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Behind the Mask in the Calcutta Telegraph

It is not often that a film is made to give ‘terrorists’ a voice, especially when the people concerned are categorised as the number one domestic terrorist threat in the US by the FBI. Behind The Mask, a film about animal liberationists who break the law to free animals from laboratories, provides previously unseen footage on this much debated topic. No doubt, it has stirred controversy with accusations of glamourising vandalism.

Of late, animal rights activists have taken to illegal and violent actions to rescue animals from laboratories. However, such efforts have been widely condemned by the public and the mainstream media in the West.

Shannon Keith (writer-director), an American animal rights lawyer, made this film in an endeavour to present the animal rights activists’ side of the story. According to Keith, change only happens in society when laws are broken. The film shows footage of an animal rights activist named Jill Phipps being killed during a protest regarding transportation of live animals. “They call us terrorists but the reality is that over the years four animal rights activists have been killed during protests,” notes Jill’s mother, Nancy Phipps, in the film.

Keith Mann, Rod Coronado, Ingrid Newkirk, Melanie Arnold, Jerry Vlasak and Kevin Jonas have all been imprisoned for indulging in illegal activities and all of them present their opinions in the film. They are well-known names in the animal rights movement who believe in direct action to save animals from torture.

Footage of animal rights activists setting ablaze a slaughterhouse sets one thinking if ends justify the means. Arsonist Melanie Arnold says, “If I had an opportunity, I would do it again since economic damage to animal abusers is justifiable.” The film draws parallels between violence in the animal rights movement and violence in the human rights movement. There is great music synchronised with action footage and quotes from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior have been utilised effectively.

Regardless of what one thinks about the tactics of the Animal Liberation Front, the film is an extraordinary one that is well worth watching.

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Jacinta Bunnell Interviewed in Colouring Outside the Lines

By Melanie Maddison
Colouring Outside The Lines zine
March 2005

Jacinta Bunnell
Location: Rosendale, NY

How would you describe your art?: Not high-falutin'

3 Likes: Sparkly markers, discovering really sweet and magical things for the first time, and laughing so hard that I cry.

3 Dislikes: Anything that makes someone feel bad about themselves, racism, and the fact that there is even one person who is homeless in this country of such wealth.

Daily Inspirations: The young people I know who ask me very earnestly to seatbelt their stuffed animals into the car, music that makes my heart burst open, my amazing friends who will listen to me say just about absolutely anything, and my partner who very cutely and creatively makes music on a guitar or drums nearly every day.

People you admire: My nieces (Keetin and Zia), young queer kids who survive high school, people who make thesauruses, Joan Armatrading, and David Sedaris.

Superpower you would most like to possess: Whatever it takes to get one of those really awesome costumes with gadgets that hook on buildings, flame-powered boots, and a really nice belt.

http://www.girlsnotchicks.com/


- - -

Your genderific colouring books, (in collaboration with Irit & Julie), ‘Girls are not chicks’ and ‘Girls will be boys will be girls’ feature your original illustrations in a clip-art /traditional colouring book style, subverted & deconstructed with slogans such as ‘don’t let gender box you in’ and ‘sometimes the princess is saved by the girl next door’. How did you first develop these specific art/illustrating skills? What is your artistic background?

It all started very early. My dad was the only art teacher I ever really had, with the exception of one semester in college. And I only took that class because the professor was one of only 2 out lesbians at my school and I wanted to get to know her. I just always liked to draw and when I was small, I would draw countless pictures of strawberries for the chef at my dad's work. The more berries I drew, the more real berries he would send home from the restaurant. I guess it was some form of early reward system my dad had worked out! I never had any confidence in my actual drawing ability but continued to be artistic/creative throughout my life. Then, when we got a publishing offer from Soft Skull Press for our colouring book and were asked to find artists, it was the fire under my butt I needed to take a stack of illustration books out of the children's library and teach myself some rudimentary skills. In some ways, I owe it to the artists who promised us illustrations and never delivered. I felt the need to fill in the gaps. From there, I ended up making some drawings that I was actually proud of and we decided to put them in the colouring book.

How did these two particular colouring book projects come about?

Girls will be boys will be girls will be... came about because I met this really fascinating person, Irit Reinheimer, and we wanted to find some interesting way to forge a friendship. So we came up with this list of 30 or so free things to do in our town. It included things like: going to the Special Olympics, calling to request songs by women and queers to the college radio station, learning how to fix our cars... Well, needless to say, we only got to one other before we started on the one that stuck out to us the most: making a colouring book about gender. Where we came up with the idea for that one, we may never know. I think it was channelled from the crayon fairies. We set to work on that one and it slowly consumed every free moment of time we had together. Girls are Not Chicks came out of this creative over-drive I was in after I saw how many people were touched by the first one.

Why did you decide to use art and illustration as the medium to convey your genderific messages, as opposed to solely writing your messages? Do you think there is something powerful about using images?

Pictures are so much more accessible to a larger amount of people. Both Irit and I had done our time in the halls of academia and had become tired of all the discourse that could engage only a select few. We wanted to present an issue that is very real and weighty for us but wanted to use humour to communicate our thoughts and ideas. And who doesn't still have a little hankering for crayons now and again, even those of us who have "grown up".

Has using the form of colouring books been useful as a mode of engaging audiences to participate in actively thinking about the issues raised, seen as yr audiences engage with the books personally by filling them in?

Very useful indeed! My favourite times are when we blow up the images from the books into really big posters and host community colouring projects where everyone works together to create these really outrageous, fun works of art. Also, because the books use humour as a teaching tool, I have found myself talking about gender issues with people who were normally really defensive about such things.

What has the feedback been like from audiences?

Really positive! My favourite so far was the thank you card we got from someone who was buying the book for their 4 year old nephew who had worked super hard to convince his parents to buy him a pink "girl's" bathing suit! We get touching letters like this once in a while and they really make my whole life more meaningful! Really!

The colouring books have been described as a ‘subversive and playful way to examine how pervasive stereotypes about gender are in every aspect of out lives’. How important do you think the role of subversion is in your projects?

There isn't much I don't try to subvert at some point or another!

Were the colouring books intended for an audience of children?

Not initially. We originally only made 50 copies of girls will be boys will be girls will be... because we were just going to give it as gifts to friends and then drop it. We never had an audience in mind beyond some friends of ours. When we got those first 50 copies back from the copy shop, we couldn't believe our eyes. It dawned on us that maybe some more folks would find this somewhat rough-looking book interesting. One thing led to another, and we ended up selling 5,000 copies on our very own. Now we try to make the new books accessible for all ages because it has grown far beyond our community! You never know when a child will pick one up and we wanted to be sensitive to that.

How important do you think the role of art is in children’s lives and to what extent do you feel it plays an important part in children’s development?

VERY IMPORTANT! For some children, art is the most life-enhancing aspect of their lives. We are all meant to make art, but creativity gets squashed out of so many of us by judgmental, nay-saying teachers and parents (who all had the same done to them).

In terms of the books being ‘playful’, and as one reviewer stated, ‘get some wising up along with your recreational time’, how important do you think arts’ role as ‘recreation’ is, as many would argue that its role is much greater than that? What do you think of the relationship between playfulness and politics? In your eyes, with reference to your books, is there such thing as a ‘playfulness of politics’?

Yes. It isn't always effective or appropriate to be playfully political. But whenever it is, I think a lot gets accomplished by helping folks dismantle some of their armour with play.

A piece of artwork by Barbara Kruger once famously asked, ‘why are we shown one picture and not another?’ What do you feel the impact of previously being shown only one picture in children’s (and otherwise) literature, in particular of the representation of gender, and sexuality, has had on audiences?

Ugggggghhhhhhhh, I think it is so deep that most of us are numb to the homogeny of gender expression in books, toys, and movies for young people. Now it is time for us to shake the numbness and just start creating alternatives.

Is this part of what your colouring books hope to combat, by showing diverse pictures that reinforce positive gender roles in all communities?

Yes.

Has distributing your zine through independent and radical distributors directed your zine towards a specific audience?

Yes. I'm not sure the mainstream distributors would be all that psyched about our books.

Has your decision to produce ‘Girls will be boys will be girls’ as a more accessible book been made as a conscious decision to extend your ideas out to a larger, perhaps more diverse audience? Or were there more pertinent aims and ideals behind the decision to produce a book than this?

Having the book published really solves the problem for us of having to spend so much time distributing, promoting, and making those you-owe-us-money calls. We can spend more time being creative. And the publisher and distributor will do a much more efficient job at getting the book into the hands of more people who can find a bit of liberation in it.

Did producing a book, rather than a zine alter or change the aims you had with your art?

Not at all.

The provocation of your art in inspiring and challenging your audiences is achieved by a combination of illustration and text. What comes first when producing individual pages, the aesthetic image, the words and statements you use, or the political impetus?

Behind every project is first my political impetus. I want everything I make to be true to my personal politics. From there, I seek out images that ask me, beg me, to make commentary on them. Then, if we need to redraw them, we do. Some found images we leave as is or alter in some way.

Author Mark Andersen once stated, in terms of political activism, that ‘creativity is required to sustain struggle and growth’. What are your thoughts on this statement, with reference to your creative work with these zines?

Yahoo! I say bring on as much creativity as we can all muster.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of producing your artwork?

The personal stories people relate to me about some particular page in the books, how it reminds them of them when they were little or makes them angry because they never felt they were presented with these concepts as a child. Sometimes it's the children who have come up to me over the years and said very simply and plainly, "girls will be boys will be girls." It shakes me out of that place in myself that takes that statement for granted because I've been looking at, typing, saying, writing that god-forsaken beautiful phrase 12 million times over the last several years to the point where I realize, whoa! I never would have known that that was even a possibility to say out loud in 1978!

Buy Girls are Not Chicks | Buy Girls are Not Chicks eBook| Back to Jacinta Bunnell's Author Page




Teaching Rebellion Reviewed on Upside Down World

Teaching RebellionNew Book Surveys Oaxaca Uprising to Teach Rebellion
By Hans Bennett
Upside Down World

“I am 77-years-old. I have two children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren…My children are scared for me. It’s just that they love me. Everyone loves the little old granny, the mother hen of all those eggs. They say ‘They’re going to send someone to kill you. They’ll put a bullet through you.’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t care if it’s two bullets.’ I’ve become fearless like that. God gave me life and He will take it away when it is His will. If I get killed, I’ll be remembered as the old lady who fought the good fight, a heroine, even, who worked for peace…Hasta la victoria siempre. That’s what I believe,”says Marinita, a lifetime resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Marinita was one of the many participants in the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion, whose first-hand account is featured in the new book released by PM Press, titled Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca.  

Teaching Rebellion does just that: it teaches us why the 2006 rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico was so impressive, and is something we can all learn from. Edited by Diana Denham and the CASA Collective, Teaching Rebellion provides an overview of the uprising in Oaxaca. It also gives numerous first-hand interviews from participants, including long-time organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists. The diverse interviews allow some of those who led themselves in rebellion to also speak for themselves. Political art is featured throughout the book alongside excellent photographs from the uprising.

The introduction, by Diana Denham, Patrick Lincoln, and Chris Thomas, provides an overview of the rebellion to contextualize the participants’ accounts. The story of the 2006 rebellion begins with a teachers’ strike and sit-in that occupied over fifty blocks in the center of Oaxaca City, initiated on May 22, 2006, by the historically active Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union. When the government failed to respond to the teachers’ demands for more educational resources and better working conditions, thousands took to the streets demanding a trial for the hated State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), believed to have gained office in 2004 through electoral fraud. Five days later, 120,000-200,000 marched and held a popular trial for Governor Ruiz. Yet, the major rebellion was still to come.

On June 14, the police used teargas, firearms, and helicopters to brutally attack both the teachers’ sit-in at the city’s center and the union’s radio station—destroying their equipment and brutalizing the radio operators. This violent attack, meant to stifle the people’s resistance, backfired when the city rose in defense of the teachers. Transmission was taken up by Radio Universidad (at Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca) and thousands of supporters helped the union retake the city center that day. Two days later, 500,000 people marched through the city demanding that the federal government remove Governor Ruiz from office.

The next day, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed, eventually comprising over 300 unions, social organizations, indigenous communities, collectives, neighborhoods and student groups. The APPO’s autonomous, non-hierarchical approach in Oaxaca was “a new and original approach to political organizing,” Teaching Rebellion explains, but “it also drew from forms of indigenous self-governance, known as usos and costumbres. The APPO, an assembly by name, emphasizes the input of a diverse body of people who discuss issues and make decisions collectively; similarly, in many indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the assembly is the basis for communal governance. The customs of guelaguetza (which actually refers to reciprocity or ‘the gift of giving’) and tequio (collective, unpaid work for the benefit of the community) are the two traditions most deeply engrained in Oaxacan culture that literally fed the movement.”

With the June 14 police attack, the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion had begun. Teaching Rebellion continues:

“[I]n addition to responding to a police attack on striking teachers or a particularly repressive governor, the movement that surfaced in Oaxaca took over and ran an entire city for six months starting in June 2006. Government officials fled, police weren’t present to maintain even the semblance of responding to social harm, and many of the government institutions and services that we depend on daily were shut down. Without relying on centralized organization, neighborhoods managed everything from public safety (crime rates actually went down dramatically during the course of the six months) to food distribution and transportation. People across the state began to question the established line of western thinking that says communities can’t survive, much less thrive, without the intervention of a separate hierarchy caring for its needs. Oaxaca sent a compelling message to the world in 2006: the power we need is in our hands.”

The book’s introduction elaborates that after the June uprising, “no uniformed police were seen for months in the city of Oaxaca, but paramilitary forces terrorized public spaces occupied by protesters. These death squads, including many plainclothes police officers, sped through the city in unmarked vehicles, shooting at neighbors gathered at the barricades,” which were constructed around the city in defense against death squads and state repression. State repression began to escalate while negotiations were taking place between the APPO and the government, which only made the community more distrustful of the government. On October 28, 2006, over 4,500 federal police troops were sent to Oaxaca, attacking the barricades and retaking the historic city center where they set up a military base that was maintained until mid-December.

On November 2, the police attacked the university campus, home to Radio Universidad, but “in what turned into a seven-hour battle, neighbors, parents, students, and other civilians took to the streets to defend the campus with stones and firecrackers, eventually managing to surround the police and force their retreat.” In another major conflict that month, on November 25, “thousands of protesters marched into the city center and formed a ring around the occupying federal police forces. After a well-planned police attack, several hours of chaos and violence ensued, leaving nearly forty buildings ablaze. Hundreds were beaten, tortured, and arrested that day, and many movement activists and sympathizers not arrested were forced underground.”

This final repression essentially ended the community’s occupation and control of Oaxaca City, but,Teaching Rebellion reports that the struggle is not over: “While a Supreme Court Commission has been named to investigate the human rights abuses, Oaxacans have little faith that a real difference will trickle down. Despite the dead-end government redress the air stirs with the force of a familiar slogan: ‘We will never be the same again.’ The city walls seem to share this sentiment, planted in the post-repression graffiti: ‘Esta semilla germinará,’ from this seed we will grow.”

The First-Hand Accounts

The many featured interviews illustrate the spirits of spontaneity, anti-authoritarianism, and self-defense that were fundamental to the uprising. There is Jenny’s account of accompanying the family of slain US independent journalist Brad Will. The family had traveled to Oaxaca to demand justice for Brad and for all victims of government repression. Cuautli recounts his experience working in the community topiles (basically a people’s police force), formed during the occupation of Oaxaca City, as community defense groups protecting people from government repression as well as “common criminals” who preyed upon other poor people.

Tonia, recalls the women’s “Pots and Pans March” of August 1, 2006, which sparked the spontaneous takeover of the Channel 9 television and radio station by thousands of women. “When we got to the Channel 9 offices, the security guard didn’t want to let us in…The women in the front were asking permission for an hour or two to broadcast, but the employees of Channel 9 said it was impossible. Maybe if they would have given us that one hour and cooperated, then it wouldn’t have gone any further. But with them seeing the number of women present, and still saying no, we decided, ‘Okay then, we’ll take over the whole station…’ Everyone was taken by the spontaneity of it all. Since no one had foreseen what would happen and no one was trained in advance, everything was born in the spur of the moment…One thing I liked is that there were no individual leaders. For each task, there was a group of several women in charge.”

In the middle of the night, August 21, 2006, paramilitary forces destroyed the antennas at the occupied Channel 9. The social movement took immediate action in support of the women, fighting off the police and paramilitary attackers at the antennas, and spontaneously deciding to occupy all eleven of the city’s commercial radio stations. Francisco, an engineering student and radio technician who first got involved with the movement when Radio Universidad was vandalized by apparent police infiltrators, describes these actions from the front lines. He was working the night of August 21 at Radio Universidad when word went out that occupied Channel 9’s Radio Cacerola was down, and people were being attacked at the antennas at Fortín Hill. Francisco recounts, “we got up from our seats and left immediately…We grabbed whatever was available: Molotov cocktails, sticks, machetes, fireworks, stones, and other improvised weapons. But what could we do with our ‘arms’ against Ulises Ruiz’s thugs, who carried AK-47s, high caliber pistols, and so much hatred? Still, we had a lot of courage, the group of us, and in that moment the only important thing was getting to the place where our compañeros were under attack…We made it thanks to our skilled but funny-looking driver, Red Beard, who wore round-framed carpenter goggles covering half of his face, a yellow fireman’s helmet, and red beard. In truth, we all looked pretty funny in our protective gear: leather gloves and layered t-shirts. But wasn’t funny at all was the sound of bullets and screams that we heard on the other side of the hill as we continued onward.”

The busload from Radio Universidad arrived on the tail end of the government attack, and when they met up with their compañeros, they were told that police had shot and injured several people and destroyed the antennas. They searched for any injured compañeros who remained, then left to go help elsewhere. After visiting Radio La Ley, which had just been occupied, they were inspired to take over another station themselves and went to Radio ORO: “When we got there, we knocked on the door of the station and announced with a megaphone: ‘This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up. We are occupying this radio because they’ve taken away our last remaining means of free expression. This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up!’ The security guard opened the door and we entered, without anyone being hit, without insults—we just walked in.” Francisco concludes, “after the takeover, I read an article that said that intellectual and material authors of the takeovers of the radios weren’t Oaxacan, that they came from somewhere else, and that they received very specialized support. The article claimed that it would have been impossible for anyone without previous training to operate the radios in such a short amount of time because the equipment is too sophisticated for just anyone to use. They were wrong.”

Another account comes from former political prisoner David Venegas Reyes, who co-found VOCAL (Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty) in February, 2007, for the purposes of challenging the more mainstream and hierarchical elements within the APPO. David, who in October, 2006 was named representative of the barricades to the APPO council, recounts defending the barricades formed after the August 21 radio occupations: “we asked ourselves, ‘how can we defend these takeovers and defend the people inside?’…that’s when my participation, along with the participation of hundreds of thousands of others, began to make a more substantial difference. Because the movement stopped being defined by the announcements of events and calls for support made by the teachers’ union and began to be about the physical, territorial control of communities by those communities, by way of the barricades.”

David recounts that “We originally formed the barricade to protect the antennas of Radio Oro, but the barricade took on a life of its own. You could describe it like a party, a celebration of self-governance where we were starting to make emancipation through self-determination a reality. The barricades were about struggle, confrontation, and organization. We eventually started discussing agreements and decisions made by the APPO Council and the teachers’ union. There were a number of occasions where the barricade chose actions that went against those agreements, which in my view, only strengthened our capacity for organized resistance.”

David says VOCAL “stemmed from an APPO Statewide Assembly when it became evident that there were divergent perspectives with regard to the upcoming elections.” One side felt that the APPO movement “in all its plurality and diversity,” had purposefully excluded “political parties and any corrupt institution,” so getting involved with elections would “attack the unity constructed from diversity of thought and visions that exist within the movement.” The other side wanted to “act pragmatically and participate in the elections with our own candidates.” Those not wanting to participate in elections “that serve to legitimate repressive governments,” and who were distrustful offormed VOCAL. Consequently, VOCAL “turned into a diverse organization where a lot of anti-authoritarian visions and ways of thinking coexist—some rooted in indigenous tradition, like magonísmo, and some more connected to European ideologies. A lot of compañeros who have no particular ideological doctrine are also active in the organization…What we all have in common is our idea of autonomy as a founding principle. We defend the diverse ways of organizing of pueblos and the rights of people to self-govern in all realms of life…Unlike other hegemonic ideologies, we don’t believe that to promote our own line of thought it’s necessary to exclude anyone else’s.” organizations that did,

In April 2007, David was arrested, “with no arrest warrant or explanation. They drove me to an unknown place, where they planted drugs on me, then tried to force me to hold the drugs so that they could take photos. When I refused, they beat me…Finally they presented me with the arrest warrant that accused me of being involved in the social movement and the acts of November 25th. The warrant accused me of sedition, organized crime, and arson. Even as the government fabricated the idea of accusing me of drug possession in an attempt to criminalize and discredit me, they already intended to present the arrest warrant of a political nature once I was in jail.”

On March 5, 2008, after nearly a year in prison, David was released, after he was judged not-guilty by the court on all political charges. However, the CASA Collective’s website reports that since drug charges were still pending, “he was released on bail and forced to report to the court every week for over a year, severely limiting his ability to travel.” On April 21, 2009, Oaxacan judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes found him not guilty on “charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin.” Following this verdict, David said, "This innocent verdict, far from demonstrating the health or rectitude of the Mexican legal system, was pulled off thanks to the strength of the popular movement and with the solidarity of compañeros and compañeras from Mexico and various parts of the world. The legal system in Mexico is corrupt to the core and is a despicable tool used by the authorities to subjugate and repress those who struggle for justice and freedom."

Oaxaca: Three Years Later

Three years since the Oaxaca uprising that was sparked by the June 14, 2006 police assault on the striking teachers, the issues behind the rebellion have not been resolved, Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is still in office, and Oaxaca is still in the news. A 2007 article, The Lights of Xanica, reported on the continuing struggle of the Zapotec community of Santiago Xanica in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca. In 2009, a controversial U.S. Military-funded mapping project in Oaxaca has met local resistance this year. In May, El Enemigo Común reported that State and Federal police forcibly evicted “community members who had been blocking the entrance to the mining project Cuzctalán in the municipality of San José del Progreso since March 16.” Recently, Narco News reported on heated negotiations between the government and Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (initiators of the 2006 strike), as well as a robbery and murder committed by State Agency of Investigation agents at a bus terminal in Oaxaca City.

On June 8, 2009 The Committee in Defense of the Rights of the People (CODEP-APPO) reported the assassination of Sergio Martínez Vásquez, member of the State Council of CODEP, arguing that the“way in which it was done and due to some information gathered, everything points to the fact that the material actors of this assassination were paramilitary groups that Ulises Ruiz has operating in the region.”

On June 14, a march in Oaxaca City commemorated the three year anniversary of the 2006 uprising (read report in English or Spanish), and on June 17, a protest encampment in the Zocalo of Oaxaca City was attacked by paramilitaries (read report in English or Spanish).

The future in Oaxaca is unclear, but it is certain that the people will continue to resist, and international solidarity with help to strengthen the local resistance. Be sure and visit www.casacollective.org for the latest reports and opportunities for international solidarity.

Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist whose website is www.insubordination.blogspot.com.

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More from Hoshino

On writing Lonely Hearts Killer:

 “After writing Lonely Hearts Killer, I was asked the following by my students and young writers.  ‘We don’t understand why you’d want to problematize the emperor.  Is the emperor really that big of a presence in the lives of people over thirty?’ I felt the same way when I was younger. But then I wondered what would happen to the people of Japan if right here and right now the emperor system were abolished?”
 
“I feel like Japanese and American societies, and our entire world today for that matter, have gone mad.  When the majority is overtaken by madness, it becomes all the more difficult to explain what madness is or how it manifests.  For that reason I turned to the novel as a venue for trying to make the madness visible.”

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Kuper

Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
Peter Kuper
PM Press / Editorial Sexto Piso, 978-1-60486-071-9

Kuper’s hardcover opus Diario de Oaxaca, excerpted briefly in Wordless Worlds, is not as distant as it might appear at first glance. Peter Kuper is probably stuck with his best known credit, “Spy vs Spy” in Mad magazine, at least until this publication (in its second half-century and now reduced to quarterly appearance) goes out of business. Kuper inherited the spy piece from another era of Mad, and it has been noticeably wordless all these decades (Kuper took over it over in 1997). The author of arguably the only pantomime strip in widely-distributed comic art, Kuper explored the wordless form throughout his career in graphic novels like The System and Sticks and Stones. With Diario, his sketchbook journal from two years of living in Mexico, he is the observer removed not by silence so much as a keen awareness of his personal status: as visitor.

He is not a tourist exactly. He came to Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-Ha-Ka) in 2006 with his wife and child to take a sabbatical from the Bush-administered United States, as well as to broaden a young daughter’s linguistic skills and sensibilities. It just so happens that earth-shaking developments sweep through the city while he is there: the struggles of Oaxacans against a staggeringly corrupt government, seeking decent wages for public service, turn into class and cultural warfare. Kuper might almost have been the Courbet of the modern Paris Commune, but this uprising is crushed with great violence and dozens of casualties, including American journalist Brad Will. Kuper captures the dramatic events through his writing, drawings, and photos as they unfold, as well as when the city returns to its status as tourist center for foreigners seeking a warm, relaxing good time, close to archeological sites of lost civilizations. During the interim, all kinds of rebellious art and artistic graffiti appears on city walls, some of it reproduced here in drawings and photographs, while he sketches his own family’s daily lives, with equally heavy emphasis on natural surroundings.

Throughout, Kuper demonstrates his fascination with insects, not only the Monarch butterflies (whose breeding grounds are nearby) but also bugs of every variety. From stinging scorpions to corrupt politicians, Kuper draws parallels between the natural beauty and the dangerous reality that Mexicans encounter every day. The insects represent the “jungle of freedom” of the surrealist world view, the proliferation of life forms absent in Western cities but so much a part of homo sapiens’ transhistorical experiences—that is, of the species launched in the hot climates only gradually advancing to colder places.

The wondrous character of the sketches is in no small part their color, as it overflows with the sampling of Mexican art of everyday life. Understandably, the “Day of the Dead” makes a huge impression on the artist, but so do Aztec memories, the masks of assorted celebrations, the colorful dress, the omnipresent dogs, the occupying soldiers armed against an unarmed population, endangered sea turtles, professional wrestlers, pyramids, and other highly assorted phenomena. One is tempted to say “All in Living Color”—but of course, the Dead are among the most vivid inhabitants, and the long-dead civilizations as well. In any case, this is an artist-traveler’s notebook to cherish and flip through almost endlessly. Each visit to its pages will bring the reader some new gift.




Le Confinement Solitaire:

Un Traitemente Décrié
By Éric Clément
La Presse
 
Selon la direction de la prison d'Angola, il n'y a pas de confinement solitaire en Louisiane. « Il s'agit d'un vieux terme désuet », nous a dit la directrice-adjointe de la prison, Cathy Fontenot, qui maintient que, même maintenus en isolement, les prisonniers « peuvent se rencontrer et ont accès chaque jour au personnel, aux cadres de la prison et aux bénévoles ».

Robert King, qui a passé 29 ans dans ce qu'il considère comme du confinement solitaire, rétorque qu'un juge fédéral a déjà statué que ce type d'isolement était « cruel ».Amnisty International a condamné la pratique de confinement solitaire car elle est contraire aux droits de l'Homme et aux traités internationaux selon lesquels le confinement solitaire prolongé peut être comparé à de la torture et à un traitement inhumain et dégradant.

Terry A. Kupers, psychiatre reconnu aux États-Unis, a étudié les effets psychologiques du confinement solitaire. Il estime que cette pratique cause une « douleur sévère, des souffrances et des dommages psychologiques » pouvant mener au suicide.

« Quand la violence et les taux de suicide ont augmenté de façon vertigineuse dans les prisons à sécurité maximum à la fin des années 80, les autorités auraient dû reconnaître leur erreur en arrêtant la croissance de la population dans les prisons, avec une réforme de la durée des sentences et des programmes communautaires pour traiter les cas de drogues plutôt que d'incarcérer, dit M. Kupers. On aurait pu rétablir les programmes de réhabilitation dont les fonds ont été coupés parce que des politiciens ont peur d'être perçus comme dorlotant les détenus. À la place, les autorités ont sottement créé des unités d'isolement et, depuis, on constate une épidémie de dépressions nerveuses et de suicides découlant d'inactivité à long terme et d'isolement. »

À la suggestion de Mme Cathy Fontenot, directrice adjointe de la prison d'Angola, La Presse a tenté en vain d'avoir des commentaires du Procureur général de la Louisiane, Buddy Caldwell, au sujet du confinement solitaire et des Black Panthers emprisonnés. Mme Fontenot a toutefois tenu à dire que les autorités d'Angola croient plus que tout « en la réhabilitation morale » des prisonniers, « parce que nous avons vu des hommes changer à Angola et que nous supervisons la prison sans oppression et avec justice », dit-elle.


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From the Bottom of the Heap in Political Media Review

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review

Presenting one’s memoir consciously as that of a former Black Panther Party member, even as simply a factual statement, is bound to bring any such book into some heady company. Think Assata Shakur’s Assata, George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time and nearly a dozen other autobiographies and biographies. And though From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography Of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (nee Robert King Wilkerson) is no Soul On Ice (Eldridge Cleaver’s bubbling personal manifesto), King’s words percolate with the urgency and determination that made the Panthers once one of North America’s most revolutionary units.

King is best known, along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, as one of the Angola Three, leaders of a Black Panther Party chapter in Louisiana’s Angola Prison who served extensive portions (in the case of Wallace and Woodfox, 36 years) of their sentences in solitary confinement. Since his release, King has campaigned endlessly in support of the release of Wallace and Woodfox. He has also spoken out about the flaws in the criminal justice system, the reality of Southern racism that enjoys official support, and the disparities affecting people of African descent which in turn predicated his Black Panther Party membership. In revealing the details of his life, King employs an arresting writing style and welcomes you in to a world to which few have access. 

Heap tells King’s story from his youth growing up in the racially stratified Deep South to incarceration, political engagement and quest for freedom. His prose in plain-spoken yet vulnerable, with accounts of a life lived with much forthrightness and few regrets, though seemingly myriad pains. Yarns like King boxing with a rival named Pugnose as a means of resolving a youth jail code’s double standard affecting boys and girls dating are symbolic of King’s way of storytelling. While his estimations are spot-on, King seems to prefer stepping back and letting the situation speak for itself. Going this course makes for teaching moments on how different society is from King’s teenage years and, in other ways, how the world has barely changed, if at all.

Those expecting harrowing prison tales will not find them so much in this book as there are accounts of the everyday life of a young man dealing with the criminal justice system, social inequality and his own hopes for himself. The delicate negotiations of prison life are plumbed certainly. The conditions the Angola Three dealt with and their decision to resist brutality, as well as the facility’s response to their demands for basic human rights, are frequently sorrowful. King’s courage is nothing short of extraordinary. But really Heap is about much more than politics, survival and adversity. Though Louisiana has yet to atone for the wasted years given by the trio of Black Panther organizers, Heap is one man’s shot at making sure a history and a struggle are not lost now or to future generations.


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Angola 3 in La Presse

Angola 3: des Black Panthers demandent justice
by Éric Clément
La Presse

«À partir de quand une sentence de confinement solitaire en prison devient-elle inhumaine en regard de la faute ?»

C'est la question que se pose encore Robert King, sept ans après avoir été libéré de la prison d'Angola où il a passé 31 années de sa vie, dont 29 en isolement total dans une cellule individuelle de 2,70 par 1,80 m, sans fenêtre, avec un lit en ciment et une petite table, une cage dont il ne sortait qu'une heure par jour pour se doucher, dit-il. Et, ajoute-t-il, pour un crime que la justice a fini par admettre qu'il n'avait pas commis.Aujourd'hui âgé de 66 ans, le Black Panther vit à Austin, au Texas, où La Presse l'a rencontré. Il a dû quitter sa maison de La Nouvelle-Orléans, submergée par la crue de l'ouragan Katrina, en 2005.

Robert King fait partie avec Herman Wallace et Albert Woodfox, deux autres Black Panthers encore détenus à Angola, des «Angola 3», un trio bien connu en Louisiane pour prétendre depuis des années avoir été victime d'une énorme injustice.

En introduction de la biographie qu'il a publié cet hiver, From the Bottom of the Heap, Robert King pose la question : «Je suis né aux États-Unis, je suis né Noir, je suis né pauvre. Est-il donc étonnant que j'aie passé la plus grande partie de ma vie en prison ?»

Il affirme en effet que les Noirs de la Louisiane endurent des injustices depuis des décennies. Issu d'une famille pauvre et décomposée de La Nouvelle-Orléans, il a connu la misère très tôt. Il raconte avoir mangé du rat dans sa jeunesse alors qu'il devait compter sur l'habileté d'un chien qui chassait les lapins, les écureuils, les tortues et les serpents pour se nourrir.

Sa grand-mère, qui l'a élevé avec une ribambelle d'autres enfants, se tuait chaque jour à couper de la canne à sucre dans une plantation. Robert King n'a vu son père pour la première fois qu'à 13 ans. Il a connu la rue, ses lois, l'errance et les petits larcins pour survivre. Il dit aujourd'hui que la violence de la rue était liée au fait que les Noirs, même libérés de l'esclavage, ne recevaient aucun signe d'humanité.

«Ils étaient privés de culture et de responsabilités, ce qui a entraîné une autodestruction à laquelle s'est ajoutée le racisme et l'oppression», dit-il.

Dès qu'il a mis le doigt dans l'engrenage judiciaire, il a eu, dit-il, une belle tête de coupable permanent. En 1970, il est condamné par un jury à 35 ans de travaux forcés pour un vol, « même si celui qui a commis le crime m'a disculpé pendant le procès, en disant au juge qu'il avait été victime de brutalité policière pour le forcer à m'accuser «.

«C'est alors que j'ai su ce que voulait dire être un «ami de la cour»», dit-il.

Choqué par cette condamnation qu'il ne digère pas et par le fait qu'il trouvait que les Noirs étaient injustement traités «par le système», il se joint en 1971 au chapitre louisianais des Black Panthers, qui défendent alors la cause des Noirs depuis cinq ans. En prison, il fait la connaissance d'Herman Wallace et d'Albert Woodfox, deux autres Panthères noires.

Avec d'autres prisonniers, ils exigent des autorités carcérales des améliorations de leurs conditions de vie, en faisant des grèves de la faim. Leur cause franchit les grilles de la prison. Mais leur activisme embarrasse les autorités.

«On était contre le statu quo, donc on devenait une cible pour l'administration», dit M. King. Du coup, selon leur version, Wallace et Woodfox sont accusés à tort de l'assassinat, en avril 1972, de Brent Miller, un gardien de prison tué de 38 coups de couteau. Robert King est, quant à lui, envoyé en isolement, même s'il était absent ce jour-là, dit-il. Selon eux, leur accusation est directement liée à leur engagement politique et à la lutte que le FBI livre alors aux Black Panthers.

Le média américain NPR affirmait en octobre dernier que des détenus qui étaient à Angola en avril 1972 se rappellent aujourd'hui que ce fut «un mauvais mois pour les Noirs» dans la prison et que la direction n'a jamais interrogé un seul prisonnier blanc après ce meurtre.

Un an plus tard, Robert King est à son tour accusé du meurtre d'un autre homme dans la prison. Bâillonné et les mains attachées derrière le dos durant son procès, il est condamné à la prison à vie et au confinement solitaire.

«Le confinement solitaire, c'est une forme d'esclavage qui te donne le droit moral de t'échapper car être ainsi incarcéré est immoral, dit-il. Être tenu responsable d'un crime qu'on n'a pas commis, malgré les preuves de ton innocence, c'est un acte de terrorisme.»

Il décide de lutter en s'instruisant, en lisant beaucoup. « La loi était incohérente, je me suis mis, non pas à étudier le droit, mais à en faire la critique. « Des encouragements lui viennent de l'extérieur. Des élus américains mais aussi la fondatrice des magasins Body Shop, l'activiste Anita Roddick, se portent à la défense des Angola 3.

Un témoin à charge disculpe Robert King en 1987. Il lance une procédure d'appel. Une campagne nationale appelle à sa libération. Il obtient des jugements en sa faveur qu'il perd ensuite en appel. Son avocat réclame la clémence de l'État en 1996. Le bureau du pardon juge qu'il n'a pas fait assez de temps en prison (26 ans).

En 1998, un juge évoque dans son jugement le fait qu'il soit «probablement innocent». Après une requête en habeas corpus, Robert King est libéré le 8 février 2001.

Mais Wallace et Woodfox sont encore à Angola. Après 36 ans d'isolement. Selon l'avocat d'Herman Wallace, Nick Trenticosta, il n'existe pas aux États-Unis de prisonniers qui soient restés aussi longtemps enfermés en prison.

Accusés comme le Black Panther Elmer Geronimo Pratt, qui a fait 25 ans de prison pour un meurtre qu'il n'avait pas commis (il a été libéré en 1997), Wallace et Woodfox ont des chances de retrouver la liberté. Des juges ont récemment pris en compte le fait que l'arme du crime n'a jamais été attribuée à l'un ou à l'autre. De plus, les empreintes digitales et les traces de sang retrouvées sur la scène du crime ne leur sont pas reliées.

Même la veuve du gardien de prison assassiné a affirmé qu'ils devraient avoir droit à un autre procès. L'été dernier, un juge a proclamé que le procès initial de Woodfox a été «injuste» à cause d'une représentation juridique insuffisante et de la suppression de preuves disculpantes. Ce n'est en effet qu'après son procès qu'il a su qu'un témoin à charge (un prisonnier) avait eu des faveurs de la prison en échange de son témoignage, notamment une promesse de libération anticipée, ce qu'il a obtenu 13 ans plus tard.

Même si le système d'appel américain est long et complexe, Robert King est optimiste et pense que ses deux amis seront bientôt libres. «Pas parce qu'il y a une justice mais parce que la population fait des pressions», dit-il. En décembre dernier, un juge a ordonné à la Louisiane de «préparer ses arguments» dans le dossier d'Albert Woodfox. Une audience doit déterminer dans quelques jours s'il aura droit à un nouveau procès.

Qui étaient les Black Panthers?

Le mouvement Black Panther Party for Self Defense fut créé en 1966 en Californie par Bobby Seale et Huey P. Newton, des Noirs de la gauche américaine. La panthère noire avait été choisie comme emblème parce que c'est un animal noir « qui n'attaque pas mais se défend férocement «. Le mouvement révolutionnaire s'était doté d'un programme en dix points, notamment un droit au logement décent, une éducation appropriée tenant compte de l'histoire des Noirs, « la fin de la brutalité policière, la justice, la liberté et la paix «. Le BPP, dont une des fonctions était de fournir des services communautaires aux plus démunis, a essaimé dans plusieurs villes américaines avant d'être infiltré et combattu par le FBI et son programme COINTELPRO. Le leader du BPP, Fred Hampton, a été assassiné par le FBI dans son lit à Chicago le 4 décembre 1969. La police tuera un grand nombre de militants du BPP et créera un tel chaos que le mouvement, grevé par la dissidence, disparaîtra peu à peu. Âgé de 72 ans, Bobby Seale est toujours impliqué socialement : il implante des programmes d'éducation pour les jeunes.


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From the Bottom of the Heap in SF Bay View

The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
By Wanda Sabir
San Francisco Bay View

In a march outside Angola State Prison, “Last Slave Plantation” is painted on the asphalt near the initials LSP for Louisiana State Penitentiary. Prison guards block the road, as signs wave demanding the release of the Angola 3: Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King Wilkerson. In February 2001, Robert King walks out a free man, all charges dropped.

Who would have known, who could have predicted this man’s life was destined to take the turns it did - not for any particular misdeed; rather, his captivity was based solely on prejudicial perceptions that labeled him and other Black, poor boys and men, then and now, unworthy, criminal.

Freedom was a notion many in his community claimed but few knew because of the politically racist policies of the Deep South. Yet, despite all this, the child, Robert Hillary King, found a home and a grandmother and a community where not only was he welcomed, he was loved too.

Sheltered from the travesties of Jim Crow - segregation and deprivation - he took the lean days in stride with the fat. Even when accused, picked up and booked, not once, but three times, the first while just a child for crimes he hadn’t committed, King retained his optimism and belief in the human race. One would think, later on, after 29 years in solitary confinement with charges which were all eventually dropped, he might carry some bitterness, righteous anger for irretrievable time lost - 31 years - but he doesn’t. If anything, his anger is at a system, what he calls a post-colonial system which sanctions the disenfranchisement of certain people - 500 years after the first Africans disembarked on American shores.

Robert Hillary King a.k.a. Robert King Wilkerson takes us on a lyrical journey “From the Bottom of the Heap” to the depths of a darkness so dense flashlights can’t pierce the intangible conscience or sensibility of a nation or a people who would subject another citizen to what King describes in his autobiography as a normal state of affairs for Black men pre-Civil Rights Act, pre-March on Washington, pre-Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Told in a straightforward manner, this gripping tale has humor and all the innocence of a child’s voice, a more mature young man’s, evolving finally into the voice of an adult trying to plant his flag in ripe soil to claim a piece of the planet for himself and his kin. Unlike Ralph Ellison’s protagonist, King doesn’t evaporate or melt into the darkness. He fights, he yells, he refuses to take the beatings, whether ideologically or physically. He never gives up hope.

It’s amazing that King actually believed in the judicial system; he believed in it up to the third time he was thrown into the Parish Prison and was looking at 35 years to life. It was at this time, when he realized that the court was just interested in closing cases, not in justice, that he “felt psychologically whole.” King felt that if he didn’t act on this “new consciousness” it would be a betrayal of his sanity, so he and 60 other “brothers in jail who also felt this need to appeal to no one but themselves, where freedom was concerned,” planned an escape (156-157).

King stayed at large for a couple of weeks and though he was returned to the New Orleans Parish Prison with eight additional years added to his 35-year sentence, he no longer masked his reality with religion or other opiates. He says, “In studying and learning of my enemy, I also learned of myself, my place in history. In learning of my place in history, I rediscovered my long lost humanity. Individuality was replaced with the need for unity.

“I saw that all are expendable at the system’s whim. I saw how my mother, her mother and her mother’s mother before her suffered. I saw past generations of my forefathers stripped from their homeland, brought by force, to these shores in chains” (169). It is here King recognizes his piece on the game board and steps off the table - refusing to play anymore.

He’d heard about the shooting on Desire Street in New Orleans between the police and the Black Panther Party - several members also jailed at New Orleans Parish Prison - both men and women. During this time he is introduced to the BPP and sees in it the answers to so many questions he’d had before. He says, “Certainty replaced uncertainty” and despite the tragic loss of his 5-year-old son, Robert Jr., due to medical malpractice and the loss of his physical freedom, King seems to have gained a lot more than he lost.

King is shipped briefly to Angola again, returned to Parish Prison in 1971, and then shipped back to Angola for good in 1972, where he was charged with investigation into the death of a prison guard, a death that happened before he arrived back at Angola. Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Gilbert Montegut were also tried. Woodfox has been cleared of the charges brought in 1972 and is presently awaiting release. Wallace’s case is on appeal to the Louisiana State Supreme Court.

“From the Bottom of the Heap” is the story of one man, yet it could be the story of a nation - from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, the strategic targeting of Black youth, the criminalizing of persons based solely on the color of their skin, the content of their wallets and the address of their parents. This story is the answer leaders today need to hear - it is a voice no one is listening too.

The same economic circumstances which made it impossible to feed one’s family 50, 60 years ago exist today. The public education system is just as inadequate now as it was then in preparing future generations for occupations that will support their families. In fact, the situation today might be worse.

The end of the book shifts and changes tone: There are letters, a poem, a chronology of the Angola 3, more thanks, a family tree and an ad for Freelines - King’s sweet confection first made in prison. When one thinks of a second coming, Robert Hillary King comes to mind - he says he was reborn Feb. 8, 2001. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, after so much loss, so much death, the ashes serve as fertilizer for a brighter today and tomorrow.

King hasn’t walked on water yet, but I’m sure he could if he wanted to. If ever a child was born without a chance, it was this bright light - Robert King, on May 30, 1942 - this child born of descendents of former slaves in Gonzales, Louisiana. Yet, as long as he had lungs, this boy, later man, was not going down without a noise. And it is this noise, this shaking at the gates of justice, rattling the consciences of fellow Americans, that earned him his freedom and will earn his comrades Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox theirs too.

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Black Panther Robert Hillary King Tells His Story

By Tom Keyser
Albany Times Union
April 9, 2009


Robert Hillary King spent nearly three decades in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola state prison in Louisiana. As a member of the Black Panther Party, he and two party members became nationally known as the Angola 3 — political prisoners who spent decades in solitary confinement for, they contend, organizing prisoners to improve conditions.

King, 66, will speak Friday at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy in support of his book, From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (PM Press, 224 pages, $24.95).

After becoming a Black Panther in prison and organizing inmates, according to the book's dust jacket, "prison authorities beat him, starved him and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a 6-by-9-foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free."

Born poor in Louisiana and abandoned by both parents, King was stealing and fighting on the street by the time he was 11 and serving time in reform school at 15. In and out of local and state prison, he ended up at Angola in 1971 for a robbery he claims he did not commit. There, he says, he was framed for the stabbing death of another inmate.

"Solitary confinement is terrifying, especially if you are innocent of the charges that put you there," King writes. "My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and endured. ... So let's call prisons exactly what they are: an extension of slavery."

King recently spoke to the Times Union by phone from his home in Austin.

Q: You write that while in solitary you were allowed out of your cell one hour per day to shower and, sometimes, to go outside into the yard. How did you maintain your sanity?

A: When people ask me that, I tell them, laughing: 'I didn't tell you I wasn't crazy.' It's kind of hard to get dipped in waste and not come up stinking.

But I go on to say that I was in prison; prison wasn't in me. I kind of insulated myself against prison. My political awareness shielded me. Becoming politically aware in the early '70s, I saw America as being one big prison. All they'd done was take me from minimum custody and put me in maximum security.

But there is some luxury to going insane. I can understand that. Very few things I'm afraid of, but I was scared to go crazy, because I was scared of what they would do to me. I saw them do horrible things to people who, quote, lose their mind or regress into insanity. They were given medications, hosed down with 40-pound, 50-pound pressure hoses. ... And it wasn't just the administration. Inmates took part in the victimization of their own fellow prisoners. You see a lot of things. I couldn't describe all the things.

Q: Who are the Angola 3?

A: Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and myself became collectively known as the Angola 3 after spending decades in solitary confinement. Herman and Albert, both members of the Black Panther Party, were placed there for a crime they allegedly committed, participating in the death of a correction officer back in 1972. It's since come out that Herman and Albert were framed.

When our story got out in the public, I was subsequently released in 2001 when the courts overturned my conviction of participating in the death of an inmate. Herman and Albert are still in prison. (After 36 years in solitary, reportedly the longest of any inmates ever in the U.S., they were transferred last year to maximum security. When the correction officer was killed, Wallace and Woodfox were serving 50-year sentences, Wallace for bank robbery, Woodfox for armed robbery.) We have a strong legal case, but the state seems to be hanging on for dear life. Albert's case is in the federal courts, and Herman's is in the state Supreme Court. We have a civil suit as well.

Q: Are you consumed by anger and bitterness?

A: I don't know how anybody can go through what I went through and not be bitter, angry and a little crazy. But I can compartmentalize these things that took place in my life. I can dissect them and make an assessment of them.

Prison gave me a focus. The focus is to do my best to make sure that nobody else undergoes the type of thing that I underwent.

Q: What are you doing these days? How are you making a living?

A: When I got released from Angola, I got $10 from the state. That's all. I went on a few speaking engagements. I was putting out the word for the Angola 3. In some cases, people gave me a little money for doing it. I couldn't get a job, because when I got out, I was nearly 60 years old. And I had a record.

I got into making candy, something I learned in prison — King's Freelines, my twist on "pralines". That's how I'm able to sustain myself. And I have the book. I have spoken at colleges. Sometimes I've received compensation for that. But it's never much. By no stretch of the imagination am I rich. But I'm not homeless.

Q: What's the message you'd like readers to take from your book?

A: In the final analysis, America may be heaven for some. But in heaven, there's some people catching hell. I just happened to be of that segment that caught hell. There's still people catching hell.

But I guess the main message is one of benevolence. I think we have much more in common than we have differences. I guess that's the final message.

Tom Keyser can be reached at 454-5448 or by e-mail at tkeyser@timesunion.com.

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