Tag Archives: solitary confinement torture

Beyond the Cell

Now comes Judge Brian A. Jackson, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, with a ruling that overturns Herman Wallace’s conviction for the 1974 murder of a prison guard, granting him full habeas relief based on the systematic exclusion of women from the Grand Jury, in violation of the 14th Amendment.  Judge Jackson also orders that “the State immediately release Mr. Wallace from custody.”

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Mr. Wallace, who has long maintained his innocence consistent with abundant evidence, is dying of liver cancer. He has been held in solitary confinement for forty one years, inside the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

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In 2001, Wallace received a letter from artist Jackie Sumell. After two years of correspondence, Sumell asked the question that would initiate their extraordinary collaboration, “what kind of house does a man whose been in solitary confinement for 30 years dream of?”.  Though Wallace was at first reluctant to engage — he had no such dreams — he finally wrote, “let’s do the project baby, you done gone way out there in that water, let’s see how we do together”.

In 2003, the prisoner and the artist began designing Mr. Wallace’s “dream” house through detailed inside/outside dialogue. In time, the project became the subject of a major traveling exhibition, a book, and a 2012 documentary film, all of which in turn brought both heat and light to the dense thicket of legal and racial injustices suffered by Wallace during the time of his incarceration:

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MODEL OF THE SPACE OF CONFINEMENT

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DIALOGUE AND DIALECTIC

DIALOGUE AND DIALECTIC

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GUESTS WILL SMILE AS THEY WALK THROUGH THE FLOWERS

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Mr. Wallace:

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Ms. Sumell:

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UPDATE FROM JACKIE SUMELL, OCTOBER 4, 2013:

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The Sun Dancer

On this day of Thanksgiving, when we supposedly commemorate the Pilgrim’s first successful harvest, we are moved to consider the story of Leonard Peltier, now in his 37th year of incarceration after two FBI agents were killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in circumstances that remain obscured by flawed and incomplete investigations.

Federal prosecutors in South Dakota have recently initiated a fresh examination of numerous unsolved murder cases at Pine Ridge in the months and years surrounding the siege of Wounded Knee in 1975. Meanwhile Mr. Peltier, now 68 years old, continues to suffer harsh and abusive treatment while in prison, including long periods of solitary confinement.

TIME IS A CANNIBAL

Peltier’s story touches on several DP themes:

∆     History is a struggle over which bodies are able to retain freedom and fluidity of movement; and which must be subjugated, restrained and immobilized

∆     History is also a struggle over whose story gets to be told; and the competing stories that must be silenced, marginalized or suppressed.

∆     Torture and incarceration are not only punishments and acts of retribution; they are also teachings — a pedagogy intended to keep the immobilized and silenced forever thus. 

∆     The lethal Spirit of Deerslayer is the defining figure within our shining City on a Hill; the Spirit of Crazy Horse offers an antithesis.

∆     Zones of extreme privilege are only sustained through the creation of commensurate sacrifice zones, like Pine Ridge Reservation. 

Below, we assemble a montage of excerpts from Peltier’s extraordinary book, My Life is My Sun Dance, together with art work created while in prison: