Albert Woodfox, inmate who spent decades in solitary, dies

·3-min read
Obit Albert Woodfox (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Obit Albert Woodfox (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Albert Woodfox, a former inmate who spent decades in isolation at a Louisiana prison and then became an advocate for prison reforms after he was released, died Thursday of complications from COVID-19, according to a statement from his family. He was 75.

Woodfox and two other men became known as the “Angola Three" for their decades-long stays in solitary at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and other prisons. In 2016, Woodfox pleaded no contest to manslaughter in the 1972 death of prison guard Brent Miller and was released after more than four decades in prison. Woodfox consistently maintained his innocence in Miller's death.

In a statement, his family said he died at a New Orleans hospital.

“With heavy hearts, we write to share that our partner, brother, father, grandfather, comrade and friend, Albert Woodfox, passed away this morning," the family said. “Whether you know him as Fox, Shaka, Cinque, or Albert - he knew you as family. Please know that your care, compassion, friendship, love, and support have sustained Albert, and comforted him.”

Woodfox was placed in solitary confinement in 1972 immediately after Miller’s body was found in an empty prison dormitory, and then was ordered kept on “extended lockdown” every 90 days for decades. Woodfox and two other prisoners — Robert King and Herman Wallace — became known as the Angola Three because of their long stretches in solitary confinement.

Woodfox and Wallace, who were both serving unrelated armed robbery sentences, said they were singled out for harsh treatment, including isolation, because of their political activism. Woodfox and Wallace were former Black Panthers and helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at Angola in 1971, set up demonstrations and organized strikes for better conditions.

Officials said they were kept in solitary confinement because their Black Panther Party activism would otherwise rile up inmates at the maximum-security prison farm, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Baton Rouge.

Wallace, convicted with Woodfox of murder in the death of guard Brent Miller, died days after a judge in 2014 freed him and granted him a new trial. King was released in 2001 after his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate in 1973 was reversed.

At the time of his release, Woodfox was awaiting a third trial in Miller’s death after earlier convictions were thrown out by federal courts for reasons including racial bias in selecting a grand jury foreman. In a statement at the time, Woodfox said he had been looking forward to going to court.

“Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many,” he said.

He also said at the time that he wanted to visit the gravesite of his mother, who died while he was in prison. Woodfox said he was not allowed to go to the funeral.

In the years after his release, Woodfox frequently spoke publicly about his life in prison and his views on prison reforms. He also wrote a book titled “Solitary" that detailed his teenage years when he was frequently arrested in New Orleans and his time in prison.

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