Herman Wallace who spent much of the last 41 years of his life behind bars, and in solitary confinement, has passed away, losing his battle cancer. He was 71 years old.
Wallace, one of the Angola 3 prisoners, had advanced liver cancer, and died on Friday morning in New Orleans.
One very sad thing about this is that he was released from prison the previous Monday, after human rights groups, supporters and legal teams, had continuously worked for the rights of the so-called Angola 3, over the years, finally seeing the fruits of their labor realized, as (at least 1/3 of it), as Herman Wallace was set free, by a federal judge who ruled that his original indictment in the killing of a prison guard had been unconstitutional.
I mention Wallace’s passing because, we’ve previously covered a feature documentary on Wallace, on this site – director Angad Bhalla’s Herman’s House.
Once a slave estate and now known as the Alcatraz of the South, Angola prison sprawls over 18,000 Louisiana acres and houses over 5,000 prisoners. For almost 41 years Herman Wallace, a Black Panther member wrongly convicted of murdering a prison guard, had been kept in a tiny cell in solitary confinement.
In 2001, when young artist and political activist Jackie Sumell asked him to collaborate on an art project by imagining his ideal house, it was the beginning of an unlikely friendship that blossomed between the two, as well as an examination of the racial inequities of the American justice system.
Shot over five years, the film follows Jackie and Herman – who we actually don’t see in the film; we only hear his voice in conversations with Sumell over the phone – as they plan the house for an exhibition in NYC, the exhibition’s successful opening and Jackie’s trip to a post-Katrina Louisiana where Herman’s sister, his lawyer and released Black Panther members bear witness to a survivor of injustice.
The film is less about Herman Wallace’s case, and more about the building of Herman Wallace’s house, as the title states – this ideal/dream house that Sumell asked him to imagine, and help her realize, with the intent there being to give Wallace a hope that he may be able to manifest his own release from imprisonment in real life, and maybe even eventually build and live in that dream house.
The model home that Sumell builds would go on to become an art installation exhibited in several galleries around the world. She planned to build a community center in Louisiana in Wallace’s honor, modeled after his dream house, but developers snatched up the land she tried to raise funds to acquire and build on.
After a film festival run, the film was picked up by PBS, as part of its POV documentary film series, which kicked off on Monday, June 24 (this year’s installment) with a slate of films that included Herman’s House.
It eventually aired on PBS on July 8, this past summer.
The film is now available on DVD via First Run Features at this link, for about $19: http://firstrunfeatures.com/hermanshousedvd.html.
Consider it a companion piece to Vadim Jean’s 2010 documentary, In the Land of the Free… which tackles Herman Wallace’s confinement story directly.
Here’s the trailer for Herman’s House.
RIP Herman Wallace. A bittersweet taste of freedom after 41 years spent partly in a 6ft by 9ft cell.