A man who spent four decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit tells his shocking story.
Born in 1947 in the “Negro” wing of a New Orleans hospital, Woodfox helped his family eke out survival through petty crimes. Though he showed academic potential, he left high school before graduation, spending his time on streets patrolled by mostly white police officers, who “came through our neighborhood picking up black men for standing on the corner, charging them with loitering or vagrancy, looking to meet their quota of arrests. Once in custody, who knows what charges would be put on those men.” Arrested at 18, the author entered Angola penitentiary, where his defiance and his affiliation with a nonviolent chapter of the Black Panther Party led to racist, sadistic guards targeting him. When a white prison guard was mysteriously murdered while on duty, prison officials framed Woodfox for the killing despite his detailed presentation of evidence that another inmate had committed the crime. The bulk of the book chronicles the author’s solitary confinement over the next 40 years. In many cases, inmates subjected to these brutal conditions slowly lose their sanity and sometimes commit suicide. Woodfox explains how he overcame those odds despite relentless despair. Through a series of unusual occurrences, public-interest lawyers and other prison reformers learned about his treatment. The activists began building a two-pronged case, advocating for a declaration of innocence regarding the murder and seeking an end to Woodfox’s solitary confinement. Though the author is obviously not an impartial source, that understandable bias mingles throughout the narrative with fierce intelligence and the author’s touching loyalty to fellow prisoners also being brutalized. Nearly every page of the book is depressing because of the inhumane treatment of the prisoners, which often surpasses comprehension. But it’s an important story for these times, and readers will cheer the author’s eventual re-entry into society.
An astonishing true saga of incarceration that would have surely faced rejection if submitted as a novel on the grounds that it never could happen in real life.