Herman Wallace has been in solitary confinement at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana (USA) for 34 years. At Angola this entails spending 23 hours per day in a two-by-three-metre cell. Wallace, an active member of the Black Panthers, received a life sentence without possibility of parole after he was convicted for the murder of a prison guard with evidence later proven to have been purchased from another prisoner. After maintaining his innocence for 34 years, his conviction is currently under review. Jackie Sumell contacted Herman through Robert King, an ex-prisoner at Angola who served 31 years for a crime he did not commit – 29 of them in solitary confinement. King was released in 2001 and is now actively campaigning on behalf of his comrades to raise public awareness of conditions in US prisons today. Wallace, King and Albert Woodfox, all Black Panthers, are known as the Angola Three. In November 2002, after months of correspondence, Jackie asked Herman a simple question: “What kind of house does a man who has been kept in a six-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”
The answer is contained in an incredible exchange that is now into its fifth years. Through over 300 letters, several phone calls and visits to the prison, the artist and activist Jackie Sumell has given voice and substance to Herman Wallace’s imagination. These pages present a selection of their long correspondence, which was first presented to the public in an exhibition last June at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany, and is currently showing at the Galway Arts Centre in Ireland.
In the exhibit Sumell juxtaposes a wood life-sized model of Herman’s cell (built from the drawing printed in the following pages) with Herman’s dream house, which Jackie has reconstructed in a 50:1 balsa wood scale model and a fly-through CAD model projected in video and accompanied by an audio tour read by Robert King. The exhibit’s contents and excerpts from their correspondence have been published in the 130-page book The House that Herman Built , by merz & solitude and designed by Katya Bonnenfant. Currently Herman and Jackie are hoping to find a donated land and a pro bono architectural team to build the house. This project has transcended the boundaries of art and activism. It illustrates resistance, friendship and the thresholds of humanity. Ultimately they wish to build the house and to bring in to fruition a dream from within a nightmare. F.G.
Imagining spaces as a strategy for survival
Spatial order and sequence are the best memory aids. One way to remember a story line or a speech is to choose a familiar location (for example a house) and associate each of its spaces (the single rooms in the house) to certain images (objects, story lines, people) that you would like to remember. In an imaginary visit to the house, you can step from one room to the next and recall the information, space for space and image for image. Seeing images in one’s head requires a visual acuity that is no longer particularly evident in today’s society. It is generally accepted that our visual capacities in the world of everyday media are constantly being weakened by the invasion of images and symbols: we no longer really see, we visualise. Those who can no longer see are no longer capable of fantasising images, and whoever is unable to fantasise images is no longer capable of spatial orientation – and that means they are lost both physically and mentally. These are the premises to read Herman’s story. Imagine a person, Herman Wallace, who has spent 39 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola (USA), 34 of them in isolation. Spurred by the American activist and artist Jackie Sumell, he “sees” his ideal house from the six-square-metre cell where he spends 23 hours per day. This is what the project “The House that Herman built” describes. Herman Wallace is living proof that an individual’s survival is directly related to his striving towards a higher goal . At the same time, the images or spaces that Herman Wallace imagines in his prison cell are proof that he has never given up hope. It is from these images, which he creates in an exchange with other people on the outside, that he draws the strength to continue his struggle. He shares them here with us. Jean-Baptiste Joly Director of Academy Schloss Solitude
For more information, updates or questions regarding Herman and Albert’s situation please check: http://www.angola3.org or e-mail Jackie Sumell: firstname.lastname@example.org (subject: Herman’s House)
#76759 CCR U/D #14
Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola
LA 70712 USA
#72148 CCR U/B #13
Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola L
A 70712 USA
Send checks to contribute to the legal defense fund: c/o Legal Defense
221 Idora Ave Vallejo, CA 94591 USA
Herman and Jackie would like to thank: Akademie Schloss Solitude, The Puffin Foundation, The National Coalition to Free the Angola 3, In Context 3 South Dublin City Council, Katya Bonnenfant and Burkhard Finken