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More - Broncos & Boudin: The Angola Prison Rodeo  



Angola Prison 1939
"Prison compound No 1. Angola, La. Leadbelly in foreground." Handwritten on back by Alan Lomax -1934
Library of Congress

In researching this story, The Kitchen Sisters read all the available works on the Angola rodeo, including Daniel Bergner’s chilling book God of the Rodeo. In the afterword, Bergner recounts his experience at the penitentiary:

It is a place I think back on with despair, a place I left with no soothing affirmation of God’s presence. But I did see men struggling to rise, men whose efforts made me wonder constantly: What do we owe them? A thousand times I repeated all the reasons one could answer: Nothing. We owe them nothing. They have destroyed other lives; what obligates us to help in reconstructing theirs? What is our duty beyond protecting ourselves, our society, by putting them away?
Yet we are their keepers. They may need or deserve to be kept, but it is precisely in making this decision that we take on responsibility. We take control of their lives. And so, unavoidably, we are obligated. We owe them something more than a perverse radio rodeo as a vehicle for self-improvement and a way to make themselves known. We cannot both claim and forget them.
— Daniel Bergner

The House That Herman Built by Jackie Sumell & Herman Wallace
hermans housecell
Hermans House as he imagines it and his drawing of his cell in solitary confinement at Angola

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox along with Robert "King" Wilkerson, whose Hidden Kitchen story, "Kings Candy," we told in 2005 are known as "The Angola 3" based on their involvement with the Black Panther Party while imprisoned. King was released in 2001 but Herman and Albert remain at Angola.

For over thirty-six years Herman Joshua Wallace has been in solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Solitary Confinement, or Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) at Angola consists of spending a minimum of 23 hours a day in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell. In 2003 the activist/artist Jackie Sumell asked Herman a very simple question: "What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6' x9' box for over thirty years dream of?" The answer to this question has manifested in a remarkable project called THE HOUSE THAT HERMAN BUILT.
A four-year exchange. Through extensive letter writing, visits to the prison, and occasional phone calls Jackie has been translating Herman’s imagination. The project has manifested several different modalities including, a book of his letters, dozens of drawings, a 50:1 scale balsa wood model and CAD model video with an audio tour written by Herman, and read by Robert King.

* Update / April 15, 2008
We have just learned that both Herman and Albert have won release from solitary confinement and are out of shackles. Activist, Marina Drummer, creator of Community Futures Collective and friend of The Kitchen Sisters, has been working tirelessly on behalf of the Angola 3 and prisoners rights, wrote to us, "Did you hear that when Herman and Albert were moved out of Solitary two weeks ago, Herman told me that he saw the stars for the first time in 36 years....."


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Food Booths at the Angola Prison Rodeo.

Mike Schreiber and Rene Perez are two photographers who we discovered researching this story. Both of them have traveled to Louisianna State Penitenary at Angola to document the rodeo. We are gratefull for the generousity in allowing us to feature some of their work on our NPR story page.

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