Dionne Character Data News Weekly Contributor
Louisiana’s State Penitentiary aka Angola was once considered “The Bloodiest, Most Brutal Penitentiary in the Nation.” Due to fear, trained and paid prison guards refused to enter those dormitories after dark. To alleviate this problem the administration armed and authorized inmates known as Khaki backs to serve as guards. They were authorized to beat and /or kill other inmates when they deemed it necessary.
The play “Angola 3,” written by Playwright/Producer Parnell Herbert, a US Navy Vietnam Vet and Director, Saran Bynum, a Black Amerasian, orphaned girl, abandoned by her biological mother to save her life, adopted by a New Orleans family, is the unimaginable true story of three men, Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King, who were all thrust into infamy because of their principals and unwavering beliefs in humanity for all people.
During this era Prison Guard Brent Miller was killed in one of those dormitories. Angola administrators saw this as an opportunity to silence Black Panther leaders. Woodfox and Wallace were immediately charged and placed in solitary confinement. They were later convicted of Officer Miller’s murder. These two men remained in solitary, 44 and 41 years respectively as they would later along with a few others, become responsible for forming and maintaining one of the first officially sanctioned chapters of the Black Panther Party in a U.S. Prison.
A few days later, Robert King was sent to Angola. Upon his arrival King was immediately placed in solitary confinement as an accessory to Millers murder. Even though he was being held in a different prison at that time, King was eventually wrongfully charged with the murder of another prisoner while in solitary.
Playwright Parnell Herbert (boyhood friend of Albert Woodfox) was shocked when he learned that Woodfox had been in Solitary Confinement for decades. Herbert said, “Everyone knows about Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, and Nelson Mandela. How do we not know about the Angola 3? Men right here in our own backyard? “He decided to contribute what he had to offer. He wrote the play and staged it annually for six years out of his own pocket.
With the passing of Herman Wallace and the release of Albert Woodfox, the staging of the play was stopped. During the five-year hiatus from the stage, the play was being tweaked to not only address Angola 3, mass incarceration, the death penalty and school-to-prison pipeline, there is also a desire to reach and strive more to bring awareness to high school and college aged young people to impress upon them the genocide that is now devouring our young people nationwide.
King would spend 29 years in solitary confinement while Woodfox and Wallace served an incredible 43 years and 10 months in solitary, the longest period of solitary confinement in American Prison History.
It was eventually proven that the men were unfairly targeted, wrongly convicted and held because they were activists trying to bring attention to the notoriously cruel and violent prison. King said he was accused of being a “prison lawyer.” All three were members of the Black Panther Party.
After this undeniable and decades-long injustice the three men would eventually be released from Angola. King was released in 2001 after his conviction was overturned. Herman Wallace, who had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer was released October 1, 2013 with the help of Amnesty International. However, he would die just three days later. Woodfox was released in February of 2016 after his conviction was overturned by the court of appeals. He died from COVID-19 complications in August of 2022. King is the only surviving member of the famous trio.
The Angola 3 Stage Play will be held at The Carver Theater on October 20th, 21st, 27th and 28th, 2023. One can expect the re-enactments to be real and vocal as the actors bring forth the true-life Angola bound experiences by the accused. This special performance will include Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Baby Dolls of New Orleans and New Orleans Heavyweight Amateur Champion Larry D.E. McGee, as Robert King. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.