By Alicia Maule 02.19.21
Despite the grave injustice of his wrongful incarceration and the horrors of sustained solitary confinement, Mr. Woodfox emerged an activist whose spirit remains unbroken.
Albert Woodfox was freed after 44 years and 10 months of incarceration — almost all of which he spent in solitary confinement. At the age of 69, after having his conviction overturned three times, and enduring a trial and retrial, he entered an Alford plea. With this deal — in exchange for his immediate release — Mr. Woodfox maintained that, while the evidence against him might be sufficient to convict again, he was innocent.
Leslie George (his partner and co-author of Solitary) and I traced the name Woodfox and come to find out it’s owed to Native American names. Neither one wanted to change their last name, so they combined Wood and Fox. Many years ago, a friend of mine traced Woodfox … we go back to the 1700s in Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida. I knew that the word Fox was a Native American name, but I never knew that it was a combination of two names.
Robert and Herman and I filed a civil suit about long-term confinement. And since that time, solitary has become a discussion nationwide — now, worldwide. I like to think that the work Robert, Herman and I started that conversation or contributed to that conversation. There hasn’t been much change, but there have been some minor movements. In Angola prison, there have been some changes. It’s not as easy for security people to put you in solitary confinement as it was one time, but it still exists. And as long as it exists, it is a threat to humanity. It is a threat to an individual’s dignity and pride, self respect, because that’s what solitary is.
I’m an old R&B man. Some of my favorite singers are Aretha Franklin — of course, the Queen of Soul — Ray Charles, Gladys Knight and the Pips. I love hip hop. I understand the movement.
Hip hop or rap is history for African Americans. We had members in tribes whose responsibility to the village was to record their history and to remember their history. It’s a way of expressing what we are going through right now. What’s being done to us and how are we going to fight it. It’s a wonderful form … And I love Ebonics. You know, I think Ebonics is probably one of the most beautiful forms of communication that exists.
So is your second book going to be about your love for Ebonics?
It’s strange you say that because I just bought a typewriter. I haven’t set a specific date, but one day I’ll just sit and start typing. Primarily the book will be on what life has been like with my observation and experiences since I’ve been out.