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Solitary: A Biography

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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the vio LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America's prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world. Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016. Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.


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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the vio LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America's prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world. Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016. Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.

30 review for Solitary: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Solitary by Albert Woodfox is a gruelling but rewarding work of non fiction. In and out of jail as a young black man in the late 60s, Woodfox had a troubled start to manhood. A start he isn’t proud of. His fractured family was poor and life in urban Louisiana was hard. Racism was endemic and unquestioned. When he finally ended up in the notorious Angola prison in 1969, on a very questionable charge of armed robbery, he was in for the long haul. He received a 50 year sentence. Albert Woodfox an ang Solitary by Albert Woodfox is a gruelling but rewarding work of non fiction. In and out of jail as a young black man in the late 60s, Woodfox had a troubled start to manhood. A start he isn’t proud of. His fractured family was poor and life in urban Louisiana was hard. Racism was endemic and unquestioned. When he finally ended up in the notorious Angola prison in 1969, on a very questionable charge of armed robbery, he was in for the long haul. He received a 50 year sentence. Albert Woodfox an angry but thoughtful man, had to deal with the nightmare reality of prison life. A world of solitary confinement, violent racist guards, powerful gangs, deprivation, bullying, rape and the sexual exploitation of young men and new inmates. A kafkaesque world of never ending darkness. Woodfox states he gained strength from the teachings of the Black Panthers. The principles of this controversial group became part of his lifelong philosophy ie the struggle for freedom, dignity, education, equality and justice. Whilst in prison, Woodfox and this small pressure group would help, advise and organise fellow prisoners ........... but were consequently seen by the prison authorities as trouble makers. With this as a back drop, a little way into Woodfox’s sentence, an incident occurred that would blight the rest of his life. Brent Miller, a guard was brutally murdered. Stabbed 32 times. Albert Woodfox and his close circle, who at the time were in another part of the building, were accused and eventually convicted of the crime. No real evidence was ever offered up and the prosecution witness statements were eventually discredited ie inmates were bribed, given privileges etc if they signed statements to say they had seen the crime committed. Robert King (falsely accused of an earlier murder), Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, later known as the Angola 3, became close friends and became their own support network. Decades plagued by frustration, deprivation and claustrophobia slowly drift by. Most of the time Woodfox was locked up in solitary confinement with one hour per day in the yard (if he was lucky). As he says at the opening of this book, the cell became his university, as he read and studied in a bid to transcend his surroundings. There were occasional glimmers of hope as appeals against his conviction and legal complaints about his treatment came and went. A tortuous trail of indictments, hearings, statutes, rulings, trials both criminal and civil, dragged on and on. The book is a gruelling read because it discusses in detail the minutiae of the legal wrangling but also because it distils the anger, disappointment and frustration of Woodfox’s years in captivity. Gradually however, the feelings of anger and despair are matched (never replaced) by feelings of hope. Eventually the cause of the Angola 3 was taken up by those on the outside - large groups of activists, legal teams, celebrities, human rights groups etc. Petitions were signed and the story hit the media ......... court procedures were renewed and real progress was made, not least the ruling that holding prisoners in solitary confinement is classed as torture. The fight by the Louisiana authorities to keep the Angola 3 in prison after all these years, as all evidence against them crumbled, was vindictive and bizarre. Robert King was released in 2001, Herman Wallace in 2015 (he dies a few days later of cancer) and Albert Woodfox finally got his freedom in 2016. He is to this day an advocate of prison reform and at 72 spends his time campaigning against injustice. After 42 years in solitary confinement he refused to be beaten or lose his humanity even though most of his life was taken from him. Obviously, as an autobiography, we only see Woodfox’s reality but I found Solitary to be a sobering, uncomfortable and searching read. Albert Woodfox is talking about his book at the 2019 Hay Literary festival and I’m looking forward to a moving and thought provoking event.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    "I became living proof that we can survive the worst to change ourselves and our world, no matter where we are. Behind our resistance on the tiers, Herman, King, and I knew that only education would save us." For more than 40 years, Albert Woodfox was kept in solitary confinement in a 9 X 6 foot cell 23 hours a day. 40 YEARS! I don't think I could handle that for a week, let alone decades. And yet he endured this torture, day after day, year after year, for a crime he didn't commit. This book "I became living proof that we can survive the worst to change ourselves and our world, no matter where we are. Behind our resistance on the tiers, Herman, King, and I knew that only education would save us." For more than 40 years, Albert Woodfox was kept in solitary confinement in a 9 X 6 foot cell 23 hours a day. 40 YEARS! I don't think I could handle that for a week, let alone decades. And yet he endured this torture, day after day, year after year, for a crime he didn't commit. This book is Mr. Woodfox's story. With brutal honesty, Albert Woodfox shares his unimaginable life. He grew up in Louisiana during the Jim Crow era, raised by a mother who was sometimes forced into prostitution in order to feed her young children. His childhood was not easy and by his teenage years, he had dropped out of school and started a gang. Mr. Woodfox shares with us how he would often steal in order to provide for himself and his family, ending up in and out of prison at a young age. He decided to change his life around when he joined the Black Panthers, which was considered a terrorist organization for no better reason than that the whites in power felt threatened whenever black people came together and demanded equal rights. Because of his association with the Black Panthers, Mr. Woodfox was framed, along with another member, Herman Wallace, for the murder of a guard. Even though the murder took place in different part of the prison, and even though there was not a shred of evidence (indeed, the bloody finger print found at the scene of the murder belonged to neither man), these men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Purportedly because they were a danger to other inmates and guards, they were kept in solitary confinement, though again, there was no evidence that they were a harm to anyone. It is absolutely horrendous the things Mr. Woodfox endured in prison. Angola, where he spent much of his time, was a prison notorious for its physical violence and rape. They were "prohibited from participating in educational, vocational, or other programs or from doing any hobby crafts, like leatherwork, beading, or painting". They did have some reading material and a television to watch, but still! The utter boredom of those days must have alone been enough to drive someone insane. He was allowed out of his cell for only an hour a day, and at another prison it was only for 15 minutes a day to shower. The rest of his time, he was confined to a space of 9 by 6 feet (2.7 by 1.8 meters). The atrocities he both endured and saw heaped upon others is the stuff of nightmares. There is a lot of repetition in this book.... but of course there would be, because his days were repetitive, day after day after day of the same thing. It becomes a bit tedious at times, but in a way, that just highlights the boredom Mr Woodfox endured for years. Albert Woodfox shares how it felt to spend his time behind closed doors, the feeling of claustrophobia that often came over him, the fear. I think most of us would be overcome with defeat and/or rage at the injustice, and yet Mr. Woodfox remained incredibly strong and didn't let himself become bitter. His conviction was eventually overturned, and it is evident that racism was behind the conviction. There was not a shred of truth or evidence, and the inmates who testified against Albert were paid to do so and given special privileges within prison. Their accounts of the murder all differed and they often contradicted themselves. And yet an all-white jury chose to believe them and sentence Mr. Woodfox and his fellow Black Panthers member to life in prison. Again, without a shred of evidence. Mr. Woodfox writes persuasively about the systematic racism that is to blame for locking up untold numbers of black men. In New Orleans in 2012, the Times-Picayune reported that 1 in 14 black men were behind bars, compared to 1 in 86 of the general population. 1 in 86 is still an egregious number of people, and yet it is the black population who suffers the most. Clearly something needs to be done about the atrocity of American prisons and the number of people spending their lives behind bars. America houses more prisoners than any other country in the world. That is due to both racism and to the profit being made off of prisoners. This is deplorable and unconscionable and barbaric. Prisons exist not to rehabilitate people, but to punish people whether or not they are guilty of a crime. They exist not to keep the general population safe from criminals, but to continue slavery. Our entire justice system is long overdue for a re-haul, and we need to start by ending for-profit prisons. As long as there is money to be made by incarcerating people, money will speak loudest. As long as there is a profit in locking people up, the black community in particular but also Latinx and poor whites will find themselves unfairly behind bars. We need reform, and we need it now. As Mr. Woodfox states, "We need to admit to, confront, and change the racism in the American justice system that decides who is stopped by police, who is arrested, who is searched, who is charged, who is prosecuted, and who isn’t, as well as look at who receives longer sentences and why and demand a fair and equal system." Thankfully Albert Woodfox is now a free man, but nothing can give him back all the decades he was locked away and tortured. Nothing can restore his health or the years stolen from him. I thank him for sharing his story; it could not have been easy for him to relive those years in order to write this book. His honesty and openness make this a compelling read. I highly recommend it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Some books are written by authors who yearn for the title, the mantle and all the goodies that go with the title of Author. Some tomes are acts of persuasion, beckoning conversion from one point of view to another. Some volumes are slick and polished marketing or branding materials for products or lifestyles or team-building manuals. And then there are some books that simply spill out; spill out from the lives of humans who are desperate to tell their tale. This is one of those. It's uncomfortabl Some books are written by authors who yearn for the title, the mantle and all the goodies that go with the title of Author. Some tomes are acts of persuasion, beckoning conversion from one point of view to another. Some volumes are slick and polished marketing or branding materials for products or lifestyles or team-building manuals. And then there are some books that simply spill out; spill out from the lives of humans who are desperate to tell their tale. This is one of those. It's uncomfortable - at least it was to me. This is not a topic I think much about - on purpose. Parts of his story are like all of our collective beginnings - but then it takes these terrible swerves into consequential mazes. It goes on and on and on. . .but the mere mass of the many repeated choices that led to the same place . . . .made me tired, and I'll admit I skimmed over some of that - it was the same story - but it was a slow skim because I didn't want to miss key landmarks where learning was gained and committments made and changes attempted. Then the horror of getting stuck in a place where the bad guys are in charge and there is no recourse, no one to listen and accept uncomfortable truths. This book should be required reading for everyone who has to work within or with the prison system - the keepers and the kept. Laws need to be changed, and hearts and minds need to turn away from the carefully taught bigotries and prejudices we've all been taught are simply preferences. The story is complicated, looping back on itself, and reading it made me itchy like with a rash. Not only was I stunned at the story, I was appalled at my own Ignorance sitting there, almost a tangible presence, reading alongside me like a whole, astonished, head-shaking person. Denial wanted a seat, too, but we kept pushing her out - too much Truth filled the room. We had no idea. Heard about things like this but. . .hells bells. Not the best book, not the best author. But seriously one of the most important messages and tales to which we all need to pay attention. Miscarriage of justice is one thing, but the stubborn corruptions wrapped up in pious virtues need to be recognized, called out and rendered impotent. Brother Woodfox, Write On!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Our prison system is cruel and inhumane. This book is one of the best prison memoirs I've ever read (exempting Mandela and Assata). Woodfox's book is not just about his experiences, but it is about the system in general and how it tried to diminish his dignity. He reclaimed it by joining the Black Panthers and organizing his prison to fight rape and other degrading things that the guards allowed. This book made me really depressed that we do this to other humans.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Calzean

    Yikes what an indictment of the US legal and prison system. This is a book on many of the things wrong with the Land of the Brave. It is not much of an endorsement. Woodfox's experiences in the aptly named prison Angola, Louisiana. It read like a war zone, ruled by despots with all the accompanying violence, rape, racism, corruptness and hopelessness. But Woodfox finds hope and strength in his adoption of Black Panther ideals of unity, helping others, strength in the face adversity. He spends al Yikes what an indictment of the US legal and prison system. This is a book on many of the things wrong with the Land of the Brave. It is not much of an endorsement. Woodfox's experiences in the aptly named prison Angola, Louisiana. It read like a war zone, ruled by despots with all the accompanying violence, rape, racism, corruptness and hopelessness. But Woodfox finds hope and strength in his adoption of Black Panther ideals of unity, helping others, strength in the face adversity. He spends almost 40 years in solitary confinement after being framed for the murder of a prison guard. The last part of the book, which is a bit detailed, covers the efforts to gain his (and his co-accused Herman Wallace) freedom. What a journey, what a wall of resistance, what drives the people who kept stone-walling?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    This stark prison memoir is painful to read. Basically, the author was framed for a murder while doing hard time in the super-max Angola prison in Louisiana for a lesser crime. His new sentence was to serve life and thus begins his long travail to finding peace and justice. The memoir demonstrates how the practice of solitary confinement is "cruel and unusual punishment." If you want to learn more about the black man's struggles in the U.S. prison system, Solitary is a good place to start.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    This book made me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the sense that people are still being treated differently because of the color of their skin. It seems so simple - we are all the same. Yet hate always seems to win. This book was disheartening, but hopeful. Mr. Woodfox clings to that hope. You can feel his hope reaching out and over the hate in the pages of this book. I would be honored to meet Mr. Woodfox one day. I would need to apologize. I would need to shake his hand.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    As an expose of America's corrupt and cruel criminal justice system, this is a hugely important story to tell. Woodfox was in prison for a crime he admits committing, but while in prison is then convicted of a murder he clearly did not commit. He spent the next 40 years in solitary confinement while the State of Louisiana did everything it could (both legal and illegal) to keep him there and hide their corruption. As a book, however, it gets very repetitive. The lists of people who sat on variou As an expose of America's corrupt and cruel criminal justice system, this is a hugely important story to tell. Woodfox was in prison for a crime he admits committing, but while in prison is then convicted of a murder he clearly did not commit. He spent the next 40 years in solitary confinement while the State of Louisiana did everything it could (both legal and illegal) to keep him there and hide their corruption. As a book, however, it gets very repetitive. The lists of people who sat on various committees, the rehashing of the legal maneuvering again and again, don't make Woodfox's story any more compelling. A more streamlined narrative would have sustained the emotional gut-punch that his story should be for every person in America. It's an absolutely essential story to tell about the cruel and inhumane practice of extended solitary confinement, not to mention the corruption, systemic racism, and hypocrisy of the American criminal justice system.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    “Our resistance gave us an identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will.” -Albert Woodfox “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” —Frederick Douglass “[If ] any white man in the world says ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ the entire world applauds. When a black man “Our resistance gave us an identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will.” -Albert Woodfox “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” —Frederick Douglass “[If ] any white man in the world says ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ the entire world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one.” —James Baldwin He starts by telling of his youth and his mother and her wisdom and fortitude. A telling of survival in poverty under Jim Crow laws, being called names, despicable kind, the racist kind. Be prepared for the days of the unstoppable force that is Albert Woodfox presented before you in this narrative, if you did not know him then you surely will now with awe and respect, man of code, principle. and no s**t toleration, a raw and unfiltered narrative of an urban survivalist. His first jail sentence seems to be for two years for auto theft he had escaped the jail and brought back, he then landed in Angola at 18 he was set at doing two years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, then overtime at aged 24 he was already through five years of being in and out of 4 different prisons, with one final terrible one, Angola, but this time in solitary for many years. He does no look for sympathy in this narrative this laying down of his struggle but he does draw empathy, he had certain choices in life and due to poverty, racism, and social economic divide took them. As he joined the Black Panther Party and started a chapter in the prison he became a threat to the status quo, in and out of prison. Slavery, poverty, bondage, unjust prison system, corruption, horrors, abuses, but also the power of unity, brotherhood, education, reading, courage, will and hope, all brought back to the readers consciousness again, stark and raw truths layered out one of the most important narratives to be released in 2019. Fighting against injustices, human and civil rights, making wrongs right, including ones of his self, a breaker of laws, metamorphosing into one of no more crimes, reestablished reborn with all the darkness, using his light and fortitude and what his mother instilled courage and leadership, never giving up and moving forward even if his life was in 6’ by 9’ in solitary. A terrible tragedy within these pages and tale of empowerment and not allowing the prison to shape him, an inspiring struggle, this is a journey a portrait of a young to older man in incarceration and despite it all, compassion remains, courage and a fortified human being with unbreakable will. Read my review with excerpts @ More2Read

  10. 4 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    ‘In beautifully poetic language that starkly contrasts the world he's describing, Woodfox awes and inspires. He illustrates the power of the human spirit, while illuminating the dire need for prison reform in the United States. Solitary is a brilliant blend of passion, terror and hope that everyone needs to experience.’ Shelf Awareness [starred review] ‘[A] profound book about friendship … told simply but not tersely…If the ending of this book does not leave you with tears pooling down in your cl ‘In beautifully poetic language that starkly contrasts the world he's describing, Woodfox awes and inspires. He illustrates the power of the human spirit, while illuminating the dire need for prison reform in the United States. Solitary is a brilliant blend of passion, terror and hope that everyone needs to experience.’ Shelf Awareness [starred review] ‘[A] profound book about friendship … told simply but not tersely…If the ending of this book does not leave you with tears pooling down in your clavicles, you are a stronger person than I am.’ New York Times ‘[A] book that is wrenching… Woodfox’s story makes [for] uncomfortable reading, which is as it should be. Solitary should make every reader writhe with shame and ask: What am I going to do to help change this?’ Washington Post

  11. 4 out of 5

    William

    A real life horror story. A man spends 40 years in solitary for a crime he did not commit, mostly in the (ex) slave plantation of Angola prison in Louisiana. I liken the U.S. penal system to tide pods. A concentration of the blatant racism, wage slavery, predatory capitalism, and the police state that exists in our larger society. That a man decided to protest his innocence, keep his dignity, help his fellow inmates ward off rape and mistreatment, could not go unpunished by prison authorities. I A real life horror story. A man spends 40 years in solitary for a crime he did not commit, mostly in the (ex) slave plantation of Angola prison in Louisiana. I liken the U.S. penal system to tide pods. A concentration of the blatant racism, wage slavery, predatory capitalism, and the police state that exists in our larger society. That a man decided to protest his innocence, keep his dignity, help his fellow inmates ward off rape and mistreatment, could not go unpunished by prison authorities. Incredibly, the Angola prison farm was run by the same family that owned it when it was a legal slave plantation. They ran it as if emancipation was but a small technicality. (That family was finally ousted after Federal intervention). Albert Woodfox was a member of the first prison based chapter of the Black Panthers. For this crime he spent the majority of his life behind bars under going various levels of torture. That he did not succumb to insanity is something I cannot fathom. His humanity and the inhumanity of his torturers and the prison system is laid bare. The business of prisons is booming. That tRump reversed the Obama order to get the Federal government out of the business of modern slavery after only 2 weeks in office, tells us of the power and monies at stake in this business. If there is any desire to end the very worst of American society, then prison reform, abolishment of solitary confinement, and punishment for racist police tactics must be foremost in our agendas. Read this horror story and become very very angry. Then join the fight.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Niklas Pivic

    When Albert Woodfox was incarcerated and sentenced to quite a stretch in jail, he didn't know what to think, really; he was a teenager who'd got muddled up in basic criminal teenage stuff. One of Woodfox's great strengths is his ability to express himself straightforwardly, without mucking up a line. As here: The first time I was called a nigger by a white person I was around 12. I was waiting with dozens of other kids at the end of the Mardi Gras parade behind the Municipal Auditorium where the p When Albert Woodfox was incarcerated and sentenced to quite a stretch in jail, he didn't know what to think, really; he was a teenager who'd got muddled up in basic criminal teenage stuff. One of Woodfox's great strengths is his ability to express himself straightforwardly, without mucking up a line. As here: The first time I was called a nigger by a white person I was around 12. I was waiting with dozens of other kids at the end of the Mardi Gras parade behind the Municipal Auditorium where the people on the floats, who were all white in those days, gave away whatever beads and trinkets they had left. On one of the floats the man tossing the trinkets was holding a real beautiful strand of pearl-colored beads. I thought they’d make a nice gift for my mom on her birthday. I called out to him, “Hey mister, hey mister,” and reached out my hand. He pointed to me as he held the beads above his head and tossed them toward me. As the beads came close to me I reached up and a white girl standing next to me put her hand up and caught them at the same time I did. I didn’t let go. I gestured to the man on the float and told her, “Hey, he was throwing the beads to me.” I told her I wanted to give them to my mom. She looked at the man on the float who was still pointing at me, then she ripped the beads apart and called me nigger. The pain I felt from that young white girl calling me nigger will be with me forever. Also: At night, we stood under a streetlight on the corner of Dumaine and Robertson and talked shit for hours, boasting about things we never did, describing girls we never knew. It's a fair shake to a man who can describe aeons of time in a single line. I cannot even get into the innards of what happened to Woodfox, but he does a great job at showing what went down in Angola, a big American jail, where he went in the 1960s: If you were raped at Angola, or what was called “turned out,” your life in prison was virtually over. You became a “gal-boy,” a possession of your rapist. You’d be sold, pimped, used, and abused by your rapist and even some guards. Your only way out was to kill yourself or kill your rapist. If you killed your rapist you’d be free of human bondage within the confines of the prison forever, but in exchange, you’d most likely be convicted of murder, so you’d have to spend the rest of your life at Angola. Some orderlies, inmate guards, and freeman who worked at RC sold the names of young and weak new arrivals to sexual predators in the prison population. I had to be much more confident than I felt to keep guys from trying stupid shit with me. I couldn’t look weak. I couldn’t show any fear. So I faked it. Luckily, I had a reputation as a fighter who never gave up. There were prisoners at Angola I had known on the street and who knew me or knew of me. Word spreads quickly in prison. Dudes gossiped and talked. Word was if you whip my ass today you have to whip it again tomorrow. You have to beat me every day for the rest of your life if necessary. That helped me a lot. Just those two paragraphs put the fear of Bog in me. This is quite the book to go well together with Shane Bauer's excellent exposé of the privately-owned prisons in the USA; that book is named "American Prison". One of the greatest hardships for me the first few months I was at Angola was getting used to the sameness of every day. The hardest job I ever had in my life was cutting sugarcane, Angola’s main crop. Cutting cane was so brutal that prisoners would pay somebody to break their hands, legs, or ankles, or they would cut themselves during cane season, to get out of doing it. There were old-timers at Angola who made good money breaking prisoners’ bones so men could get out of work. And that's just the start. Woodfox's political being starts becoming awakened due to meeting persons who taught him of The Black Panthers, and what they wanted to teach (and learn). This changed matters inside: We practiced martial arts together on the tier. We read aloud. We held math classes, spelling classes. We talked about what was going on in the world. Every Friday we passed out a spelling or math test. We encouraged debates and conversation. We told each man he had a say. “Stand up for yourself,” we told them, “for your own self-esteem, for your own dignity.” Even the roughest, most hardened person usually responds when you see the dignity and humanity in him and ask him to see it for himself. “The guards will retaliate,” we said, “but we will always face that together.” Where the book goes slightly not-good, is where Woodfox goes deeply into his own case; while I see how the details are important to him, I personally feel the book should have been edited tighter; my mind had a hard time staying focused on all of the minutiae, the majority of which I will not be taking with me to my grave. In a larger context, sure, I can see how that all pans out by showing how the government/state/prison/DAs wanted to grind Woodfox down to stop appealing for justice. Woodfox is really paying back to reading, what reading did for him: Reading was a bright spot for me. Reading was my salvation. Libraries and universities and schools from all over Louisiana donated books to Angola and for once, the willful ignorance of the prison administration paid off for us, because there were a lot of radical books in the prison library: Books we wouldn’t have been allowed to get through the mail. Books we never could have afforded to buy. Books we had never heard of. Herman, King, and I first gravitated to books and authors that dealt with politics and race—George Jackson, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Steve Biko, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, J. A. Rogers’s From ‘Superman’ to Man. We read anything we could find on slavery, communism, socialism, Marxism, anti-imperialism, the African independence movements, and independence movements from around the world. There's so much good in this book. I hope it gets spread everywhere.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sam toer

    An scathing indictment to cruel and inhumane prison system.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Becks

    I read this book at exactly the right time! I explain why I gave this book five stars in my BookTube Prize Semifinals wrap up: https://youtu.be/yCvcirjUao0 I read this book at exactly the right time! I explain why I gave this book five stars in my BookTube Prize Semifinals wrap up: https://youtu.be/yCvcirjUao0

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Luna

    This is the story of the Angola 3, who spent decades in solitary confinement in a slave plantation-turned-prison in Louisiana. Beneath the word SOLITARY, I see the word SOLIDARITY. Solidarity between the three men who were moved by the black panther party in the late sixties to change their lives and the lives of those around them. Solidarity in the struggle for survival and human rights against all odds, solidarity between these prisoners and their supporters on the outside who number in the hu This is the story of the Angola 3, who spent decades in solitary confinement in a slave plantation-turned-prison in Louisiana. Beneath the word SOLITARY, I see the word SOLIDARITY. Solidarity between the three men who were moved by the black panther party in the late sixties to change their lives and the lives of those around them. Solidarity in the struggle for survival and human rights against all odds, solidarity between these prisoners and their supporters on the outside who number in the hundreds of thousands. This is companion reading to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow or Patrisse Khan-Cullors's When They Call You a Terrorist or any number of expository works about our American injustice machine and the lives it destroys. There is no excuse for not knowing that the penal system doesn't rehabilitate people, and that justice is an actual impossibility in our justice system.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Some books we read to bear witness; to acknowledge the pain and suffering our country causes her own citizens to bear. Albert Woodcox was sent to prison, once there his life became a living hell. Accused of a crime there that he did not commit, he was held in solitary confinement for decades. Decades. This book explains his experience and the struggle for his release. Prison reform is but the tip of the iceberg in the change needed to rectify what happened to him. This book is important to read. Some books we read to bear witness; to acknowledge the pain and suffering our country causes her own citizens to bear. Albert Woodcox was sent to prison, once there his life became a living hell. Accused of a crime there that he did not commit, he was held in solitary confinement for decades. Decades. This book explains his experience and the struggle for his release. Prison reform is but the tip of the iceberg in the change needed to rectify what happened to him. This book is important to read. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brian Wraight

    Please just read it. Woodfox isn’t the first person to suffer at the hands of America’s broken criminal justice system and, as long as the prison industrial complex and systemic racism continue to chug along and get away with it, he most certainly won’t be the last. Yes, he’s one of many. Yes, it’s a story that we’ve heard before. And that’s exactly why his story is important and needs to be told.

  18. 5 out of 5

    K

    Truly amazing. Prisons are sexual and anti-Black violence. Abolish them all. Albert is a genius.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    A story like this can’t help but be powerful. Albert Woodfox is the living personification of our beloved underdog. A member of an underprivileged class, he’s hit with enough abuse to bury most people, but he only comes out of it stronger. The memoir, co-authored with Leslie George, takes us through Woodfox’s youth before he’s landed in prison on various burglary charges (it’s a little more complicated than that, but “burglary” seems to be the one thing he was guilty of.) Growing up in New Orlean A story like this can’t help but be powerful. Albert Woodfox is the living personification of our beloved underdog. A member of an underprivileged class, he’s hit with enough abuse to bury most people, but he only comes out of it stronger. The memoir, co-authored with Leslie George, takes us through Woodfox’s youth before he’s landed in prison on various burglary charges (it’s a little more complicated than that, but “burglary” seems to be the one thing he was guilty of.) Growing up in New Orleans in the fifties and sixties, the facts of his life laid bare unfair treatment from even before he was behind bars. Yes, he and his friends ran street gangs and judged each other in terms of toxic masculinity, but they also faced Jim Crow segregation and regular beatings by police. It’s easy to see the cycle feeding itself. Woodfox first landed in Angola prison before he was 20, a place described, in eerie detail, as a mirror image of slavery in the antebellum south. It was a plantation, after all, with white administrative families living on the land for generations, and malnourished black inmates picking cotton, often without the proper tools, for pennies. Psychological conditioning is a major part of prison; keeping inmates focused on the drug and sex (read: rape) trade means they’re not worrying too much about their rights under US law. When Woodfox was first in prison, he presented himself as a tough guy, which belied his true emotional state, he writes. Later, during one of his brief stints out of prison, he discovered the Black Panther Party and with it a cause to believe in. He started to educate himself about systematic oppression and other issues, and lived for something larger than himself. Brief caveat to note that Woodfox was returned to prison mostly on trumped up charges—police trying to “clear their books” by pinning all unsolved crimes on one perp. But being framed for the murder of Angola guard Brent Miller was something bigger. Revitalized by his Black Panther convictions, Woodfox was working to stop toxic prison culture and advocate for inmate rights. Putting him in solitary, at least given the conditions he described, which went on for literal decades, was designed to break him. Instead, Woodfox fostered deep friendships with the men he was wrongfully convicted with, and their continued education and discipline ultimately progressed into an activist support group on the outside. Still, thanks to the mix of incompetent to corrupt legal proceedings men like Woodfox face in the US, he was kept in solitary for over 40 years. Woodfox describes, in stark to the point prose, the claustrophobia and other psychological anomalies of solitary confinement, being stuck in his small cell for 23 hours a day. It’s easy to let the facts speak for themselves and get caught up in the injustice of this story. The legal proceedings, however, which Woodfox reports in similarly excruciating detail, were less effective. On a logical level (when I could keep up with all the names) I understood the preposterous nature of his experience with the US “justice system.” But it droned on and on, and it lacked the emotional power of his personal day to day life. To be frank, the power of this story comes less from the writing craft than from the circumstances described. But it’s an important piece, and often moving, particularly the progression of Woodfox’s strong friendship with Herman Wallace. Woodfox stands by the idea that this is an “issues” book, particularly in the epilogue when he addresses readers as activists. He’s against the tyranny of solitary confinement and the US prison industrial complex as a whole. He points out continued systematic racism in the justice system. He’s anti-capitalist and maintains his allegiance to the spirit of the Black Panthers (a revolutionary socialist group, whose end is chronicled in this book as a longstanding FBI plot.) His fire is on full display. But so too is his heart, the fact that he can maintain close relationships and not allow the injustice in his life to drown out a sense of goodness. “I bear the scars of beatings, loneliness, isolation and persecution,” he writes at the end of his epilogue. “I am also marked by every kindness.” A role model (to put it lightly) worth our aspiration.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kazen

    Woodfox's story is eyeopening and heart-wrenching - convicted for a murder he did not commit he spent 40 years in solitary confinement before being exonerated. As a piece of writing I had some issues with the book though, so check out my full thoughts in this Booktube Prize vlog: https://youtu.be/F90Ee0WglUw Woodfox's story is eyeopening and heart-wrenching - convicted for a murder he did not commit he spent 40 years in solitary confinement before being exonerated. As a piece of writing I had some issues with the book though, so check out my full thoughts in this Booktube Prize vlog: https://youtu.be/F90Ee0WglUw

  21. 4 out of 5

    Caylie Valenta

    Everyone should read this story. Incredible,moving, painful, heartbreaking, uplifting, eye-opening, and powerful all in one. It deserves more than five stars.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: This was a powerful story showing the human cost of systemic problems. This is the memoir of Albert Woodfox, a man who survived more than 40 years of solitary confinement imposed for a crime he didn't commit. As you might expect, a lot of the power of this book came from the author's experiences. It was absolutely incredible how he was able to focus on the people who helped him, rather than on those who wronged him. The purpose he found in his life is inspiring. The writing felt simple an Summary: This was a powerful story showing the human cost of systemic problems. This is the memoir of Albert Woodfox, a man who survived more than 40 years of solitary confinement imposed for a crime he didn't commit. As you might expect, a lot of the power of this book came from the author's experiences. It was absolutely incredible how he was able to focus on the people who helped him, rather than on those who wronged him. The purpose he found in his life is inspiring. The writing felt simple and I wasn't initially certain it would be effective in conveying the horror of his situation. As I read more of Albert's story though, I found a different sort of power in his matter-of-fact litany of abuses that prisoners faced. He doesn't emphasize the horror of these abuses through emotional writing. Rather, he shows that the true horror is how common place and expected abuse was, both abuse of prisoners and abuse of the justice system. The beginning of the story, describing the author's childhood, was an interesting window into what it was like growing up black in the 1950s-60s. It was less effective as a window into who the author was as a person. it seems likely that he started committing petty thefts, etc because his family was poor and because police injustice and brutality left him with little respect for the law. The reader is left to draw this conclusion on their own though. There was very little introspection in this early section. Even larger events, like abandoning a wife and child in his teens, included no explanation or expressions of regret. Fortunately, the trajectory of the book seemed to follow the trajectory of Albert's life. As the author gained political awareness through meeting members of the Black Panthers, his writing moved from sounding like he was repeating to Black Panther slogans to thoughtful commentary on systemic racism and injustice. As the author grew up and had to learn to manage his emotions to survive in solitary, he began to have more insight into himself to share with the reader as well. The author's inclusion of political commentary also got more powerful as the book progressed. The initial history of Angola prison, when Albert arrived, felt out-of-place. It seemed unlikely he would have known the information he was sharing at that time in his life. By the epilogue, the statistics he shared about wrongful imprisonment; systemic racism; police brutality; and solitary confinement in the US all had more impact shared against the background of his own personal suffering. Perhaps mistakenly, I did expect a slightly more information dense text. I have only read the nominees for this award from last year, but something I enjoyed most about those books was the feeling of being filled to the brim with new facts. So far, the only nominee I've read this year that was similar is The Heartbeat at Wounded Knee. So, while I blown away by the author of this book and I think this is a story very much worth reading, I'm still rooting for Heartbeat to win the award at the moment.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Not a fan. First of all, it is not very well written or well edited. It goes into far too much detail, for example, on various court cases, even including extensive transcripts. All of that is unnecessary. Hinton's "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row" is better written and more persuasive. Second, I just had a problem with Woodfox himself. Before being arrested, he routinely made armed robberies and assaulted people. And yet at least twice in the book he says that he r Not a fan. First of all, it is not very well written or well edited. It goes into far too much detail, for example, on various court cases, even including extensive transcripts. All of that is unnecessary. Hinton's "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row" is better written and more persuasive. Second, I just had a problem with Woodfox himself. Before being arrested, he routinely made armed robberies and assaulted people. And yet at least twice in the book he says that he regrets nothing: > I have been asked many times what I would change about my life. My answer is always the same: "Not one thing." I don't understand this. He doesn't seem to realize the effects of his crimes on others. For example, > When I needed money, I went out and got it from a person walking down the street. I was a stickup artist … After robbing people on the streets and jacking dope pushers I eventually started robbing bars and grocery stores while they were open. I walked into a bar, pointed the gun at the bartender or somebody sitting at the bar, and yelled, "Nobody move, motherfucker. I'll kill you." … An unarmed deputy was seated next to the control panel. As soon as the doors closed I pulled the gun from my pants with my free hand and held it to his head. I told him to keep the doors closed and take us to the basement or I would shoot him. I didn't mean it but that's what I said And yet, he also writes, > "I used to think I kept getting arrested because I had bad luck," I told them. "It wasn't bad luck. I was targeted because I am black, that's why I kept getting arrested." I get the sense from the book that Woodfox is highly self-absorbed. The book is about him, and only him. He seems to have mythologized himself as a civil rights warrior. It's good that this attitude got him through prison, but it's hard to read past his ego. Until the last chapter, everything is about him alone (and sometimes two others at Angola). The last chapter broadens the scale to criminal justice reform, but in a very unconvincing way. One is far better off reading Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness". > To those of you who have spent years struggling for human rights and social justice: Don't give up. Look at me and see how the strength and determination of the human spirit defy all evil. For 44 years I defied the state of Louisiana and the Department of Corrections. Their main objective was to break my spirit. They did not break me. I have witnessed the horrors of man's cruelty to man. I did not lose my humanity. I bear the scars of beatings, loneliness, isolation, and persecution. I am also marked by every kindness. More quotes: > Malik got word to me from Oakland that we should start a separate chapter of the party—a prison chapter—at Angola. Before I left Orleans Parish Prison, I took an oath on C-1 to become a member of the Black Panther Party. On my last day there, one of the Panthers gave me a copy of the Little Red Book, a collection of quotations from Mao Tse-tung. > I thought it was sad that I had to come to prison to find out there were great African Americans in this country and in this world, and to find role models that I should have had available to me in school. What helped me was that I knew I wasn't a criminal anymore. I considered myself to be a political prisoner. Not in the sense that I was incarcerated for a political crime, but because of a political system that had failed me terribly as an individual and a citizen in this country. > Our resistance gave us an identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will. My determination not to be broken was stronger than any other part of me, stronger than anything they did to me. > They thought they would stop our organizing by separating us but all they did was spread our influence. Wherever they put us, we started over, organizing our tiers. Pooling resources. Educating prisoners. Setting examples by our own conduct. In this way, we taught men the power of unity. > I'd been framed for murder, persecuted at my trial, and wrongfully convicted. But I didn't feel like a sacrificial lamb. I felt like a member of the Black Panther Party. If anything, I had become more of a revolutionary than I was before > Since Judge Tanner had overturned my murder conviction in 1992, my sentence at Angola went from life in prison back to the 50-year sentence I was serving for armed robbery. On April 29, 1996, I was discharged from Angola on that original 50-year sentence, having done 25 years—half the time, which was all that was required. If I hadn't been framed for Miller's murder I would have gone home that day. Instead, I packed up my possessions. I was to be transferred to a jail in Tangipahoa Parish, where I'd be held during my second trial. > If I knew everything that was going to happen to me and I could turn back the hands of time, I would not change one thing about my life—not one moment of dedication, not one moment of struggle, not one moment of physical pain that I've suffered from beatings by prison people in New York and in Angola. > In all the years I was at Angola, I'd been on so many hunger strikes I can't count them, yet I was never written up for one. They wrote me up for "defiance" or "disobedience" or "aggravated disobedience." They didn't want a record of our protests. > I don't know if they overmedicated people, or if it was the nature of the drug, but Prolixin almost made men immobile. It broke my heart to see men on this drug. It would take them damn near an hour to walk from one end of the hall to another. They stopped taking showers. Their cells became filthy. Drugs like this were referred to as "chemical restraints." > I can tell you that it changes you—the grief overwhelms you, the "what ifs" haunt you. And now I have to live with another tragedy—the two innocent men, who have already spent 36 years in solitary confinement, who remain in prison for a crime that they did not commit. This is a tragedy that the state of Louisiana seems willing to live with. I am not. I hope you aren't either. . . . After over 36 years, there can be no excuse to deny justice for one more day. It is time for the state of Louisiana to finally compare the bloody prints found at the crime scene to every inmate who was incarcerated at Angola on the date of Brent's murder and find out who left his fingerprint on the wall of that prison dormitory before he walked out and left Brent there to die.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    An African American teen with a criminal record went to jail many times. Then he got framed for a prison murder and spent 40 years (yes 40 years) in Solitary Confinement and survived intact. This book is inspirational and provides a masterclass on what is wrong with our criminal justice system, particually if you are black. How did he survive?: Guts, tenancity, education, discipline, humanity, Black Panthers. He became a Black Panther and talked about what that meant to him. I found this part fa An African American teen with a criminal record went to jail many times. Then he got framed for a prison murder and spent 40 years (yes 40 years) in Solitary Confinement and survived intact. This book is inspirational and provides a masterclass on what is wrong with our criminal justice system, particually if you are black. How did he survive?: Guts, tenancity, education, discipline, humanity, Black Panthers. He became a Black Panther and talked about what that meant to him. I found this part fascinating as the BP's often get a bad wrap. I liked the first half of the book better than the last. In the first you learn about him and his perdicament in the second there was a bit too much on his decades-long legal fight. Note to self, never go to jail.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    Very moved reading this book. I’m from Baton Rouge in Louisiana so this book really hit home for me. My class visited Angola on a field trip when I was in high school in 2003. So, he was there during that time. I found some parts very difficult to read, very hard to deal with, and found myself shaking my head more often than not. Albert Woodfox is incredible and his story is uplifting and full of hope. Would definitely recommend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Every American needs to read this book. My perspective and understanding is now deeper and broader. I’m still processing what I read so will have to edit this review later.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Donna Lewis

    This is an incredible book. Albert Woodfox grew up in a poor section of New Orleans. In the 50s and 60s, he was a petty criminal. Arrested as a teenager, he spent time in four different prisons before being exposed to the Black Panthers, who taught him that “you don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water.” He learned how to not give in to fear. Along with two other Angola inmates (Herman and King) he focused on passive resistance and using education to save themselves. Because of thei This is an incredible book. Albert Woodfox grew up in a poor section of New Orleans. In the 50s and 60s, he was a petty criminal. Arrested as a teenager, he spent time in four different prisons before being exposed to the Black Panthers, who taught him that “you don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water.” He learned how to not give in to fear. Along with two other Angola inmates (Herman and King) he focused on passive resistance and using education to save themselves. Because of their efforts as mentors, leaders and teachers, they were able to make changes in the treatment of prisoners, however, they were continually placed in solitary, with unimaginable torture, including being locked in tiny, rat and bug-infested cells for 23 hours a day. They were railroaded for the murder of a prison guard, leading to life sentences — without evidence or fair trials. They fought against “cruel and unusual” punishment for years, gaining the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, and other worldwide organizations. Yet, the Louisiana court system continued to punish them for their involvement with a terrorist organization, the Black Panthers, even though the Panthers were not really a functioning organization in the 80s and 90s. After some 40 years in solitary, the three of them aged and developed serious health issues. And they were still accused of trumped up infractions leading to harsher and harsher conditions. “In 2016, according to the NAACP, African Americans were incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites...Racism isn’t as blatant as it was 44 years ago, but it is still here...”. Anyone even slightly interested in prison reform, should read this book, and should get angry and demand changes to what amounts to legalized slavery in our prisons. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, “139 wrongfully convicted people were exonerated and released from prison in 2017.” It is amazing to me that this incredibly well-spoken man has been able to write this powerful book without the anger that would have consumed most people in this situation. He has earned my respect and support.

  28. 5 out of 5

    /d.

    They buried us. They didn't know we were seeds. Solitary is hands down one of the - if not the - most jaw-dropping work of non-fiction I have ever come across. It is one of a series of books I have recently chosen to read in an effort to educate myself on race relations, racial bias, and the criminal justice system. Previous books have included Long Walk to Freedom, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Between the World and Me and Bilal: Sur La Route Des Clandestins. The key to resistance is un They buried us. They didn't know we were seeds. Solitary is hands down one of the - if not the - most jaw-dropping work of non-fiction I have ever come across. It is one of a series of books I have recently chosen to read in an effort to educate myself on race relations, racial bias, and the criminal justice system. Previous books have included Long Walk to Freedom, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Between the World and Me and Bilal: Sur La Route Des Clandestins. The key to resistance is unity While I would certainly recommend all of these books to anyone trying to better understand racial discrimination, I have found Solitary to be the book that most got under my skin and that best illustrated the injustices which people of colour experience disproportionately both in the US and around the world. I knew everybody's experience in society shaped who he was in prison. I reminded myself of that when men on my tier were hard to deal with. Being in solitary confinement constantly weighed on these men, too, and could make them wordse. I tried to deal with each man as an individual, in the present moment. You lean there are layers to people. You look for the good. This can set you up for disappointment. Once I did some legal paperwork for a prisoner that reduced his sentence to "time served." He was going to be released from prison because of the work I did for him. The day after he found out he came to the door of my cell and threw human waste at me. He was pissed off because I was watching the news and I wouldn't let him change the TV channel to a different program. You can't hold on to those experiences or you become bitter. Every day you start over. You look for the humanity in each individual. Solitary is a powerful read, to say the least, the unbelievable story of a man who refused to be broken by the punitive system's most obnoxious but also arbitrary punishments. It's a story of mental strength, resistance, the believe in a better future, hope, compassion, endurance, hard-earned, long lasting friendships, grace and wisdom, all of which are woven together into a narrative so powerful that I had to read the last 70 or so pages through a blur of tears. By age 40 I had learned that to be human is to grow, to create, to contribute, and that fear stops growth. Fear retards the process of growing. Fear causes confusion and uncertainty. Fear kills one's sense of self-worth. By eradicating fear on the tier, I learned that men can deal with each other better. They can get along. I wondered if in society, we could build a world in which we do not fear one another. What I really liked about this book and what I was hoping for, was how skilfully Woodfox allowed his personal account to merge with facts about the "prison-industrial complex" toward the end of the book, with a call to reform that could not be more relevant: We need to confront the realities of the prison-industrial complex. America has the largest prison population, per capita, int he world. Money is made off prisoners' backs. Prisoners are forced to ship in prison stores. They (or their families) are forced to pay astronomical fees to outside companies to make phone calls, and in some cases, forced to visit through video services, which also cost the prisoner money. In some prisons, inmates are forced to work full-time making products for multinaitonal corporations for almost no pay. The legal definition of "slavery" is "the state of one person being forced to work under the control of another." The U.S. prisons are contracted by a range of government entities and private corporations to make their products. In most prisons, wages are well below the poverty level. In some states prisoners aren't paid. (Woodfox also explains the "profit mechanisms" and quotas behind private prisons that are essentially run like businesses On one of the book's last pages Woodfox dishes out a call for the abolishment of capitalism that felt heavy handed in comparison to the more diplomatic tone of the rest of the book and honestly caught me by surprise. In light of how "market forces" and the profit motive play a significant role in the way private prisons are being run it is understandable for Woodfox to make this call, though it seems somewhat out of place, less thought through and well-honed in comparison to the rest of his work. I wouldn't criticize him for it though, because he has a valid point and does a great job in starting an absolutely necessary debate. There is so much to be said about this book, and admittedly it's quite difficult to do it justice here. All I can say is: read it! As a European I'm curious to learn whether conditions are equally bad in our countries and what needs to be done on this side of the Atlantic. Either way, Woodfox's book gives me hope and spirit to engage with social issues, especially in a time when it feels like a lot of people are being disheartened by what seems to be an exacerbation of issues wherever we look. Few things, I believe, are as worthy of anyone's time and effort, as the fate of the wrongfully convicted and living conditions of those that sit behind bars and whose voices aren't heard (to anyone interested in these particular topics I can also recommend the netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Albert, thank you for this beautiful book, your honest writing, your strength to survive this nightmare and to tell us about it. Thank you also for saving your most beautiful words for the last page: To those of you who are just entering the world of social struggle, welcome. To those of you who have spend years struggling for human rights and social justice: Don't give up. Look at me and see how the strength and determination of the human spirit defy all evil. For 44 years I defied the state of Louisiana and the Department of Corrections. Their main objective was to break my spirit. They did not break me. I have witnessed the horrors of man's cruelty to man. I did not lose my humanity. I bear the scars of beatings, loneliness, isolation, and persecution. I am also marked by every kindness.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    “Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality—all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are. Our survival depended on understanding what the authorities were attempting to do to us, and sharing that understanding with each other. —Nelson Mandela” “If any white man in the world says ‘Give me liberty, “Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality—all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are. Our survival depended on understanding what the authorities were attempting to do to us, and sharing that understanding with each other. —Nelson Mandela” “If any white man in the world says ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ the entire world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one.” —James Baldwin “When you see organizations like Black Lives Matter under attack for being “racist,” you are seeing the agenda of an unjust economic system at play—a system that seeks to separate groups of people within the majority to benefit the top 1 percent.” Albert Woodfox was released from prison in February 2016. He was in his mid-60s. He spent over 40 years in solitary confinement, trapped in a 9 by 6 cell, for a crime he did not commit. This was in the notorious Angola prison, in Louisiana. This is Albert's story and it is heart-breaking, rage-inducing and in the end triumphant. Instead of becoming a broken man, he became a strong advocate for prison reform, which he continues to do, as he travels the world speaking out. This memoir reminded me of  The Autobiography of Malcolm X, in many ways. It is that powerful, articulate and focused. Our prison system is destroying many lives and needs a complete overhaul. I hope, one day, our leaders will correct this American travesty. 4.5 stars *This was also fantastic on audiobook.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Anne

    This is one of those memoirs that makes me wish I was better at writing reviews. Woodfox has a very important story to share—it gives you insight into so many still relevant issues. From poverty, prison conditions, the negative impact on prolonged solitary confinement, failure within a legal system that claims to protect its citizens & racism both within prison and without. It’s a story of hope, loss, triumph, heartbreak & anger. I don’t give star ratings to memoirs, I won’t put a number on some This is one of those memoirs that makes me wish I was better at writing reviews. Woodfox has a very important story to share—it gives you insight into so many still relevant issues. From poverty, prison conditions, the negative impact on prolonged solitary confinement, failure within a legal system that claims to protect its citizens & racism both within prison and without. It’s a story of hope, loss, triumph, heartbreak & anger. I don’t give star ratings to memoirs, I won’t put a number on someone’s life story. Pick this book up, pass it along. It’s important

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