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A wrong that must be righted: behind the bars of Angola

The London Evening Standard
March 10, 2010

Bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River, the Louisiana State Penitentiary is the biggest prison in the United States. They call it The Farm. It was built on the site of a former slave plantation, many of the enslaved coming from the part of Africa that gives another name to the prison: Angola, an institution now famed in legend and song, where certain prisoners are known to have spent their whole lives.

Robert King
Lone ordeal: Robert King, a former Black Panther member, served 29 years in solitary confinement before becoming the only one of the Angola 3 to be released so far

Huckleberry Finn once floated his raft downstream under a full moon, and some of the most punished inmates often think of that. Two such men, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, have been thinking about it during periods of solitary confinement that have lasted for almost 40 years.

Is solitary confinement a form of state-sponsored torture? Recent Presidential candidate John McCain certainly thought so, in relation to his own two-year incarceration in Vietnam. “It's an awful thing, solitary,” he says. Yet during all the years of McCain's freedom, the years of family, politics and Republican glory, Wallace and Woodfox have been penned in cells nine feet long.

There are two and a half million people in American prisons, 25,000 of them held in solitary confinement. The plight of Wallace and Woodfox — and of Robert King, in solitary at Angola for 29 years and now released — is the subject of this year's best documentary film, In the Land of the Free, which shows the cases of the Angola 3 to have been a horrible series of miscarriages.

Trapped: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, right, remain in solitary confinement in Angola

The film is dedicated to the late Anita Roddick, who made Angola her last great campaigning cause, and it proves not only the likely innocence of these men but raises profound questions about the use of solitary confinement.

The power of this magical film is to lend an ear to injustice, in the tradition of the great campaigning films of the past. And it leaves you feeling that “solitary” — a system loved by patriots and Republicans everywhere, most recently at Guantánamo — is actually an offence against the US Constitution and a blatant example of that “cruel and unusual punishment” outlawed in the Bill of Rights.

The story is astonishing. Woodfox was a petty criminal who lived in New Orleans. Wallace was much the same, only harder-core, eventually being convicted of armed robbery. By the end of the Sixties, each man was a long-term prisoner in the New Orleans Parish Prison. At the time of his conviction, Woodfox escaped, making his way to Harlem, where he got involved in the Black Panther movement. When caught, he was placed in the Tombs Penitentiary in New York, a hotbed of Panther insurrection. Then, one day, he was taken to Angola, where he was kept on the same landing as Wallace.

Behind bars: Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola

King, another burglar in the New Orleans prison system, became a Panther after witnessing on TV a shootout involving the police and black revolutionaries. But it would be some years before he found himself incarcerated at Angola with Woodfox and Wallace, who in the meantime were framed for the killing of a prison officer on 17 April 1972. It was the first killing of an employee at Angola for nearly 40 years.

The prison officer's name was Brent Miller. Angola was a cauldron of hatred at the time: new young prisoners were routinely raped and brutalised, and Angola was said to be the bloodiest prison in the whole of the United States.

Newly politicised, Wallace and Woodfox tried to create a “unity of purpose” at the prison, putting an end to the regime of brutality and prisoner-run “security”. There was a work strike in the cafeteria the day of Miller's death, and the young officer was left alone in one of the dormitories with more than 100 inmates, who trickled away to breakfast, leaving him alone with an old black prisoner. He was stabbed 32 times.

Nothing provokes the anger and recklessness of prison authorities like the murder of one of their own. There had been many terrible brutalities at Angola, but the murder of Miller — a 23-year-old who left behind a young wife — set some terrible wheels in motion. His colleagues, thirsty for immediate vengeance, rounded up four men known to have associations with the Panther movement. It was quickly established that one of them had been placed in the frame by the prison authorities and was actually elsewhere at the time of the killing. Another man, Chester Jackson, turned state's evidence in return for a plea of manslaughter.

He said he had held the victim down. That left two remaining radicals, Wallace and Woodfox, to carry the can. “I trusted they had the right people,” said Miller's wife, a widow at 17 years old.

An all-white jury in Saint Francisville, Louisiana, took no time to find both men guilty of murder. It is now clear they were convicted more due to the over-zealous needs of Miller's fellow officers than on evidence. The chief witness, a prisoner called Hezakiah Brown, initially said he saw nothing. Later, prison officers visited him in the night, telling him “you will get your freedom” if he would bear false witness against the two men. “You could put words into his mouth,” the warden later said.
Immediately after testifying in the case — swearing he saw Wallace and Woodfox stabbing the victim — Brown was moved to a low-security part of Angola, a house on the grounds indeed. For the remainder of his prison term, as documents confirm, he was given a weekly carton of cigarettes.

Vadim Jean's documentary is painstaking in its efforts to look again at the evidence, and the results are visually as well as morally compelling. Angola, with its swampy environs and brutal atmosphere, is straight out of Stephen King's Green Mile by way of a dozen old blues songs.

The effort to stand up for black rights would not go unpunished in such a zone, and that is what the film so subtly, so carefully, so powerfully brings you to see. As well as the disqualification of the main witness, there was the question of a bloody fingerprint found beside Miller's body. It matched neither of the accused, but the Angola authorities, despite having the prints of every prisoner on file, made no attempt to match it with the true killer.

Wallace and Woodfox were found guilty and placed in solitary confinement, where they have stayed for the past 37 years. Lost to mercy. Lost to justice. And lost to reason in what Americans like to call the most democratic nation on earth. They were soon followed into those kennels by King, another man suspected of being a ring-leader in a black militant conspiracy.

The film is not one-sided, and it spends time with those who believe that these men were plain guilty. Over those long years in solitary, the three men, two of them still in Angola, tell (by telephone, or directly to camera) of the days passing into years as they tried to remain sane.
It was only in the 1990s that a new generation of lawyers and activists saw the horrid scale of the injustice, both in relation to the original conviction and in the manner of the punishment.

These men were scapegoats and there are those, as the film shows, who will still do anything to oppose their bid for freedom. When King was eventually freed, in 2001, you could see he was a man whose life had been ruined by forces beyond himself, though his spirit appears to have survived. “I may be free of Angola,” he says, “but Angola will never be free of me.”

Vadim Jean, born in Bristol, a former Evening Standard Most Promising Newcomer Award winner, should be garlanded again for In the Land of the Free. It does that thing we hope that art can sometimes do, seeking to right a wrong, willing a single vision into a cloudy subject, in that way introducing a notion of justice and clarity that was long missing. The film allows us to look back upon a terrible period of brutality and suspicion, on all sides, to see that there may indeed have been a number of victims surrounding the murder of Brent Miller. The supposed perpetrators are two of them, and over the entire period of my own life they have languished alone in a terrible prison. They are still there today, wondering what it must be like to be Huck on his journey downstream.

In the Land of the Free premieres at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on 24 March before general release on 26 March. The festival ( runs 17-26 March at the Ritzy, ICA and Curzons Soho and Mayfair. For more information about the campaign, go to

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37 years of solitary confinement: the Angola three

By Erwin James
The Guardian
Wednesday 10 March 2010

In 1972, three men in a Louisiana prison were placed in solitary confinement after a prison guard was murdered. Two of them are still there – even though many believe they are innocent

Angola prison, the state penitentiary of Louisiana, is the biggest prison in America. Built on the site of a former slave plantation, the 1,800-acre penal complex is home to more than 5,000 prisoners, the majority of whom will never walk the streets again as free men. Also known as the Farm, Angola took its name from the homeland of the slaves who used to work its fields, and in many ways still resembles a slave plantation today. Eighty per cent of the prisoners are African-Americans and, under the watchful eye of armed guards on horseback, they still work fields of sugar cane, cotton and corn, for up to 16 hours a day. "You've got to keep the inmates working all day so they're tired at night," says Warden Burl Cain, a committed evangelist who believes that the rehabilitation of convicts is only possible through Christian redemption.

  1. In the Land of the Free
  2. Production year: 2010
  3. Countries: UK, USA
  4. Cert (UK): 15
  5. Runtime: 84 mins
  6. Directors: Vadim Jean
  7. Cast: Samuel L Jackson
  8. More on this film

Undoubtedly there is less violence and abuse among the prisoners under his wardenship than there was under his predecessors. But Angola is still a long way from being a "positive environment that promotes responsibility, goodness, and humanity", as he proclaims in the prison's mission statement. In fact at the heart of Cain's prison regime is an inhumanity that would make Jesus weep.

For more than 37 years, two prisoners, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, have been locked down in Angola's maximum security Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) block – the longest period of solitary confinement in American prison history.

Having experienced the isolation of "23-hour bang-up" during my own 20 years of imprisonment, for offences of which I was guilty, I can attest to the mental impact that such conditions inflict. My first year was spent on a high-security landing where the cell doors were opened only briefly for meals and emptying of toilet buckets. If decent-minded prison officers were on duty we were allowed to walk the yard for 30 minutes a day. The rest of the time we were alone. The cells were 10ft x 5ft, with a chair, a table and a bed. You could walk up and down, run on the spot, stand still, or do push-ups and sit-ups – but sooner or later you had to just stop, and think.

As the days, weeks and months blur into one, without realising it you start to live completely inside your head. You dream about the past, in vivid detail – and fantasise about the future, for fantasies are all you have. You panic but it's no good "getting on the bell" – unless you're dying – and, even then, don't hope for a speedy response. I had a lot to think about. When the man in the cell above mine hanged himself I thought about that, a lot. I still do. You look at the bars on the high window and think how easy it would be to be free of all the thinking.

Such thoughts must have crossed the minds of Wallace and Woodfox more than once during their isolation. They are fed through the barred gates of their 9ft x 6ft cells and allowed only one hour of exercise every other day alone in a small caged yard. Their capacity for psychological endurance alone is noteworthy.

Wallace and Woodfox were confined to solitary after being convicted of murdering Angola prison guard Brent Miller in 1972. But the circumstances of their trial was so suspect that there are no doubts among their supporters that these men are innocent. Even Brent Miller's widow, Teenie Verret, has her reservations. "If they did not do this," she says, "and I believe that they didn't, they have been living a nightmare."

One man who understands the nightmare that Wallace and Woodfox are living more than anyone else is Robert King. King was also convicted of a murder in Angola in 1973, and was held in solitary alongside Wallace and Woodfox for 29 years, until his conviction was overturned in 2001 and he was freed. Together, King, Wallace and Woodfox have become known as the "Angola three".

The case of the Angola three first came to international attention following the campaigning efforts of the Body Shop founder and humanitarian Anita Roddick. Roddick heard about their plight from a young lawyer named Scott Fleming. Fleming was working as a prisoner advocate in the 1990s when he received a letter from Wallace asking for help. The human tragedy Fleming uncovered had the most profound effect on him. When he qualified as a lawyer, their case became his first. "I was born in 1973," he says. "I often think that for my entire life they have been in solitary."

Through Fleming, Roddick met King and then Woodfox in Angola. Their story, she said later, "made my blood run cold in my veins". Until her death in 2007 Roddick was a committed and passionate supporter of their cause. At her memorial service King played two taped messages from Wallace and Woodfox. In the congregation was film-maker Vadim Jean who had become good friends with Roddick and her husband Gordon during an earlier film project. "Anita's big thing was, 'Just do something,'" says Jean. "No matter how small an act of kindness. Listening to Herman and Albert's voices at her memorial was like having Anita's finger pointing at me and saying, 'Just do something'." And so he decided to make In the Land of the Free, a searing documentary, released later this month.

The story Jean's film tells is one that has resonance on many levels. All three men were from poor black neighbourhoods In New Orleans. They grew up fearing the police, who would regularly "clear the books" of crimes in the area, according to King, by pinning then on disaffected young black men. "If I saw the police, I used to run," King says. He admits to being involved in petty crime in his early years, but "nothing vicious". Eventually King was arrested for an armed robbery he says he did not commit and was sentenced to 35 years, which he began in New Orleans parish prison – and there he met Albert Woodfox.

Woodfox had also been sentenced for armed robbery – and given 50 years. On the day he was sentenced he escaped from the courthouse. He made his way to Harlem in New York, where he encountered the Black Panthers, the revolutionary African-American political movement. He witnessed the Panthers engaging with the community in a positive, constructive way, educating and informing people of their rights. He says it was the first time in his life that he had seen African-Americans exhibiting real pride, pride that emanated from the young activists, he says, "like a shimmering heatwave".

Two days later Woodfox was caught and taken to New York's Tombs prison where he saw first-hand the militant tactics of imprisoned Panthers who resisted their guards with organised protests. In Tombs, Woodfox was labelled "militant" and sent back to New Orleans where he joined King on the parish prison block, known – due to the high concentration of Panther activists – as "the Panther tier". There Woodfox became a member of the Black Panther party.

Outside, confrontations between the Panthers – described by FBI director J Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" – and the police were escalating. In an attempt to undermine the influence of the Panthers in New Orleans parish prison, officials tried to shoehorn men they termed "Black Gangsters" on to the tier – men like Wallace, also serving decades for armed robbery. One day Wallace was suffering from the pain of ill-fitting shoes. One of the Panthers, on his way to a court appearance, took his shoes off and handed them to Wallace. "Right then I knew that that was what I needed to be a part of," he says. In the summer of 1971 Wallace and Woodfox were shipped to Angola.

The civil rights bill had been signed in 1964, but seven years later Angola was still operating a segregated regime. Prisoner guards carried guns and were also responsible, according to well-documented sources, for organising systematic sexual abuse of vulnerable prisoners, which flourished in the prison's mostly dormitory accommodation. And violence between prisoners had reached such levels that Angola was known as "the bloodiest prison in America".

Woodfox and Wallace quickly extended the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panthers into Angola, establishing classes in political ideology and exposing injustices. They organised work stoppages, demonstrating to fellow prisoners the liberating power of acting with a "unity of purpose" and worked to eradicate the prevalent sexual abuses. But their political activities made them targets for the administrators. By the spring of 1972, tensions in the prison were dangerously high.

These were the conditions in which Brent Miller met his untimely death. That April, a prisoner work strike drew the attention of the guards who were called from normal duties to deal with the disturbance. Miller, a strong, athletic young man of 23, stayed behind alone. He entered a dormitory holding 90 prisoners and sat on an elderly prisoner's bed, drinking coffee and chatting. Moments later he was attacked and stabbed 32 times.

Two days later, four men identified as "black militants", including Wallace and Woodfox, were accused of the murder. It was quickly ascertained that one of the four had been inserted into the case by the prison administration. Charges against him were dropped. Another, Chester Jackson, admitted to holding Miller while the guard was stabbed to death. Jackson turned state's evidence in return for a plea to manslaughter. The case was tried in a town called St Francisville, the closest courthouse to Angola. The jury had been picked from the local populace, many of whom earned their living from the prison or had families and friends that worked there; all were white. Wallace and Woodfox were found guilty of Miller's murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and taken from the court straight to Angola's CCR block to begin their life in isolation.

Robert King was brought to Angola from the parish prison two weeks after Miller's killing, as part of a roundup of black radicals. King had never met Miller and was in a prison 150 miles away when the murder took place. Yet he was investigated for the crime and identified as a "conspirator" before being transferred to lockdown on CCR alongside Wallace and Woodcock.

The following year a prisoner named August Kelly was murdered on King's CCR tier. A man named Grady Brewer admitted that he alone was responsible for the killing, which he said he carried out in self-defence. But King was also charged. The two men faced trial together in the same St Francisville courthouse where Wallace and Woodfox had been convicted the year before. The sole evidence against King came from flawed prisoner testimony. He and Brewer had not been allowed to speak to their attorneys for any length of time before their trial. When they protested, the judge ordered their hands to be shackled behind their backs and their mouths gagged with duct tape for the duration of their trial. The men were convicted and sentenced to life without parole. King later won an appeal; the federal court ruled that he had not been sufficiently unruly in the dock to warrant the shackling and gagging. He went back to trial in 1975, was re-convicted and immediately sent back to CCR.

When, after Scott Fleming's intervention in the case of Wallace and Woodfox in the 1990s, new lawyers reviewed the original trial of both men, discovering "obfuscation after obfuscation". The state had used a number of jailhouse informants against them, many of whom gave contradictory accounts of what they saw. One was registered blind. The key witness in the case was a man called Hezikiah Brown who testified he witnessed the murder. In his initial statement to investigators however, Brown said he had not seen anything. Three days later, when he was taken from his bunk at midnight by prison officials and promised his freedom if he testified, he agreed to say that he saw Wallace and Woodfox kill Miller. At the time Brown was serving life without parole for multiple rapes. Immediately after he agreed to testify he was given his own minimum security private house in the prison grounds and a weekly cigarette ration.

Wallace and Woodfox did not give up. They fought their convictions from their cells and in 1993 Woodfox was granted an appeal, forcing a new trial. The case was sent back to the same courthouse to be tried in front of a new grand jury. A local author, Anne Butler, who had published a book in which she detailed the case and was convinced that the right people had been convicted, acted as jury chairperson. No witnesses were called. Instead Butler was called upon to explain the case. Once again, the jury was composed of people who worked in Angola or were related to people who worked there. Butler's husband and co-author was Murray Henderson, who had been the warden of Angola when Brent Miller was murdered. It is worth noting that Henderson was a key member of the original investigation team and that, during that investigation, a bloody fingerprint was found close to Brent Miller's body. It was determined that it did not belong to Woodfox nor to Wallace, but despite the prison holding all the fingerprints of all the prisoners, no attempt was made to find out whose it was. The bloody print was also ignored at Woodfox's retrial. He was reconvicted and sent back to isolation in Angola's CCR.

It was 26 years before King won the right to another appeal. In 2001 the Federal court found that the jury in King's original trial had systematically excluded African-Americans and women and agreed that the case should be reheard. This time around the prisoner witnesses recanted and the federal court sent the case back to the district court for review. The state negotiated a deal with King. Reluctantly, and with his left hand raised instead of his right, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy; an hour and a half later he was freed.

In September 2008, Woodfox's conviction was overturned; the federal court ruled that his core constitutional rights had been violated at his original trial. Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell could have set Woodfox free immediately. Instead he decided to contest the federal decision and Woodfox, now 64, was returned to Angola's CCR, where he remains. Herman Wallace, now 68, was moved to another Louisiana prison last year, where he too continues to be held in solitary confinement.

Today King, now 67, is still campaigning for justice for his friends. Albert Woodfox: "Our primary objective is that front gate. That is what we are struggling for and we are actually fighting for our freedom. We are fighting for people to understand that we were framed for a murder that we are totally, completely and actually innocent of." Robert King says he is free of Angola, but until his friends are free, "Angola will never be free of me."

Jean hopes his film will make a difference. "These men need help," he says. "Louisiana needs to be shamed into doing the right thing."

Further information: If you wish to help highlight the plight of the Angola 3, you can write to the Governor of Louisiana at the Office of the Governor, PO Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804, US.

In the Land of the Free is released on 26 March

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Short Bus on the Forum, KQED

Forum with Michael Krasny
Fri, Mar 12, 2010 -- 10:00 AM

My Baby Rides the Short Bus
Some parents of kids with disabilities say they don't want to be put on a pedestal for taking care of their children. We talk with contributors to an irreverent and honest anthology, "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities."

Host: Dave Iverson


  • Jennifer Byde Myers, contributor to "My Baby Rides the Short Bus"
  • Sarah Talbot, co-editor of "My Baby Rides the Short Bus" and assistant principal at a high school near Seattle
  • Shannon Rosa, contributor to "My Baby Rides the Short Bus" and contributing editor of "Parents of Children with Special Needs" at



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Vikki Law Wins 2009 PASS Award


NCCD Announces the 2009 PASS Award Winners

March 24, 2010

NCCD is pleased to announce the 2009 Winners of its respected PASS Awards (Prevention for a Safer Society). NCCD honors the media’s success and vital role in illuminating the people and programs that uncover the root causes of crime and those that promise to protect our most precious resource—our youth—against involvement in crime.

A critical link in successful policies related to criminal and juvenile justice is the education of the public. The media is uniquely positioned to be this link, and we gratefully acknowledge their efforts to fulfill that responsibility. Each year the PASS Awards honor media professionals in the fields of print, literature, broadcast media, television, and film in recognition of thoughtful and factual coverage of the issues. Special consideration is given to those stories that highlight solutions to criminal and juvenile justice and child welfare problems.

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An Interview with Author Gary Phillips

By Jacqueline Vick
Writers in Residence
April 5, 2010
Gary Phillips writes tales of mystery and criminal behavior in various mediums. A regular contributor to Mystery Scene magazine, he authors the private eye Ivan Monk series and turned out a slew of Ivan Monk short stories like Monkology.

Born and raised in what was then called South Central Los Angeles, he's been a community organizer, union rep, and headed a nonprofit to better race relations begun after the '92 riots. Besides his many mystery novels and shorts, he's written a coming-of-age graphic novel called South Central Rhapsody as well as a graphic novel about a gangster called High Rollers, and has a prose novel about African Americans and World War II called Freedom's Fight.

You can find out more about Gary at his web site.

Welcome Gary!

Your most recent work is a change from your usual hard-boiled mysteries and edgy crime comics. Can you tell us a bit about “Freedom’s Fight” and what brought about this particular novel?

Freedom’s Fight came about as my way to tell a slice of the bigger story about black soldiers and civilians in World War II. I think I’m accurate in stating there are less than a handful of novels about black soldiers during this period – though certainly there are several informative nonfiction books such as The Invisible Soldier by Mary Penick Molley, Lasting Valor by Vern Baker (it’s his story) and Ken Olsen, and Brothers in Arms about the 761st tank battalion by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.

But if you watched the other Brothers in Arms or now the Pacific mini-series, you wouldn’t have any idea that there were all-black units who fought in those theaters of conflict, but there were. My late dad Dikes was in combat at Guadalcanal, his brother, Norman, was at D-Day plus One and my mother, Leonelle, had a brother named Oscar Hutton, Jr.  who was shot down and killed over Germany as a Tuskegee fighter pilot.

Because of Jim Crow policies, black troops weren’t sent into combat until end of ’43, beginning of ’44. So part of my book looks at the war on the home front through the eyes of a young woman reporter for a weekly African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. The other part follows the travails of several soldiers overseas. I do want folks to know Freedom’s Fight isn’t preachy, but, hopefully, entertaining historical fiction with hard-boiled elements (a murder mystery subplot), dimensional characters and action on the battlefield.

Ivan Monk, your most well-known series character, is part PI, part avenging angel, and part family man. What type of readers make up your target audience?

Who knows? I mean, I don’t write my stories with an idea of who the target audience is per se other than I hope they enjoy the work. Isn’t the typical mystery reader a middle-aged woman? Isn’t that the case with most fiction as well? I have observed though due to my comics work I get a sprinkling of younger readers who’ve taken an interest in my prose work having first read me in sequential form.

It’s interesting though as this question is something the writer has to wrestle with in today’s publishing environment. That is, it used to be the publisher worked with you to outreach to and develop your readership through building up your audience over time. Now as we know, and this seems to be a direct result of the internet, the publisher wants you to come prepackaged with an audience. We’ve seen writers who’ve self-published in a way, via an e-book, work the social media and what have you to publicize the book, and then make a traditional hardcopy deal because they can quantify the numbers – they’ve demonstrated they have a readership they’ve built from the ground up.

I’m not knocking this state of affairs, as this genie is out of the bottle. The fact remains more and more, the pressure is on for the writer to not only be able to ply their craft and turn out a compelling yarn, but it’s on them (or a hip, totally wired pr person you hire) to be able to create a and maintain a base of readers. Just having a website is a rudimentary these days. What good is it if no body comes to the thing? Not we have to tweet, facebook and who knows what all else as these forms plateau and people simply get inundated with too much sensory bombardment.

Martha Chainey, ex-show girl and courier for the mob, is another series character you write. Recalling your own experience, would you advise writers starting a second series to look for similarities that would appeal to current fans or offer something completely different?

I’m the last guy to be advising any other writer on their career. But hey, you’re asking so I think writers have to challenge themselves. Coming up with Martha was daunting for me as it was the first time I’d written a female lead. She was different too in that she’s more of an outlaw type and not exactly on the straight-and-narrow as Monk is. Naturally the writer wants the best of both worlds – the fans you have stick with you and you get news ones with a new character. To some extent that seemed to happen with Ms. Chainey, but I can assure you it wasn’t a calculated move on my part. In this case the gauntlet was thrown down by my editor at the time at Kensington to come up with a female character and so I did.

Aside from your series characters, you have several standalone books, including “The Jook” and “The Perpetrators”. Is it more difficult to sell a standalone book than a series? And why write these stories as standalones instead of incorporating them into your existing series?

The beauty and freedom of writing a stand alone is you can do anything you want. Blow up the world, go ahead. Have mutant alligators crawl out of the sewers…sweet. Your main character loses their mind midway in the book and runs around in his birthday suit shouting ‘I am the Master of the Universe,’ no problemo. Too, in this publishing environment as we’ve discussed, it seems it’s easier to sell a standalone. If you have a series, and that series hasn’t broken the house record in sales, then publishers are dang reluctant to take a chance on another book with those same characters. Whereas a one off is often seen as new and fresh and may get an editor excited at a house and want to champion your book.

Is it the job of the writer to leave the reader with a message? If so, what do you hope your readers take away from your books?

Well, no, I think my job as a fiction writer is to entertain the reader. Having said that, there are certain realities that ground your stories and characters like the arena where the aforementioned Freedom’s Fight is set. Still, you don’t want your characters standing on soap boxes yet conversely if they are representations of real people, and going to resonate with readers, then people have opinions. More to the point, characters don’t have to go around telling you what’s on their mind but we can get a sense of who they are by what they do in a given situation or where we locate them. You can have a character at a teabaggers rally and another at a tree hugger event, and of course we’d draw certain conclusions about them – then you can switch up those allusions the further we follow those characters. My job is to give my characters dimensionality and drive. Drama is conflict…a character wants something and invariably there are obstacles in the way as other characters want the same thing or something else.

The Underbelly” is due to release in June, 2010. This book features yet a new character, Magrady, a semi-homeless Vietnam veteran. Could you tell us about the story? And will Magrady become a series character?

A couple of years ago, Underbelly originally was written an online serial for – a site I still write for, doing fiction (my webcomic Bicycle Cop Dave ) and nonfiction pieces. Fellow mystery writer Nathan Walpow is the site’s EiC. Back then he’d asked me if I’d be interested in doing something on the site – which began centered around housing and transportation issues -- given my background includes community organizing and my wife is an urban planner. The idea of a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet, a man who has had his ups and downs, was a way to use the recent gentrification of downtown L.A. as a backdrop to a mystery he seeks to solve.

The story is set in motion as Magrady, who suffers from flashbacks and trying to maintain his sobriety, searches for a wheelchair bound friend who disappears from Skid Row. This after a bottom feeder called Savoirfaire, who was regulated by Magrady on behalf of this friend, is found with his head bashed in while the cop on the case has a history with the main character as they’d served uneasily together in ‘Nam. Oh, and Magrady’s grown son may be involved in something shady back east, then there’s a mummified head… but that’s enough teasing, read the novella when it’s out from PM Press .

The Underbelly is published as part of the house’s Outspoken Authors series. I’ve done some rewrites and edits to the story from when it was first done in series form, and the book will include an interview/conversation between me and the lovely and talented writer Denise Hamilton. As to Magrady returning, yes, I have some notions circulating in my head about that – only after I get the next Ivan Monk book done. Monk returned as it were last year in a short story in Phoenix Noir (“Blazin’ on Broadway”), and I need to get him back in long form.

Do you have any final words for our readers?

On bookshelves now is Orange County Noir. This is a collection of 14 original gritty and darkly funny tales I edited and I contributed a story to set behind the Orange Curtain. Edgar winner Susan Straight, Nero Wolf award winner Dick Lochte and other very talented writers have contributed to the anthology – each story set in a different city in Orange County. The collection received a starred review in Publisher Weekly and we’re doing several signings and panels about the book all over the Southland. So come check us out.

Thank you, Gary, for taking the time to be with us.

In and Out of Crisis on Irish Left Review

The Irish Left Review
March 26, 2010

Last week’s podcast from Doug Henwood’s Behind the News (embedded below) is definitely worth listening to. The entire show is dedicated to a discussion of the financial crisis with the political economists Greg Albo, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch who are the co-authors of a new book In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.

As it happens Doug Henwood wrote a blurb for the book, as he discusses in his radio program, which has been posted on the publisher PM Press’s website:

“Once again, Panitch, Gindin, and Albo show that they have few rivals and no betters in analyzing the relations between politics and economics, between globalization and American power, between theory and quotidian reality, and between crisis and political possibility. At once sobering and inspiring, this is one of the few pieces of writing that I’ve seen that’s essential to understanding - to paraphrase a term from accounting - the sources and uses of crisis. Splendid and essential.

In the interview the authors and Doug discuss the reverse class prejudice that is occurring in the wake of the financial crisis as political attacks increase on public sector unions and workers - this illustrates how the situation in Ireland is no different to what is happening in other countries. They discuss China, its continuing growth and the US as global hegemon and also suggest that much of the analysis of China tends to ignore the fact that much of its continuing growth comes from the rapid increase of foreign direct investment from the developed world.

“Contrary to those who believe US hegemony is on the wane, (…) the meltdown has, in fact, reinforced the centrality of the American state as the dominant force within global capitalism, while simultaneously increasing the difficulties entailed in managing its imperial role.”

In a particularly fascinating segment they talk about Greece, Germany and the imposing of austerity on those Eurozone countries that have weaker economies, like Ireland. Doug points out that contrary to what you would expect for a country that dominates the European economy Germany is refusing to spend. This leaves no room for movement for countries like Greece, assuming they are allowed to remain in the Euro, to implement anything but extreme - and arguably unbearable - austerity measures.

There is also discussion of the auto industry, but the last segment deals with real left-wing solutions to the crisis, the reason the authors wrote the book. In the case of the banking crisis, Panitch acknowledges nationalizing the banks was avoided and a recovery mechanism has been put in place that can’t be reversed - the bailout money is already spent, on bonuses largely.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page

In the Land of the Free...

Robert Hillary King was in London for the premier of In the Land of the Free..., a new documentary on the case of the Angola 3 and an important new piece in the campaign to free Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace who have now been held in solitary confinement for thirty-seven years.

The Brixton debut of the film was presented by Brightwide as part of the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Directed by Vadim Jean, here is more from The Guardian:

"The case of the Angola three first came to international attention following the campaigning efforts of the Body Shop founder and humanitarian Anita Roddick. Roddick heard about their plight from a young lawyer named Scott Fleming..."I was born in 1973," he says. "I often think that for my entire life they have been in solitary."

Through Fleming, Roddick met King and then Woodfox in Angola. Their story, she said later, "made my blood run cold in my veins". Until her death in 2007 Roddick was a committed and passionate supporter of their cause. At her memorial service King played two taped messages from Wallace and Woodfox. In the congregation was film-maker Vadim Jean who had become good friends with Roddick and her husband Gordon during an earlier film project. "Anita's big thing was, 'Just do something,'" says Jean. "No matter how small an act of kindness. Listening to Herman and Albert's voices at her memorial was like having Anita's finger pointing at me and saying, 'Just do something'." And so he decided to make In the Land of the Free, a searing documentary, released later this month."

Among those present to raise awareness of the Angola 3 campaign were Colin and Livia Firth, Bianca Jagger, Gordon Roddick, and director Vadim Jean:

Ben Siegle, Davide Nardi, Kofo Nolla, Paola De Leo, Gordon Roddick, Bianca Jagger, Colin Firth, Livia Firth, Robert King, Vadim jean, Luc Martinon
Brightwide Photographer: Ambra Vernuccio

And more praise from the London Evening Standard

"There are two and a half million people in American prisons, 25,000 of them held in solitary confinement. The plight of Wallace and Woodfox — and of Robert King, in solitary at Angola for 29 years and now released — is the subject of this year's best documentary film, In the Land of the Free, which shows the cases of the Angola 3 to have been a horrible series of miscarriages." 

Colin Firth, Kofo Nolla, Paola De Leo, Robert King, Livia Firth
Brightwide Photographer: Ambra Vernuccio

And finally, here's King with two of the ladies who have been working tirelessly on the Free the Angola 3 Campaign and an essential part of bringing this whole thing together, Nina Kowalska and Jackie Sumell

Jackie Summell, Robert King, and Nina Kowalska
Brightwide Photographer: Ambra Vernuccio

Our thanks to all the wonderful people who helped with these events, and all those working to free Herman and Albert. For more info on the campaign check out, and stay tuned for the movie launch in the states!

About In the Land of the Free...

Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King spent almost a century between them in solitary confinement in Angola, the Louisiana State penitentiary. They are known as the Angola 3.

Herman and Albert are still in solitary confinement after thirty seven years. How could this be? In America. Today.

See this film because thgey can't

In the Land of the Free... is a documentary feature narrated by Samuel L Jackson that examines the story of these extraordinary men who appear to have been targeted by the prison authorities for being members of the Black Panther party and because they fought against the terrible conditions and systematic sexual slavery that was rife in the prison.

The film is directed by Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) produced by the Mob film company (Terry Pratchett’s Colour of Magic, Stone of Destiny) Gold Circle Films (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, White Noise, A Haunting in Connecticut) and UKTV’s Yesterday films.

For history of the Angola 3 and the legal cases please visit the History / Facts / Latest Campaign News page on this website

Check out the trailer, and stay tuned to find out when the film is hitting the states:



About Brightwide

Brightwide launched in February 2010 as an online festival for social and Political film. Founded by Colin Firth and wife Livia, Brightwide was inspired by the realisation that great films with issues at their heart have a unique ability to mobilise outrage and activist energy, an energy that too quickly dissipates after the credits have rolled. By linking people to causes through award winning, powerful films, including some of the best documentaries, fiction and docudrama features selected for major film festivals, and by directly providing online audiences with relevant opportunities to act and engage after the film has been streamed, Brightwide screens films that will make audiences want to change the world, and then shows them how. With specially commissioned reviews and articles from well known personalities and expert commentators, and research materials from our NGO partners, Brightwide provides an enviromnent rich with high quality content that will inspire effective community driven activism and engagement.

Developed in official partnership with UK NGOs Oxfam, WWF and Amnesty International, and supported by the EU Media Programme, Brightwide will build awareness among new and younger audiences of the significant issues at the heart of each film we stream on the website, and through our NGO partners, will work with these audiences to find ways to effect lasting change.

To find out more go to

For more from PM...

For the freedom of the Angola 3 and all political prisoners.... 


Recommended Reading Links

From the authors of In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives: Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, and Greg Albo.

Several websites have become integral to the daily assessment of events from a socialist perspective in North America. They are a source of ongoing commentary and an alternative to the economic analysis of the mainstream media.

Centre for Economic and Policy Research at


Political Economy Research Institute at

Socialist Project at

Socialist Worker at

Z-net at

Against the Current at

Canadian Dimension at

Capitalism, Nature, Socialism at


  • Against the Current: is Solidarity's bi-monthly analytical journal, and is a contribution to a broad discussion of a wide variety of issues among the Left. An in-depth analysis and a thorough review of issues is the norm for this magazine.
  • Amandla: is a new and exciting popular left monthly magazine launched in South Africa in April 2007 by Amandla Publishers. RSS newsfeed
  • Antipode - A Radical Journal of Geography: has been publishing radical thinking on the subjects of place, space, landscape, scale, environment, uneven development, boundaries and connections for nearly 40 years.
  • Cambridge Journal of Economics: founded in 1977 in the traditions of Marx, Keynes, Kalecki, Joan Robinson and Kaldor, provides a forum for theoretical, applied, policy and methodological research into social and economic issues. RSS newsfeed
  • Canadian Dimension Magazine: published 6 times per year, including 2 double issues. We are a magazine which shows there is an alternative to the corporate agenda and the dictates of the global market; that the dream of a better society is still alive. Founded in 1963 by Cy Gonick.
  • Capital and Class: provides a critique of global capitalism in the Marxist tradition, reaching out into the labour, trade union and other radical movements, such as anti-racism, environmentalism and feminism. Published three times a year, since 1977.
  • Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: leading international journal on ecological socialism.
  • China Left Review: a bilingual web-journal brought to you by the China Study Group.
  • CineAction: has been publishing continuously since 1985. We feature essays and reviews by film critics and scholars and we cover a wide range of filmmaking - classic and contemporary popular film, third world cinema, political documentary and experimental film and video.
  • Critical Sociology: publishes articles from all perspectives within a broad definition of critical or radical social science. The journal grew out of tumultuous times of the late 1960s.
  • Dollars & Sense: publishes economic news and analysis, reports on economic justice activism, primers on economic topics, and critiques of the mainstream media's coverage of the economy.
  • Feminist Economics: a peer-reviewed journal that provides an open forum for dialogue and debate about feminist economic perspectives.
  • Green Left Weekly: launched in 1990 by progressive activists to present the views excluded by the big business media, is now Australia's leading source of local, national and international news, analysis, and discussion and debate to strengthen the anti-capitalist movements.
  • Historical Materialism: is a Marxist journal, appearing four times a year, based in London. Founded in 1997.
  • International Socialist Review: is published bimonthly by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.
  • Journal of Post-Keynesian Eonomics: scholarly journal of innovative theoretical and empirical work that sheds fresh light on contemporary economic problems. It is committed to the principle that cumulative development of economic theory is only possible when the theory is continuously subjected to scrutiny in terms of its ability both to explain the real world and to provide a reliable guide to public policy.
  • Labor Notes: is a non-profit organization that has been the voice of union activists who want to "put the movement back in the labor movement" since 1979.
  • Labour, Capital and Society / Travail, capital et société: is an interdisciplinary, bilingual, refereed journal on labour issues concerning the regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. It is published twice a year. Established in 1979.
  • Labour / Le travail: Journal of Canadian Labour Studies/Revue d'Études Ouvrières Canadiennes. (back issues online)
  • Latin American Perspectives: founded in 1974, is a theoretical and scholarly journal for discussion and debate on the political economy of capitalism, imperialism, and socialism in the Americas.
  • Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal: a journal for the post Cold War left; a journal that rejects the Stalinist distortion of the socialist project; a journal that takes into account ecological questions; a journal that is taking steps to unify and bring together the forces for socialism in the world today; a journal that aspires to unite Marxists from different political traditions because it discusses openly and constructively. Founded 1994.
  • London Progressive Journal: is a UK-based weekly online magazine covering domestic and international current affairs from a left perspective. Founded 2008.
  • Monthly Review: began publication in New York City (May 1949), as cold war hysteria gathered force in the United States. The first issue featured the lead article "Why Socialism?" by Albert Einstein. And this is their web blog: MRZine. RSS newsfeed
  • New Labor Forum: provides a place for labor and its allies to test new ideas and debate old ones. Founded 1997.
  • New Left Review: established for forty years as a key journal of the international Left, NLR has been transformed since 2000 into a new resource for the new century. Founded 1960.
  • New Political Economy: interdisciplinary international journal founded 1996.
  • Presse-toi à gauche: Nous sommes un groupe de rédacteurs et rédactrices, d'auteurs et journalistes, de militants et militantes, de caricaturistes, graphistes et spécialistes en informatique, désireux de faire vivre au jour le jour une agora et une tribune pour la gauche en marche du Québec.
  • Race and Class: foremost English language journal on racism and imperialism in the world today - contains contributions from scientists, artists, novelists, journalists, politicians and black and Third World activists and scholars.
  • Radical America (1967-1999): was a product of the campus-based New Left of the late 1960s, specifically the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), but the magazine long outlived its seedbed. Its trajectory shows something about the effort to place an intellectual stamp on the radical impulses of the late twentieth century.
  • Radical Teacher: is an independent magazine for educational workers at all levels and in every kind of institution. The magazine focuses on critical teaching practice, the political economy of education, and institutional struggles.
  • Redwire Magazine: provides Native youth with an uncensored forum for discussion, in order to help youth find their own voice.
  • Research in Political Economy: Edited by Paul Zarembka, founded 1997.
  • Rethinking Marxism: engages and sustains critical conversations about the tremendous challenges and exciting opportunities facing Marxism and the global Left. Founded in 1988.
  • Review of International Political Economy: has successfully established itself as a leading international journal dedicated to the systematic exploration of the international political economy from a plurality of perspectives.
  • Science and Society: Published quarterly since 1936, Science & Society is the longest continuously published journal of Marxist scholarship, in any language, in the world.
  • Socialism and Democracy
  • Socialist Register: intellectual lodestone of the international left since 1964, was founded by Ralph Miliband and John Saville in London.
  • Socialist Studies: published by the Society for Socialist Studies, is peer-reviewed and interdisciplinary. The Society's purpose is to facilitate and encourage research and analysis in Canada with emphasis on socialist, feminist, ecological, and anti-racist points of view. Launched in 2005.
  • Studies in Political Economy: is an interdisciplinary journal committed to the publication of original work in the various traditions of socialist political economy. Established in 1979.
  • Studies in Social Justice: dealing with the social, cultural, economic, political, and philosophical problems associated with the struggle for social justice.
  • Upping the Anti: is a radical journal of theory and action which provides a space to address and discuss unresolved questions and dynamics within the anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialist politics of today's radical left in Canada. Founded in 2005.

Znet interviews Gabriel Kuhn on Pirates

Life Under the Jolly Roger

Can you tell ZNet, please, what Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Life Under the Jolly Roger is an analysis of "golden age piracy" – the piratical era that emerged in the Caribbean around 1690 and spread to the Indian Ocean and the West African Coast before being crushed by authorities around 1725. It is the era that has given us famous pirate names like Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read, and most of the archetypical pirate images that have fascinated our minds since – the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean series being just one example.

It is not a history book per se. Great histories of golden age piracy are already out there, first and foremost Marcus Rediker's Villains of all Nations. What this book attempts to do is to analyze what golden age piracy meant culturally, economically, and politically. A wide range of theoretical concepts is used to explore the golden age pirate phenomenon in more depth, with references ranging from Pierre Clastres to Michel Foucault, from Marshall Sahlins to Mao Tse-Tung, from Eric J. Hobsbawm to Friedrich Nietzsche. The book includes chapters on race, gender, disability, sexuality, religion, guerrilla warfare, and many other topics. A significant part is dedicated to investigating the political legacy of golden age piracy.


Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

I had written a short essay on piracy in the early 1990s. It became fairly popular but it was an unabashedly romantic piece that used golden age piracy more as a backdrop for presenting some radical ideas. I think it worked for what it was, but it certainly wasn't a well-founded study of the pirate experience.

I basically got the chance to work on the subject again through Ramsey Kanaan at PM Press, who suggested it when we were swapping different publishing ideas a couple of years ago. Since there are many much more tedious subjects to study than pirates, I got to work. This time I went through a rigorous reading of the historical literature, and then applied a lot of the abovementioned theory. The latter I'm familiar with from university where I did a Ph.D. in philosophy.

If I had to sum it up, the three main components of the book – which, I suppose, make it what it is – are an intensive study of the historical records on golden age piracy, a broad theoretical toolkit that includes philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies, and a passion for politics and political analysis.

What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

I want the book to inspire and to instigate debate. The field of "radical piratology" is fairly young. A lot of great contributions have been made, but I think that there is a lot left to explore and discuss. My intention was to make a contribution to this process. I will deem the book a success if I see people using it as a basis for debate and for further writings on golden age piracy.

I would be disappointed – like any writer, I suppose – if the book disappeared in the archives without receiving any attention at all. That's probably my only fear. I am much less worried about critique. Obviously, this book does not contain any final words on golden age piracy. Critical engagement can only take us further.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author page


Statement from the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair organizers

The Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair organizers wish to publicly condemn the violent assault committed against author Lierre Keith at the Book Fair on Saturday, March 13. We wish to extend our apologies to her for not taking more rigorous measures to assure her safety at our event. We urge the Anarchist community and our allies to let the perpetrators of this ugly assault and their supporters know that we will not stand for this kind of violent bullying at our events or in our community.

We want to state the following for the record:

1) The three pies used to assault Ms Keith were in fact filled with red hot sauce and cayenne pepper. There was so much in the pies that you could smell the red pepper sauce in the area of the speaker’s podium after the attack. We had to warn speakers using the microphone after the attack to not put it too close to their mouths in order to avoid burning their lips from the residue that could not be removed from the microphone. The comrades who had cleaned up the area are willing to testify to these facts.

2) The assailants used a back door leading in from the parking area to gain entry to the auditorium stage, which was above and behind the spot where Ms Keith was speaking. When the assault took place the perpetrators were standing approximately three feet above her. The blows were delivered from behind with considerable force. There is video showing the blows being delivered to Ms Keith.

We are asking anyone with information on the identities of the assailants, photos or additional video of the attack to contact us at We will make the information available to Ms Keith.

Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair Organizing Group  


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