8/23/2014

What 28-Years of Solitary Confinement Does to the Mind

This was published in Time Magazine, July 29th 2014
Written by: Alexandra Sifferlin

One Louisiana prisoner may get out of solitary confinement after nearly 30 years

Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, 59, has spent the last 28 consecutive years in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, but a prison warden says he may be released to the general inmate population.
Whitmore reportedly spends 23 hours a day in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell. “We will get him out,” Warden Burl Cain, warden of the prison, told the Medill Justice Project, a group that investigates potentially wrongful convictions. “We’d rather him out. I need his cell. I’ve got some young people, predators, that need to be in that cell. When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell.” Whitmore is in prison for second-degree murder.

Read the rest here.

Power to the People: Revolution is in the air at the V&A with a survey of protest art from the Seventies to now

This was published in The Independent, newspaper from the UK, on July 27th, 2014, by Zoe Pilger

“Because of my political beliefs and affiliation in the Black Panther Party, I have spent the last 35 years in solitary confinement,” writes Kenny Zulu Whitmore in an open letter to the visitors of Disobedient Objects, a new exhibition that has just opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum. “Torture by any other name is still torture.”

The letter, written this year, is almost unbearable to read. It is one of several objects on display related to the “Angola 3”, a group of three young black prisoners who were forced into solitary confinement in 1972 after they started a chapter of the Black Panther Party in Louisiana State Penitentiary. They wanted to challenge the brutal conditions and racial segregation. The prison is also known as “Angola” after the old plantation site on which it was built.

The Angola 3 case is a disgrace – it is one of the many struggles for justice represented in this rare, important, and powerful exhibition. Robert Hillary King was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary confinement. Herman Wallace was released last year after 41 years in solitary confinement, just three days before he died of liver cancer at the age of 71. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement. So too does Whitmore, who not part of the original three but became politicised in prison. His  letter ends: “Never surrender hope.”

A chrome-plated steel pendant is displayed, made in 2008 by another prisoner on the request of Wallace. It is elegant, stylish, the lettering graceful. But it reads: “Fuck the Law.” There is also a poem by Wallace, written last year: “The louder my voice the deeper they bury me.”

Curated by Catherine Flood and Gavin Grindon, this exhibition is one of the best I’ve seen so far this year. It is about the objects that have played a part in social change, and continue to do so – from a Suffragette teacup to the masked Trini dolls made by the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, to anti-apartheid badges to the gorilla masks worn by the art-activist group Guerrilla Girls as part of their protests against the shockingly low number of female artists represented in major galleries in the US.

Read the rest here.

8/09/2014

No Word from Warden Cain of Angola About Prisoner’s Fate


Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore remains in solitary confinement in Louisiana


More than two weeks ago, Warden Burl Cain, outside the gates of 
Louisiana State Penitentiary, addressed the imprisonment of 
Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore who has been held in solitary confinement for 
35 years. (Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project)

By Edward Ferguson, Alexa Santos, Ellen Schmitz and Tori Simkovic
Published on and reblogged from: The Medill Justice Project
Published: Aug. 4, 2014
Is Warden Cain still feeling the blues?

Sixteen days ago, Burl Cain said within two weeks he would personally talk with Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore to consider removing the prisoner from solitary confinement, where he has been held for 35 years—28 of them consecutively—at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. “When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell,” the warden said July 19 to Medill Justice Project students who were at Angola, researching Whitmore’s case and the issue of solitary confinement.

When the students bumped into the warden outside the prison gates, he agreed to an impromptu interview in which he said he would consider removing Whitmore from what is known as “closed cell restriction” or CCR and placing him in the general prison population if the warden determines Whitmore is no longer a risk.

Cain, who oversees the largest prison in America, declined to comment today through a spokesman who said the warden had a “horrible schedule.”

The Medill Justice Project sent a JPay, an electronic communications message for prisoners, to Whitmore today, asking whether he had heard from the warden but no response was received; Whitmore can make occasional telephone calls but has described that he gets only one hour a day outside of his 6-by-9-foot cell. Now 59 years old, he said he suffers from vision damage, hypertension and other ailments, which he attributes to his confinement. Whitmore also said he is deprived of most human interaction and given no educational or training opportunities.
Angola prisoner Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, pictured on the left with his sister Joycelyn Dyson and her husband Joseph in 1997, has spent 35 years in solitary confinement—28 of them consecutively. (Photo courtesy: Joycelyn Dyson)

Whitmore’s younger sister, Sheila, said on Saturday she visited her brother who told her the warden had not seen him and “he don’t think he will.” Reached for comment, his lawyers said they were not aware the warden had contacted Whitmore in recent days.

“It is my understanding that Warden Cain has yet to meet with Kenneth ‘Zulu’ Whitmore,” said one of his lawyers, Emily Posner, in an email. “The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) has now held Zulu for 28 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The institution’s long-standing commitment to isolating Zulu within such conditions demonstrates its ongoing practice of discriminating and persecuting advocates for racial justice.

“While I was hopeful that Warden Cain would take the necessary steps to release Zulu from solitary confinement, his inaction is sadly in line with LSPs historic treatment of political prisoners.”

Two weeks ago, Cain said he was concerned about Whitmore’s longstanding affiliation with the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party, a black revolutionary socialist organization that grew to prominence in the 1960s. Whitmore tried to escape in 1986, which also made him a security risk.

Last year, Whitmore filed by pen a federal suit in Baton Rouge against the warden and other prison officials, claiming his imprisonment in solitary confinement violated his constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Once again, the Warden’s actions confirm the allegations made in Mr. Whitmore’s petition: that LSP [Louisiana State Penitentiary] continues to violate his due process rights and has failed [to] provide a constitutionally adequate review of his confinement in solitary,” said one of Whitmore’s attorneys, Michelle M. Rutherford.

Whitmore was sentenced to life at Angola in 1977 for second-degree murder following the 1975 death of former Zachary, Louisiana, mayor, Marshall Bond; at the same time, Whitmore was sentenced to 99 years for armed robbery in the Bond murder and 125 years of hard labor for a shoe-store robbery.

Rutherford and Posner filed a post-conviction petition Thursday to challenge his conviction, citing evidence of a prejudiced investigation and a coerced confession.

After hearing Cain said he would talk to Whitmore, Joycelyn Dyson, the inmate’s older sister, said she is hopeful the warden will see that he poses no threat. Said Dyson: “Violence has never been his motive…I think he would be a model prisoner.”

Videos by Alexa Santos.

8/08/2014

Kenny 'Zulu' Whitmore Challenges His Conviction in Court and in the Press

This comes from the A3 E-newsletter:

Last week Kenny 'Zulu' Whitmore, a friend of A3 who has now spent over 30 years in isolation at Angola, filed his own habeas petition contesting his murder conviction in light of new evidence that his attorneys argue convincingly proves his innocence.  You can read the compelling petition here.

Only days before, Burl Cain, the infamous warden of Angola Prison, was recently asked during an impromptu interview with students of Northwestern University's Medill Justice Project about the removal from solitary of Kenny 'Zulu' Whitmore, a member of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party. Cain told the young journalists that he would consider removing him. The Medill Justice Project reports:

What Cain said he was concerned about is Whitmore's longstanding affiliation with the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party, a black revolutionary socialist organization that grew to prominence in the 1960s. Whitmore tried to escape in 1986, which also made him a security risk. Cain said Whitmore has the right to hold his political beliefs-as he himself does-but he expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. "The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism-I'm not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism," Cain said.

Read the full article here.

Zulu's case was also recently spotlighted alongside the Angola 3 by the UK Independent. Read more here.

7/26/2014

New Spotlight on Zulu E-Newsletter out now

We made a July 2014 issue of the Spotlight on Zulu, with news of the opening of the exhibition Disobedient Objects opens in the Victoria&Albert Museum in London on July 26th, and the interview with warden Cain about Zulu's 35 year solitary confinement.

You can read the E-newsletter here. You can subscribe to receive the Spotlight on Zulu in your emailbox too!

7/21/2014

Louisiana Warden Considers End to Inmate’s Solitary Confinement After More Than Three Decades

Black Panther Party affiliation threatens Angola prisoner Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore’s transfer

From: Medill Justice Project website

[photo: Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola weighs the risks of transferring Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore and other inmates out of closed cell restriction. (Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project)]


By Blake Bakkila, Annabel Edwards, Edward Ferguson and Alexa Santos
The Medill Justice Project

Published: July 19, 2014

ANGOLA, La.—A man who has spent 35 years in solitary confinement—one of the longest stints in a U.S. prison—may soon be released into the general inmate population. In an exclusive interview today outside the gates of the largest prison in America, Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary said he is prepared to take Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore out of what is known as closed cell restriction if the inmate, who is 59 years old, no longer represents a safety risk.

“We will get him out,” Cain said. He added, “We’d rather him out. I need his cell. I’ve got some young people, predators, that need to be in that cell. When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell.”

The warden’s remarks came as a result of an impromptu interview with students of The Medill Justice Project investigating Whitmore’s case and the issue of solitary confinement.

Cain, who oversees a prison of more than 6,000 inmates, said he would personally meet Whitmore, who was convicted of murder nearly 40 years ago, in the next two weeks to discuss the matter. If Cain, a devout Christian who talks about inmates’ moral rehabilitation, is convinced that Whitmore isn’t a threat, he said he will transfer the inmate in a matter of months. But first, Cain said he would monitor Whitmore’s letters and telephone calls to see if the prisoner has sincerely changed.

Last year, Whitmore filed by pen a federal suit in Baton Rouge against the warden and other prison officials, claiming his imprisonment in solitary confinement violated his constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

Whitmore has spent the last 28 consecutive years in solitary confinement; he said he suffers from vision damage, hypertension and other ailments, which he attributes to his confinement, 23 hours a day, in a cell that he describes as a 6-foot by 9-foot space. Whitmore also said he is deprived of most human interaction and given no educational or training opportunities. The prison declined to give The Medill Justice Project access to the closed cell restriction unit.

The warden said he is sympathetic toward Whitmore. “He can’t be involved in skills and trades and so forth where he’s living and he needs to have that part of his life,” he said.

Cain said he wasn’t concerned about Whitmore’s federal suit. Prisoners “file suits all the time, that’s not really important to us,” he said. “And that doesn’t keep him in the cell. You know I’ve got inmates that sue me every day, and I don’t lock up the ones that sue me.”

What Cain said he was concerned about is Whitmore’s longstanding affiliation with the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party, a black revolutionary socialist organization that grew to prominence in the 1960s. Whitmore tried to escape in 1986, which also made him a security risk. Cain said Whitmore has the right to hold his political beliefs—as he himself does—but he expressed concern that Whitmore could spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates.

“The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism,” Cain said.

The warden also noted that Whitmore’s confinement could protect him from younger prisoners trying to make a name for themselves by attacking a high-profile inmate; Whitmore is supported by various advocacy groups around the world, including in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which have created T-shirts and other merchandise with Whitmore’s likeness to help support his cause.

Whitmore calls himself a “political prisoner.”

His attorney, Emily Posner, who is coordinating efforts to reinvestigate Whitmore’s conviction, said in a prepared statement, “It is not surprising that Warden Cain has now affirmed that the torture that Zulu has endured for the last 28 years is a direct result of the BPP’s legacy.”

Michelle Rutherford, Whitmore’s attorney in his federal suit, said in a prepared response, “Warden Cain’s statement confirms the allegations Mr. Whitmore makes in his civil rights suit: he has been held in a 9 by 6 foot cell for over 35 years because of his political beliefs, not because of any demonstrated violent or disruptive behavior.”

Officials with the Black Panther Party could not be reached for comment today.

Cain’s position on Whitmore reflects the warden’s efforts to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement. Recently, Cain said he released 16 inmates to the general prison population on a trial basis. But one of the inmates stabbed another prisoner, and Cain expressed disappointment that the other inmates didn’t step in. That’s why Cain said that while he is interested in removing inmates from what’s also known as extended lockdown, he is hesitant to take risks with inmates’ lives.

“I can’t afford to gamble, I can’t afford to lose,” Cain said. “It’s a little bit different because I’m dealing with human lives.”

The Louisiana warden is among other prison leaders across the country who are reconsidering the use of solitary confinement as some lawmakers have begun to scrutinize the practice.

Whitmore was sentenced to life at Angola in 1977 for second-degree murder following the 1975 murder of former Zachary, La., mayor, Marshall Bond.

Videos by Alexa Santos.

In the Land of the Free

In the Land of the Free
A film about the Angola 3