In April of 1972, 25-year-old Albert Woodfox was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola Prison when he and another member of the Black Panther Party were indicted for the murder of a young prison guard, despite a total lack of evidence to implicate them. In Solitary, Woodfox details the ensuing four decades that he was held alone in a 6 by 9 foot cell for 23 hours a day in the notorious Angola Prison, Louisiana. His story of transformation and hope is so brutal, so humane, that (for only the second time ever) we have chosen a second Book of the Month.
Solitary tells how Woodfox – aware that anger would destroy him and taking strength from the solidarity of two fellow Panthers – resolved never to be broken by the corrupt system that held him down, and turned instead to activism and resistance. From his cell, Woodfox studied the law and campaigned for better conditions on the tier, taught fellow prisoners to read and worked on their legal defences. His own case, however, continued to suffer without adequate counsel. It took decades before Woodfox gained a lawyer of consequence, and even then he had to pursue multiple appeals over sixteen more years before he was finally freed in February 2016. It was his 69th birthday.
Naturally, Solitary has already been roundly praised for its powerful portrayal of transformation:
‘[A] book that is wrenching… Woodfox’s story makes [for] uncomfortable reading, which is as it should be. Solitary should make every reader writhe with shame and ask: What am I going to do to help change this?’
– Washington Post
‘[A] profound book about friendship … told simply but not tersely…If the ending of this book does not leave you with tears pooling down in your clavicles, you are a stronger person than I am.’
– New York Times