In the Land of the Free

Directed by Vadim Jean
Screened at John Moores University
Wednesday 12th October 2011
Followed by Robert King: The Story of a Black Panther Q&A

Reviewed by John Owen

The film tells the tale of the “Angola 3”, framed for a bank robbery in the 70s then for the murder of one of the prison guards whilst in prison but in actual fact it was for being Black Panther members and trying to organise more humane conditions for the inmates.

For those not acquainted with the case and mistrial of the defendants, lets take some time out to dwell on the time these people have been incarcerated. Not only were they snatched off the streets as teenagers, but they were also cruelly punished by the added weight of the torture of solitary confinement.

Three young men, Albert Wood Fox, Herman Wallace and latterly Robert King, were detained for decades in solitary confinement. Robert king was released in 2001 and is on tour with the film to answer all and sundry. It tells the fantastic, yet tragic, tale of human defiance and stamina, intransigence that has kept the will to struggle for the freedom of his two remaining political prisoners in the Angola state pen.

The film documents graphically the current state of Louisiana judicial system and by contrast the United States too. It played to a packed house with some interesting questions from the floor of the theatre.

The use of CCR (Closed Cell Restricted) form of detention for nearly forty years means the two remaining prisoners have now suffered numerous health problems, both physical and of course psychological, due to the restricted movement in “a hole within a hole”.

“The prison cannot gain a victory… because he has nothing to be rehabilitated from or to. He refuses to accept the legitimacy of the system and refuses to participate. To participate is to admit that the society is legitimate because of its exploitation of the oppressed… The prison cannot be victorious because walls, bars, and guards cannot conquer or hold down an idea” - Huey P. Newton. Black panther spokesman.(1966)

Both Wallace and Fox were removed from CCR recently by the aid of their lawyers to different prisons far from Angola but they were then returned back to solitary. An evil dictator, so called Attorney general of Louisiana and Republican James D. “Buddy” Caldwell, is using the case as a “political football” in the words of Robert king. The law and order debate sound familiar to anybody.

“You have to be a little crazy to stay sane. To be locked up all those years and stay focused I may well be free of Angola but Angola wont be free of me”. He pledged to keep fighting till the release of Wallace and Fox.

To be locked up 23 hours a day 7 days a week and then some, with the habitual double oppression of guards hamstringing every initiative you attempt to improve the conditions. For example, the right to eat your food from a plate like a human being, not an animal which we all take for granted. For them meals were placed outside the cell so they had to eat by hand through the bars, they petitioned for 18 months to be served through a hatch in the cell door, meanwhile Robert king had an improvised tray holder that others copied just to remain human and dignified.

Aware of the current wave of protest in Wall Street and the euphoria generated by the Obama election also recent imposition of the death penalty of Troy Davies an innocent man given the chair. Robert was keen to stress, as the film showed, that the power to change is within the people. Although the constitutional rights of the prisoners, in particular the 6th and 14th amendments, were openly violated he thought it wasn’t just a legal or judicial case but a moral one that we should all take a stand on.

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