Herman Wallace is Free

Herman Wallace with artist Jackie Sumell.  Image courtesy of Hermanshousethefilm.com
Model of Herman Wallace's cell, by Jackie Sumell
By Lynn Koh
Oct 1, 2013
I wrote the following blog post before I received the wonderful news today that Herman Wallace has been released from prison on compassionate release. 
Herman Wallace is dying.  Dying of liver cancer.
Herman Wallace was convicted in 1971 of armed robbery and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana to serve his term.  While at Angola, he organized a Black Panther chapter with two other prisoners, Albert Woodfox and Robert King.  The three men began to lead other inmates in actions to end segregation and violence within the prison, and also provided legal assistance to fellow inmates.  When a prison guard was murdered in 1972, all three were framed and placed in solitary confinement.  Robert King was released from prison after 29 years of solitary confinement with his original conviction overturned, while Albert and Herman have served over 40 years in solitary.
On August 31st, Wallace was informed by doctors that his chemotherapy was not working and he would have two months to live.  After learning this, Wallace concluded that "in 1970 I took an oath to dedicate my life as a servant of the people, and although I’m down on my back, I remain at your service."
Dying, like living, has its own rhythm and tempo.  It explodes, sudden and shocking.  The death of the predator drone, of Zimmerman's bullet, of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Or it settles like dusk over the sky.   The slow death of despair in Guantanomo, of depleted uranium sicknesses, of being murdered by casual disregard for prisoners' humanity.

In a statement given to Amnesty International, Herman Wallace described how he was misdiagnosed with a stomach fungus after experiencing chronic weight loss.  "Had I been monitored for my hepatitis C bi-annually, as is standard care, this cancer could have been caught and treated months or even years ago."

I had heard of the Angola 3 as a young radical, but became familiar with Wallace's story through the documentary Herman's House.  The film follows the evolving friendship and collaboration between artist Jackie Sumell and Wallace.  After some correspondence and phone conversation, Jackie decides she wants to work with Wallace to design his dream house, create a model of it for exhibition, and then build the real thing.  

The documentary is moving and beautiful.  I wonder whether the vast canvas of Wallace's imagination makes his cell -- 4 paces deep by 3 paces wide -- feel larger or smaller; and what it means for Jackie to struggle so hard to construct a house for a friend who may never come home.

We often talk of connecting the dots of militarism here at War Times.  I've tried, in somewhat theoretical terms, to do so in different posts.  Let me take another stab at it.
Militarism is the belief that you can occupy a people's spirit, that you can force love into line at a checkpoint.  Militarism is the belief you can incarcerate the imagination, that you can murder the movement, that a servant of the people stops when she takes her last breath.    
Living, like dying, has its own rhythm, its own heartbeat.  Herman Wallace's heart is still beating. Still beating in all of us.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Lynn Koh is a long-time activist in the anti-war movement, and is a labor organizer in the Bay Area.

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