FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Search For Something More

by MISSY BEATTIE

Sunday, sister Laura and I went to a festival a block from my apartment. We walked past the vendor artists, their booths of pottery, jewelry, paintings, and metalwork, and opened our portable chairs near a stage where musicians performed. An event organizer took the mic and said someone mentioned the strangeness of having a festival when the country’s facing so many problems. She’d responded that art makes the world go ‘round.

I sat there, thinking about Herman Wallace and Alfred Woodfox. Actually, I’ve thought of little else for over a week.

Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola prison. And so has Woodfox. For Wallace, the torture is over. Diagnosed in June with advanced liver cancer, he was freed by a federal judge on Tuesday, October 1st and died three days later at the home of a friend. The judge had ruled that Wallace’s indictment in the 1972 killing of a prison guard was unconstitutional. Woodfox, his co-defendant, was allowed to say goodbye but then returned to solitary. When the guard was murdered, there was no physical evidence placing either man at the crime scene and both maintained their innocence, but their membership in the Black Panther Party, organizing for prison reform, pitted them against the system. They believed they were targeted and punished for their activism.

Near death, Wallace said, “I am free, I am free,” No one told him that he’d been re-indicted on Thursday.

“I am free. I am free.”

I think of these words and weep. At the poignancy. For what they say about our justice system, our inhumanity.

Moving through the rooms of my condo, I stare at a privileged life and realize the bullshit edict of freedom for all and that we’re created equal. My little-girl life was such a fairytale that when asked what I wanted to be someday, I said, “The ballerina in the music box.” My parents didn’t say If you go to college but instead asked where. They natured and then nurtured, providing advantages along with love and encouragement.

Images of Wallace are juxtaposed in my mind, one of him before his diagnosis and another, on that stretcher, leaving prison, wasted by disease. The two shift back and forth. I can’t forget him. I don’t want to forget him. Nor can I shunt Woodfox to some lower-level awareness the same way he’s isolated at Angola.

When I walked with Laura past those booths of art on Sunday, Wallace’s presence was everywhere. I told my sister that at one time, I’d have looked at each display, perhaps selecting something in support of a sculptor, designer, or painter.

When Wallace was in solitary, an artist provided a particular lifeline to him. Jackie Sumell corresponded, asking Wallace to describe his dream house. Her interpretation of this was exhibited in galleries in a dozen countries. Wallace said the project “helps me to maintain what little sanity I have left, to maintain my humanity and dignity.” Indeed, Sumell’s relationship with and commitment to Wallace helped make his world go ‘round.

“I am free. I am free.” Yes, Wallace is free, at last. Woodfox isn’t. So many aren’t, enduring unfathomable cruelty and wretchedness, whether in prison here, in solitary, or detained at Guantanamo.

I reread an essay I’ve referenced before about involvement and empathy. It contains this quote:

Being attentive to the needs of others might not be
the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can
be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult.
But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.

I want to know what I can do, what I can do to be attentive to the needs of others. There has to be more, something better than writing an article about Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, something more than a donation (although this is a start) to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity or the Innocence Project (now handling nearly 300 active cases). Something more than joining Close Guantanamo. Something more effective than a petition—like the one I recently signed for the compassionate release of Lynne Stewart. All are important, necessary, but we must do more. Something more. And I really don’t know what.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail