"I Am Free. I Am Free." Prisoner Herman Wallace Dies Just Days After Release

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Common Dreams

"I Am Free. I Am Free." Prisoner Herman Wallace Dies Just Days After Release

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Herman Wallace rides in an ambulance taking him away from prison. (Photo: Democracy Now!)

Herman Wallace, the "Angola 3" prisoner who was released from jail earlier this week after being held in solitary confinement for 41 years, died early Friday morning after a battle with liver cancer.

Among his last words, according to those in attendance, were: "I am free. I am free."

71-year-old Wallace, who was wrongfully accused of murdering a prison guard 41 years ago, maintained his innocence for that duration and finally had his case overturned Tuesday.

However, as he lay on his death bed, Wallace was re-indicted by a Louisiana grand jury on Thursday, according to District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla who filed for the re-indictment.

Wallace died shortly after on Friday morning at 5:30 am Louisiana time.

"He passed away in my home," said Ashley Wennerstrom, a long-time friend and program director at Tulane's School of Medicine. "He was surrounded by friends and family and love in his last few days."

"He completed that mission," said longtime friend Parnell Herbert. "And he was able to see himself a free man. He passed away peacefully in his sleep."

Following Wallace's release from prison earlier in the week, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! wrote of Wallace's final days:

As he lies dying, Herman Wallace knows that after a lifetime of enduring the torture of solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, he is now a free man. [...]

The Angola 3 were united for the last time Tuesday. The prison rules allowed King and Woodfox to say their final goodbyes to Wallace, not because he was leaving prison, but because he was dying. By sheer coincidence, that was when the judge overturned Wallace’s conviction, and they were the ones who gave Wallace the news. Robert King described their final moments together: “Albert’s last words were, ‘Herman, we love you, and you’re going to get out today.’” King described how Albert Woodfox leaned over, hands and feet shackled, and kissed Herman goodbye on his forehead. [...]

Wallace was transferred to an ambulance and driven to the Louisiana State University Hospital in New Orleans. He has dreamed of his release for years, and describes it in “Herman’s House”:

“I got to the front gate, and there’s a whole lot of people out there. ... I was dancing my way out. I was doing the jitterbug. ... I turn around, and I look, and there are all the brothers in the window waving and throwing the fist sign—it’s rough, man. It’s so real. I can feel it even now.”

Herman Wallace was strapped into an ambulance, not dancing, as he left the prison, hanging on to life by a thread. But he was free, after almost 42 years in solitary confinement, longer than any other prisoner in U.S. history.

"Nothing can undo the authorities’ shocking treatment of (Wallace), which led more than 200,000 people to act on his behalf," said Amnesty International USA Executive Director Steven Hawkins, in reference to an Amnesty campaign for the release of Wallace and the last co-defendant of the Angola 3 case who remains behind bars, Albert Woodfox. "The state of Louisiana must now prevent further inhuman treatment by removing Wallace’s co-defendant Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement."

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