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Solitary

Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope

By Albert Woodfox
18-minute read
Audio available
Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Solitary (2019) is the punishing tale of an African American man’s brutal treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system in Louisiana. In and out of prison as a young man, Albert Woodfox was framed for a murder he didn’t commit, apparently due to his membership in the Black Panther movement. He spent over 40 years in solitary confinement in a six by nine foot cell, treated inhumanely by a system that, by his account, is institutionally racist and cruel.

  • People who care about justice 
  • Anyone searching for a better understanding of entrenched racial inequality

Albert Woodfox was born in 1947 into a poor Louisiana family, and grew up in New Orleans. After 44 years of solitary confinement, during which time he educated himself and others, Woodfox was finally released in 2016. He is now an activist.

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Solitary

Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope

By Albert Woodfox
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Solitary by Albert Woodfox
Synopsis

Solitary (2019) is the punishing tale of an African American man’s brutal treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system in Louisiana. In and out of prison as a young man, Albert Woodfox was framed for a murder he didn’t commit, apparently due to his membership in the Black Panther movement. He spent over 40 years in solitary confinement in a six by nine foot cell, treated inhumanely by a system that, by his account, is institutionally racist and cruel.

Key idea 1 of 11

Woodfox grew up surrounded by poverty and racism, and led a chaotic early life.

In 1947, Albert Woodfox was born in the “Negro” ward of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. His mother, Ruby Edwards, was 17 years old. His father was long gone.

He was one of five children and grew up in intense poverty. His mother was illiterate, but worked hard to provide for the family. Sometimes she did odd jobs, sometimes she worked as a barmaid. Other times she sold her body for money. She did what she had to, to give her children a better life. But times were tough, and sometimes in order to eat, Woodfox needed to steal bread or go fishing in the Bayou St. John.

The key message here is: Woodfox grew up surrounded by poverty and racism, and led a chaotic early life.

In New Orleans in the fifties and sixties, racism was ever-present and segregation was a legal reality. Woodfox could go to the movies, but was only allowed to sit in the balcony. As Woodfox grew up, he noticed the impact of racism more and more. He saw how white people called black adults ‘girl,’ or ‘boy,’ and realized how disrespectful it was.

Woodfox’s young life was mostly lived on the street. At age 12, he and his friends got involved in petty crimes, like stealing flowers from graveyards and selling them to tourists, or stealing bread from delivery trucks. Woodfox got better and better at leaping fences while running from the police. But when he got caught, the policemen – almost always white at the time – would search his pockets for cash to steal, before beating him.

Over time, Woodfox’s young pranks turned into more serious crimes. After getting mixed up in a car theft, Woodfox was sentenced to two years at a local jail named Thibodaux, where he was put on trash pickup duty along a nearby highway. He ran away after a few weeks, without any particular plan in mind. While escaping, he came across and stole a cement mixer, and drove it at 10 miles an hour back to New Orleans. He was almost home when cops spotted him and gave chase.

The police caught Woodfox and beat him badly, before charging him with escape, theft, and multiple other charges. This time, Woodfox wouldn’t be returning to the low security Thibodaux jail. He was going to the notorious Angola prison.

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