Summary and book reviews of Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Solitary

by Albert Woodfox

Solitary by Albert Woodfox X
Solitary by Albert Woodfox
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2019, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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Book Summary

Winner of the 2019 BookBrowse Debut Author Award

A chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.

Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement - in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana - all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America's prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.

Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016.

Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners.

Excerpt
Solitary

I was born in the "Negro" wing of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, the day after Mardi Gras, February 19, 1947. My mom, Ruby Edwards, was 17. My father was gone. He left her, she told me, because she was from the wrong side of the tracks. We lived in New Orleans until I was five and my mom fell in love with a man named James B. Mable, a chef in the U.S. Navy. He was the first and only man I ever called Daddy. They got married and had four more children, a girl and three boys.

We moved six or seven times to different naval bases during those years. Daddy's job was to feed the crew of whatever ship he was assigned to. He used to take me onto the ships on weekends when Navy personnel were allowed to bring family. I remember walking to the edge of an aircraft carrier to see the water and he grabbed me by the back of my shirt so I wouldn't be blown away by strong winds.

I was a rebellious child. When I was seven or eight, I challenged my mom to a wrestling match. "I can ...

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    BookBrowse Awards
    2019

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Albert's unwillingness to break—his strength and determination—is a lesson bestowed to those who are just entering the world of social struggle, as well as a reminder to those who have been fighting these battles for decades. Whether it's prison reform, racism and classism, or other ideologies and causes, the message is the same: Do what can be done, wherever it can be done, to better the world...continued

Full Review (1099 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
This story, which Woodfox has written with Leslie George, is told simply but not tersely. If it sometimes induces claustrophobia, well, it’s meant to. Very often the painful details, and the author’s own humanity in the face of them, start to make your chest feel too small...If the ending of this book does not leave you with tears pooling down in your clavicles, you are a stronger person than I am.

Washington Post
Wrenching, sometimes numbing, sometimes almost physically painful to read. You want to turn away, put the book down: Enough, no more! But you can’t, because after forty-plus years, the very least we owe Woodfox is attention to his story...Solitary should make every reader writhe with shame and ask: What am I going to do to help change this?

Kirkus Reviews
An astonishing true saga of incarceration that would have surely faced rejection if submitted as a novel on the grounds that it could never happen in real life.

Library Journal
A worthy read for anyone interested in the struggle to ensure humanity exists behind bars in America.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this devastating, superb memoir, Woodfox reflects on his decades inside the Louisiana prison system ... The book is a stunning indictment of a judicial system 'not concerned with innocence or justice,' and a crushing account of the inhumanity of solitary confinement. This breathtaking, brutal, and intelligent book will move and inspire readers.

Author Blurb Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, winner of the National Book Award
Solitary is an astounding story and makes clear the inhumanity of solitary confinement. How Albert Woodfox maintained his compassion and sense of hope throughout his ordeal is both amazing and inspiring.

Author Blurb Jelani Cobb, author of The Substance of Hope
Sage, profound and deeply humane, Albert Woodfox has authored an American testament. Solitary is not simply an indictment of the cruelties, absurdities and hypocrisies of the criminal justice system, it is a call to conscience for all who have allowed these acts to be done in our name.

Author Blurb Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project
A man who would not be broken. Not by more than 40 years of solitary in Angola, not by maddening injustice in courts, not by beatings, isolation, or loneliness. Albert's courage, wisdom, and kindness will inspire all who fight for social justice and have the good sense to read this book.

Author Blurb Van Jones, President of the Dream Corps and Host of CNN's "The Van Jones Show"
Albert Woodfox's extraordinary life story is both an inspiring triumph of the human spirit and a powerful call for the necessity of prison reform.

Author Blurb Reverend Leah Daughtry, co-author of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics
[H]is journey of resilience, perseverance, growth, and triumph is at once a cautionary tale, a challenge to all we think we know about the justice system, and an inspiring testimony to the power of the human spirit.

Author Blurb Mike Farrell, author of Just Call Me Mike and Of Mule and Man
Every white person in America must read this book...As a citizen of the United States, this book embarrasses me deeply. And it makes me furious.

Reader Reviews

Paula

Immersion into prison
Woodfox has written an amazing book. He describes prison life and his long road to justice simply and without becoming overly emotional. I felt ashamed to be part of the human race for the injustices and abuse that was inflicted upon him. Powerful!

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Beyond the Book

The Black Panther Party

Black Panther Party founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton In October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale of Oakland California founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which later became the Black Panther Party. Although the Party disbanded in 1982 only 16 years after its creation, it remains one of the largest and most controversial black revolutionary organizations in history. Known for encouraging militant self-defense of minority communities against the United States government, the Black Panther Party worked to establish economic, social and political equality through international socialist ideals, mass organizing and community-based programs.

The Black Panther Party had a ten-point platform and program based on members' desires and beliefs. Newton said that they strove "to ...

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