above them, a shotgun in his lap.” The context of this modern day slave plantation is unfortunately appropriate. Nola.com wrote that Louisiana is the world’s “prison capital,” with 1 in 86 residents serving time — nearly double the national average. The racial skew is extreme. One in 14 black men in New Orleans is behind bars; 1 in 7 is either in prison, on parole or on probation. Louisiana is “notorious for racial disparities in its justice systems,” Andrew Cohen wrote in the Atlantic.
One highly concerning aspect of Louisiana’s judicial scheme is that, unlike in 48 states, a unanimous jury decision is not required — only 10 jurors have to vote to convict someone, even for a life sentence. Oregon is the only other state with this system, but it doesn’t have the same tremendous racial component. Cohen wrote, “Prosecutors can comply with their constitutional obligations to permit blacks and other minority citizens to serve as jurors but then effectively nullify the votes of those jurors should they vote to acquit.” It is one of “the most obvious and destructive flaws in Louisiana’s broken justice system,” he wrote, arguing, plain and simple: “Louisiana is terribly wrong to defend a law that was born of white supremacy.”
A Duke University study examined more than 700 non-capital felony criminal cases in Florida and found that, in cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81% of the time while whites were convicted 66% of the time. The researchers concluded that “the racial composition of the jury pool has a substantial impact on conviction rates” and that “the application of justice is highly uneven.”
Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King, Google Images