Those are the timeless words reportedly uttered by Angola 3 member Herman Wallace, who was finally released from Angola State Penitentiary after over 40 years. “Get me the f#@k outta here.” Most of his time had been spent in solitary confinement. A surprise judicial order, issued this morning, explains what a gross injustice has been done to Herman. Trials with no evidence, yet plenty of racial hatred, serve to do what a lynch mob formerly did: find someone, anyone, to be punished for a crime.
Tonight is not about who actually killed a prison guard decades ago. Tonight is about the resolve of more than one man. It is about the fortitude of a community who would never relent in the pursuit of justice. The text I received from a young law school graduate, about where we could greet Herman’s ambulance, came from someone who was inspired to attend law school because of Herman Wallace. The tears of joy flowed amongst a hastily assembled crowd of roughly 50 supporters cheering raucously in the rain.
“Ain’t no power like the Power of People, ‘cause the Power of People don’t stop!”
Among the group were members of the Angola 3 Support Committee, including Parnell Herbert, a fellow Black Panther who wrote a play titled “Angola 3.” Also present were former prisoners, attorneys, and activists, as well as Jackie Sumell, an artist who created “Herman’s House.” This endeavor was a collaboration between Jackie and Herman, transforming the lives of the creators and revealing a spark of humanity to us all.
We all live within these powerful stories. We can choose what role we play. Will we be the humanitarian prison guard or the one who is ruthless and vindictive? Will we be the judge who keeps a keen eye over equal justice or the one who rubber stamps a charade? Neighbors who stand united or those who retreat divided? So many people played a role in the saga of Herman Wallace, and these people certainly will follow the call of Jackie Summell tonight: to strengthen the resolve to see Albert Woodfox also free. Robert King’s case was overturned. Herman’s case was overturned, and it took two orders (including a threat of being held in contempt) before the prison officials would release him. Albert’s case was also overturned, and the state is appealing, as Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell cements his role in this powerful story.
I’m reminded of Kenny Waters, a wrongfully convicted Massachusetts man who won his freedom after his sister Betty Ann went to law school and overturned his case. He served 18 years. At the premiere of the movie “Conviction,” starring Sam Rockwell and Hillary Swank, someone asked Betty Ann Waters the million dollar question: “Where is Kenny now?” Over half the theatre must have cringed. Kenny died a few months after his release. Yet as Betty Ann told the crowd, “He died innocent. And he died free.”
Herman Wallace is in the end stages of cancer. He is soon to be transferred into a proper hospice care, where I’m guessing he will be his own warden of his own house. Herman’s House. He has lived many years, and like all of us will die. And fortunately he will die like he was born: Free. But that is a chapter yet to be written. For now, the antiseptic hospital air smells like a fine woman’s perfume, as reality replaces fantasy, and the cold dank penitentiary air is a page of the past.
Welcome home, Herman Wallace. The Saints are 4-0. Who Dat?!
- Judge Orders Angola 3’s Herman Wallace Released From Prison (theatlantic.com)