From Angola Prison to Hartford: the Life of a Black Panther

In July 2020, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Prize was awarded to Albert Woodfox for his book Solitary. Albert Woodfox, known as one of the Angola Three, spent four decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit.

“The Angola Three resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades in Louisiana as political prisoners. Woodfox 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.

In his memoir, Solitary, he shares not only how he survived his ordeal, but also how he was able to inspire his fellow prisoners, and now all of us, with his humanity and devoted activism that stemmed from his identity as a member of the Black Panther Party. Woodfox’s ability 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 United States and around the world.”

Albert Woodfox spoke to an online Hartford-area audience sponsored by the Stowe Center in 2020.

Woodfox, who died from COVID in 2022, was born in 1947 in New Orleans. A committed activist in prison, he spoke before a wide array of audiences, including the Innocence Project, Harvard, Yale, the National Lawyers Guild, and at Amnesty International events in London, Paris, Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium. Solitary was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the 2019 National Book Award.

Angela Davis writes, “Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails.” Davis encourages us to imagine tax dollars used for prison being redirected to basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom to make communities secure. Angela Davis formed Critical Resistance, a national organization with local chapters, to build an international movement to challenge the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. —from the Stowe Center website.

The Solitary Gardens, envisioned by activist and lead artist jackie sumell, are prison-cells-turned-garden-beds built out of the largest chattel slave crops— sugarcane, cotton, indigo, tobacco. “We grow those crops on site, harvest them, grind them down, and then add them to a natural lime, water and clay. Through a process of “tamping”, similar to building rammed earth homes, cob houses, or carbo-neutral building, we construct the walls of the Solitary Gardens illustrating the evolution of chattel slavery into mass incarceration. THE PROCESS is critical to transformation. It allows us as volunteers to engage in meaningful conversations about racial inequality, white supremacy and prison abolition. It allows US to process collectively.

As a result of this process The Solitary Gardens are “alive” and the walls change overtime, off-setting the footprint of prisons made of concrete and steel. As the garden beds mature, the prison architecture is overpowered by plant life, proving that nature—like hope, love, and imagination—will ultimately triumph over the harm humans impose on ourselves and on the planet.

— from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s