Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?

Supporters of one of the Angola Three tell The Root why he might be released this time.

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Their activism, he added, helped them maintain their sanity and focus.

"After being in there for so long, you're not desensitized to the situation, but you build up a resistance, so to speak, against the wear and tear. You're in there ... so you have to become inured to being in there," said King, who, postprison, has lectured and lobbied globally against solitary confinement, conferring with former South African President Nelson Mandela and actor-activist Harry Belafonte, among others.

According to King, who recently spoke by telephone with Woodfox, his friend's optimism regarding his pending court case is clear. "His spirits—notwithstanding the pressures of all this—seem pretty uplifted," said King. "He read the argument. He read the brief, both sides. He imagines that the lawyers did a good job. His expectation is high. Ask him if he'll be coming home and he tells you, straight up, 'Yes.' "

Even amid that hopefulness, there's reason for caution.

Californian Marina Drummer—a Bay Area nonprofit executive, coordinator of the Free Angola 3 campaign and co-founder of Solitary Watch—said: "I can't say I'm [unequivocally] optimistic. We're dealing with the state of Louisiana ... It seems as if they'll do anything to cover their tracks. If we were going on the issue of justice, they'd all be out by now."

The state could, as it did previously, appeal to have a ruling in Woodfox's favor overturned, says attorney Allen-Bell.

After her own recent visit with Woodfox, Allen-Bell had this observation: "What I do not hear from [him] is anger or bitterness. I see them as civil rights icons, which they're very humble about ... They don't see themselves as anyone special. They were doing the human work that humanitarians do." She quotes Woodfox: " 'We were doing what Panthers do. This is the penalty you pay for doing this kind of stuff.' "

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the translation of "habeas corpus."

Freelancer Katti Gray specializes in covering criminal justice, health care, higher education and human resources. She is a contributing editor at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice in New York City.

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