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One of the Angola Three Recalls Life in Solitary Confinement

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This April 22, 2009, file photo, shows a view of the front entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. Albert Woodfox, the last of three high-profile Louisiana prisoners known as the "Angola Three," could walk free within days after a federal judge ordered state officials to release him immediately. Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for 43 years. He was accused, along with three other prisoners, in the stabbing death of Brent Miller, a 23-year-old guard at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. (AP file photo/Judi Bottoni, File)

This April 22, 2009, file photo, shows a view of the front entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. Albert Woodfox, the last of three high-profile Louisiana prisoners known as the “Angola Three,” could walk free within days after a federal judge ordered state officials to release him immediately. Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for 43 years. He was accused, along with three other prisoners, in the stabbing death of Brent Miller, a 23-year-old guard at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. (AP file photo/Judi Bottoni, File)

STACEY PLAISANCE, Associated Press
REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Robert King says he watched nearly three decades of his life fade away in solitary confinement inside Louisiana’s Angola prison, sometimes glimpsing the world through a small window and longing for the few hours a week he might feel the sun on his face.

“We were caged up,” said King, who was released in 2001 after a court reversed his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate in 1973. “I don’t think a person can go through that and come up unscathed.”

King is one of three men known as the “Angola Three,” who supporters say spent decades in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, often referred to simply as Angola, the town in which it’s located.

Another man, Herman Wallace, was released in October 2013 when a judge granted him a new trial and died days later.

Now, King is closely watching the fate of the last of the three, Albert Woodfox, after a judge this week ordered his immediate release and barred the state from trying him a third time in the killing of a prison guard in 1972.

The attorney general is fighting that ruling and won an emergency stay keeping him in jail while the two sides argue the matter before an appeals court.

In court filings Wednesday, Woodfox’s lawyers argued that he does not pose a flight risk if released, needs medical attention and would submit to electronic surveillance if released.

The lawyers also argued that prosecutors’ claims that Woodfox was dangerous were “starkly untrue.”

State officials have said repeatedly that the evidence shows he is a killer. They say Woodfox has been in a form of protective custody called closed cell restriction, but not solitary confinement. They say he’s allowed to watch television through the bars of his cell, talk to other inmates in his tier, read books, talk to visiting chaplains and leave his cell every day for an hour.

“The perception of ‘solitary confinement’ is a far cry from the reality,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.

For now, Woodfox is being held in a jail where he’s awaited his new trial since February. His supporters estimate he’s spent a total of more than four decades in isolation, with some breaks in the 1990s and in 2008.

It’s a situation King knows well. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Austin, Texas, where he now lives.

King said he was shackled at the hands and feet anytime he left his cell. He said he could see and converse with a handful of other inmates in the immediate vicinity, but they all had to be careful not to talk too loud, or too much, or they would be written up.

The conditions changed over time. At first there was no window or time outside, but eventually he was allowed outside for short periods a few times a week and given a cell with a window.

“If it was raining, too hot, too cold, they wouldn’t let us go outside, and they wouldn’t give us makeup time,” he said.

Many experts say such conditions, whatever the name, can have detrimental effects on inmates. Some have reported anxiety, paranoia, depression and hallucinations, said Dr. Sharon Shalev, a research associate from the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford who runs the website www.solitaryconfinement.org.

Shalev said she’s had prisoners tell her they harmed themselves just to reaffirm they were still alive.

There are no precise figures on the number of inmates held in isolation, the Vera Institute of Justice said in a May report. However, the report said estimates range from 25,000 — which includes only those held in so-called supermax facilities — to 80,000, which includes those held in some type of segregated housing across all state and federal prisons.

The report also said inmates in isolation are more likely to kill or hurt themselves than those held in the general population.

What has made the case of the Angola Three and Woodfox in particular such a lightning rod for international attention has been the length of time they were in isolation. Tory Pegram of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 said Woodfox was first put in solitary in April 1972, the same day the guard he was eventually accused of killing died.

Louisiana corrections officials have said he was in closed cell restriction for many years but declined to elaborate because litigation is pending.

Meanwhile, King is eagerly awaiting his friend’s release. He started driving from his home in Austin on Tuesday to meet Woodfox when he was released but turned around when that release was delayed. But he plans to be there if and when Woodfox walks out of the jail.

In the years since his release, King has written a book and often gives talks on his experiences. When asked how he didn’t go crazy, he replied, laughing, “I didn’t say I wasn’t crazy.”

“It was bitter,” he said. “But there are some things that you can make out of lemons. I just tried every day to make lemonade.”

___

Follow Santana on Twitter: @ruskygal. Follow Plaisance: @splaisance

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Community

Building Bridges Beyond Bias in Marin

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

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From left: Tahirah Dean, Jason Lau, Ph.D., Laura Eberly, Alejandro Lara

The Marin County Free Library (MCFL) and Age Forward Marin is presenting a four-part, on-line series “Building Bridges Beyond Bias” which is designed for Marin County residents from all backgrounds to gain understanding and foster awareness about each other through conversation and connection, and to confront and explore beyond our biases.

Tahirah Dean will be speaking on Wednesday, October 20, and Jason Lau, Ph.D. will be speaking on Wednesday, November 3, for the two remaining programs. The programs will be online via Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Dean is an Afro-Latina Muslim woman and a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Marin, pursuing her passion for housing justice, and has worked as an immigration attorney assisting asylum seekers and those seeking work visas. She holds a B.A. in English and Political Science from the University of North Texas, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.

Lau traveled to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1997 to further his education. Today, he is the interim associate dean and senior business officer for the School of Extended and International Education for Sonoma State University and chairs the Marin County Child Care Commission and the Marin YMCA Volunteer Board of Managers.

The speakers for two previous programs in the series were Laura Eberly, who spoke on September 22 and Alejandro Lara, who spoke on October 6.

Eberly is the founding director of Mountaintop Coaching & Consulting, which provides diversity, equity, and inclusion services. She holds a B.A. and M.S.W. from the University of Chicago and is ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She is a proud alum of Catalyst Project’s Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizing Training Program.

Lara is a first-generation Latino college graduate from UC Davis, and currently works as the communications coordinator for the Canal Alliance in San Rafael.

MCFL has supported equity measures in the county, offered enlightening educational programming, and has enthusiastically endorsed the Marin County Board of Supervisors’ prioritization of social equity and the creation of the County’s Office of Equity. County departments are working to dismantle inequities and transform systems inherited through centuries of racial, social, and political injustices.

The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spearheaded the Age Forward Marin. It is a collective effort between County departments and local government, community leaders, and residents including in Marin’s unincorporated areas.

Gloria Dunn-Violin, a resident of Novato, approached HHS Director Benita McLarin with a concept that evolved into the special speaker series. Dunn-Violin teamed with the Corte Madera Library and the Age Forward initiative to design the Beyond Bias program’s purpose and format, to assist in finding speakers, and to share the event with community partners focused on diversity and inclusion.

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

The Marin Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Business

City Must Pay Contractors, Businesses, Non-Profits Promptly

By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

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Sheng Thao

I have introduced legislation to restore the City of Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance and it will be heard at 1:30 p.m. by the City Council on October 19 because local contractors and local businesses need to be compensated in a timely manner for work they do on behalf of the City.

It’s unacceptable that the city is using the COVID-19 pandemic to delay payment to these local non-profit organizations.  By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Interim City Administrator, Steven Falk issued an Emergency Order suspending parts of the City’s codes to give the City the flexibility to navigate the uncertain times.  Few would have guessed then that the world would still be navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic nearly 18 months later. One of the ordinances suspended by the Emergency Order was the Prompt Payment Ordinance.

Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance requires the City to compensate local businesses and contractors executing City grants or contracts within 20 days of receiving an invoice.  This allows local organizations providing services on behalf of the City of Oakland to be compensated in a timely manner and builds trust between these organizations and the city.  Local contractors and businesses provide a diverse set of services to the City, covering areas ranging from trash removal and paving to public safety.

Almost 18 months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance is still suspended.  Even as City staff have adjusted to working remotely and the City has adjusted to operating during the pandemic, there is no requirement that the City compensate its contractors or local businesses in a timely manner.

Oaklanders can comment at the meeting by joining the Zoom meeting via this link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88527652491 or calling 1-669-900-6833 and using the Meeting ID 885 2765 2491 and raising their hand during the public comment period at the beginning of the Council meeting.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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