A few weeks ago Dana and I (quick side note: while walking to Zeitgeist we ran into one of my students who was at a cookout with his pastor, who I met along with my student’s grandpa. Just goes to show you what a small town NOLA really is.) went to Zeitgeist to watch Herman’s House, a documentary about an artist, Jackie, who asks an Angola inmate, Herman, one simple question:
“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A 6′ X 9′ BOX FOR OVER 30 YEARS DREAM OF?” (Herman has actually been in solitary for over 40 years now)
Herman: In 1971 Herman was convicted of armed bank robbery. In 1972 he and two other prisoners (Albert Woodfox and Ronald Ailsworth) formed the Angola Chapter of the Black Panthers. The men worked towards improving the conditions at Angola; this made them targets for those who benefited from the poor conditions. Later in 1972 a guard named Brent Miller was murdered. By 1974 Herman and Albert were convicted of murdering Miller; there was no physical evidence. Herman has been in solitary confinement for 41 years; the longest of any US prisoner. In Spring 2013 Herman was diagnosed with cancer.
Herman Wallace, 2013
Letters from Herman to Jackie
Jackie: Born and raised in New York Jackie uses art to bring awareness and mobility to social issues. She is most well-known for her work The House that Herman Built. Jackie attended a seminar on solitary confinement, which is where she first learned about Herman’s story (Robert King, one of the Angola 3, was the speaker). After this she wrote a letter to Herman asking him what he would want in a dream house.
Jackie Sumell, New Orleans, LA
“The idea for Herman’s House was born out of an unquenchable desire to share the experience of freedom. In 2003 Herman began designing his house, and entering the world outside of solitary confinement.”
One thing led to another and Jackie built a model of the house dreamed up by a man who has lived in a 6×8 cell for over 40 years. The House that Herman Built has gone on tour to over 12 countries. The exhibit consists of the model and a life-size wooden model of Herman’s cell. Jackie eventually moved down to the 7th ward, New Orleans, where she as continued her work with Herman’s House. Ultimately Herman wants Jackie to build his house in New Orleans and have it serve as a community center.
Model of Herman’s House
Scale model of Herman’s Cell
Here are some articles and sites about Herman’s House, Herman, and Jackie:
If you are interested in watching the documentary you can do so at PBS until August 9th. I strongly recommend it.
And finally if anyone feels so inclined you can donate here.
The point? Everybody deserves to have a dream, and to have someone care about that dream.