Herman Wallace passed away this morning, three days after a judge ordered his release from prison.
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A federal judge has ordered the immediate release of Herman Wallace from custody, citing the fact that women were excluded from the jury in his trial four decades ago. This comes on the heels of advocates asking for his compassionate release following the news detailing the severity of his liver cancer.
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Herman Wallace was removed from solitary confinement on Friday, July 12, 2013 following a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer on June 14, 2013. His classification changed from maximum to medium security and he was relocated, without leg irons, to a 10-bunk dorm in a prison hospital.
Following Wallace’s relocation Amnesty International launched a social media action with a call to Governor Bobby Jindal to release Wallace on humanitarian grounds.
In June 2013, POV caught up with Angad Bhalla to find out what’s happened with Herman Wallace and Jackie Sumell since the events of Herman’s House.
POV: Where is Herman Wallace today? What is the update on his case?
Bhalla: In March 2009, after spending over 40 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, often referred to as “Angola”, and after spending over 36 years of those years in solitary confinement, Herman was moved to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, which is located approximately one hour from New Orleans, where he continued to be held in solitary. In mid June 2013, Herman was diagnosed with liver cancer and moved to the prison infirmary, where he is still being held separately from other inmates.
As of May 2013, Herman’s murder conviction is currently under Federal Court scrutiny after a State Judicial Commissioner recommended reversing his conviction based on new, compelling evidence which exposed prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional violations.
Separately, over a decade ago Herman, Albert Woodfox and Robert King (often referred to as the Angola 3) filed a civil lawsuit challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement. Magistrate Judge Dalby describes their almost four decades of solitary as “durations so far beyond the pale” she could not find “anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence.” The case, which is scheduled to go to trial in June 2014, will detail unconstitutionally cruel and unusual treatment and systematic due process violations at the hands of Louisiana officials.
Where is Jackie Sumell today?
Bhalla: Jackie is now living and working in New Orleans.
How have audiences reacted to the film?
Bhalla: Audiences have been very appreciative of the film, often expressing how well the story begins to convey to those who have never experienced solitary confinement what that experience is like. People are also outraged by the injustice of long term solitary confinement, and inspired by the strength, vision and commitment of both Herman and Jackie.
Have Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace seen it?
Bhalla: Jackie has seen the film, and participated in Q&As, a few times since the film first came out. She received a standing ovation at our Canadian premiere at Hot Docs in 2012. Herman has not been able to see the film, although he has read a transcript. He hopes to be able to watch the POV broadcast on July 8th on the televisions in the prison.
What progress has been made for building Wallace’s dream home?
Bhalla: Jackie continues to search for suitable land on which to build Herman’s House and to fundraise to cover the expenses. Like many, she was affected by the 2008 recession which made fundraising to buy land and build the house very difficult. In 2013 Jackie was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to further her work on the project. To learn more about Jackie’s project, please visit: hermanshouse.org
What is the current legal status of solitary confinement in Louisiana and the United States? Has it changed since the film was made? What effect has Herman’s House had on the discussion of solitary confinement in the United States?
Bhalla: The regulation of solitary confinement practices occurs mainly on a state by state basis in the US, since the majority of people in prison in the US are in state prisons. We are not aware of any actual state or federal legislative change in terms of the use of solitary confinement that has been made since the film was released. Our community screenings, which are often held in partnership with organizations campaigning on the issues, as well as our national US broadcast on PBS, have played and will continue to play an important role in raising awareness of the inhumane use of solitary confinement in US prisons.
What are you working on next?
Bhalla: I am currently working on a related interactive project with the National Film Board of Canada that provides further insight into Herman’s story and the injustice of solitary. I also continue to produce web content for labor unions and other progressive organizations with my media collective timeofdaymedia.com.