My name is Kenny Zulu Whitmore. I have been enslaved In Angola state prison Louisiana for the last thirty-two years, falsely charged and convicted of armed robbery and murder.
In December 1973 I was arrested on frivolous charges and held over for a magistrate hearing where a bond would be set. While awaiting my court appearance I found myself in a cage right across from a black man who struck me as a fearsome revolutionary. It turned out to be Herman Wallace. I was impressed with his words of wisdom, which enabled me to better understand the treatment and condition of my community by the police. I felt honored just to have been in his presence. There were others on the unit, but all you could hear was the voice of Herman. We talked all through the night after he learned why I was arrested. He explained that if my concern was to protect the people, my only route of doing so would be to educate myself of the political Kingdom and then organize the people to effectively challenge the ill that cripple the people. I realized my speaking out against drug dealers and police brutality alone would be viewed as a personal war and wouldn't achieve anything. He told me he and others had established a chapter of the Black Panther party in Angola, to fight against prison corruption. I gave him all my information because what he spoke of was what I needed in my life. I dare say it was my first true political education. The next day I learned he was there on trial for the death of a prison guard. At that time I believed he didn't stand a chance. In the mean time history has proven I was wrong. However, instead of focusing on his trial, he had many questions about community service and conditions. I ended up giving him my name and address. He told me he was officially making me a member of the Angola Chapter of the Black Panther Party. I was very honored but I had no idea what this man expected of me. But I knew about the Panthers and so I went back to the community with the idea of organizing the community against illegal drug trafficking.
On February 19, 1975 I was arrested again. This time charged with two counts of armed robbery of a Zachary shoe store. In June of 1975 all charges were dropped after both victims argued with the judge that I was not the person who did this crime. But I still couldn't go free. While awaiting an evidentiary hearing on the two robbery charges I was also charged with a 1973 robbery and murder. In this case the district attorney Ossie Brown came to me with a prepared confession and said, "You, Whitmore, were imprecated in the 1973 robbery and murder of Marshall Bond. And I know you didn't do this, but I need a key witness against the guy who did this and you are going to help me to get this guy." He, the then D.A., gave me the confession to read and sign. The D.A. told me out right, "You are going to take the stand against this guy and say what I have prepared in that confession for y'all. And I am going to give you five years. You will not go to Angola, and you will be out in two and a half years." I told him, "Man, I don't have any idea of what you are talking about." He said, "I am the district attorney and my word is three against yours. And I can do whatever I want to you. Now help me get this guy or I will send you to Angola for the rest of your life." I refused and they immediately started beating me with sticks.
On January 3-6, 1977 I was tried and found guilty of second-degree murder and armed robbery. The victim was a wealthy ex-Mayor, member of the KKK in Zachary, Louisiana, which is a small rural community in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. In the early morning I was dragged from my house to the murder place. I was beaten up from that time till 10 in the evening in order to make me confess, which - of course - I did not.I was given life and ninety-nine years. I believe my incarceration on these charges is a direct result of my being out spoken against the police harassment and brutality in the community. The police had a procedure of randomly choosing a Black person and falsely charging them to clear their unsolved cases. On March 14, 1977 I arrived here at Angola. I was not here a good two hours before Angola guards jumped on me because I dared to complain of the guard throwing my mother's picture in the trash can. In a matter of minutes I was surrounded by guards in brown uniforms. I had an instant flash of Hitler's Brown Shirt Troops. They returned my personal property and within an hour I went before the classification board and I was assigned to CCR maximum security D-tier, which was known at that time as a militant tier. I was put in D#9. Once in the cage a Big Brother stopped and spoke to me. He told me his name was King Wilkerson. He told me that the tier was organized in a way to benefit everyone and explained to me what was expected of me while on that tier. King said Mondays were tier discussion days; any questions I might have about the structure of the tier would be discussed. Classes were held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: reading, writing, math, history and language. Albert Woodfox was teaching history. Albert Woodfox and I had become cool. Still, I had not learned of his connection with Hooks (Herman Wallace) until much later. But Woodfox and I fastly became best friends. About two weeks after being on D-tier, we had a confrontation with the guards and King was singled out and sent to Camp-J for breaking a guards jaw after they tried to jump him.
Since being on D-tier, I had heard the name Hooks many times, but had not had the opportunity to meet him because by the administration rules I could not go out on the yard for two years. And those two years were a learning experience - Woodfox was teaching me the principles of the BPP and the struggle here in Angola. Our goal was to organize all of the tiers of CCR.
In March of 1980, my two-year yard restriction was up. My third day on the yard Woodfox and I were out there with the brother everyone called Hooks. When I first saw him, I said to myself, I know this brother. I said "Herman from Baton Rouge Jail!". He remembered me and asked, "How long have you been here?" And Woodfox asked, "Y'all know each other?" Herman told him how we met and Woodfox said, "This is the little brother I have been telling you about." That very day on the yard our family began. Though Hooks made me a member of the Black Panther Party long time ago (1975), it was agreed upon by all of us that I would remain in the shadows to keep me from being exposed to the danger that they themselves faced. And I would be in a better position to walk from the shadows and by-pass some of the harassment that they were getting from the administration and the inmate hatchet men that the administration would place on the tier to try and destroy the collective lifestyle that had been established in CCR. And thus we could reach out in the general population area. In the spring of 1981, King had returned from Camp-J, and they put him back on D-tier with Woodfox and I. King had heard that I had become a member of the Black Panther Party through Wallace, and he too agreed that I should remain in the shadows out of the direct line of the administration fire.
Woodfox, Wilkerson, Wallace and I would often be on the yard at the same time. Thereafter, I think security suspected that I had become a member of the Black Panther Party. They started with their harassment. I had too many books and I needed to put this or that in my locker box. And when I would go before the classification board, they would tell me, "We heard you are a Black militant. We hate Black militants. Denied." And when I asked why I was being denied release from CCR, they would say "nature of original reason".
In September of 1981, I was sent to Camp-J for, as security said, a partially dismantled zip gun they found in my cell. 'Camp-J' was security for lil' torture camp. I stayed at Camp-J for three weeks before I was on transfer back to CCR. While back on the tier I was on, I saw the guards brutally beat two guys on the tier. Then they dragged them off as though they were dead animals. I immediately started to organize the tier. I asked guys on the tier to set their differences aside and become one voice. Two nights later three guards came down the tier harassing a few people about b.s. stuff, then they stopped in front of a guy's cell who clearly had mental problems. We all stood at the bars with homemade missiles to throw at them if they had attacked that guy. The guards left with a "we'll be back" look on their faces. The very next day I was transferred back to CCR, security's way of preventing me from spreading our revolutionary ideas at Camp-J.
The only reason I am being denied release from CCR is my connection with A-3 and my political concepts. My only reason for stepping out of the shadows is the truth of the guard's death back in the 1970's, which has now been proven to be part of a conspiracy against Albert and Herman. I was recruited by Herman Hooks Wallace into the Black Panther Party in 1974; once I got to Angola I participated in the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party. Other comrades who made up the Angola Chapter, I later learned of. It was the prison authorities and the FBI trying to learn the names of Panthers and it was for that reason everyone became a shadow.
My being in the Shadow has nothing to do with my activism. I have been a part of the A-3 committee since its inception. Right now I have a motion before the court to correct my sentence. I have an illegal sentence for which I intend to prove that could very well set me free. The Louisiana State Court just recently ordered my trial court to respond to my motion, and if the judge applies this motion to the letter of the law, he would have no choice other than to correct this sentence and set me free.
So here I am, out of the shadow,
IN THE STRUGGLE.
The Angola Three - Robert King Wilkerson, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace - have gotten much attention for their activism and the way they were scapegoated by a racist, archaic southern justice system. But they point out that their cases are hardly unique - there are many others in Angola - the infamous Louisiana prison known as "The Farm" -- also targeted for speaking and acting out against the system.
Kenneth "Zulu" Whitmore was arrested in 1975 for robbing a shoe store. The charges were dropped, but while he was in custody prosecutors decided to name him a suspect in the 1973 armed robbery and murder of the ex-mayor of Zachary, La., a small town not far from Angola. Whitmore says the District Attorney wanted him to make a deal and testify against another suspect in exchange for a short prison term.
"The DA told me outright, you are going to take the stand against this guy and say what I have prepared in that confession for y'all," says Whitmore, who has now been in Angola for 29 years. "And I am going to give you five years. You will not go to Angola, and you will be out in two and a half. I told him I don't have any idea what you are talking about. He said, 'I am the district attorney and my word is three against yours. I can do what I want to you. Now help me get this guy or I will send you to Angola for the rest of your life.' I refused and they immediately started beating me with sticks."
The DA made good on his promise. Whitmore was convicted of second degree murder, based largely on a supposed confession which he and his supporters say was fake, as described below. In 1977 he was sentenced to life and 99 years in prison.
A pre-sentence investigation report described Whitmore as having an extensive juvenile record, a total fabrication as evidenced when Whitmore obtained an affidavit from the juvenile court showing he had no record.
"This was to show I have been a fuck up all my life since age 12 and that I am unrehabilitable," said Whitmore.
The falsified juvenile record is one of the things Whitmore hopes will ultimately free him. He also notes that at the time he was sentenced, state law said someone sentenced to life for second degree murder could be eligible for parole after 20 years. That policy was later changed, which Whitmore argues violates the ex post facto law protecting people from retroactive changes to legal consequences. He currently has no lawyer to help him make these arguments, though he hopes to raise money to hire one.
"This is just how this racist, corrupt, irreparable system is," he said. "My writ of habeas corpus won't be denied because my claim lacks merit. It will be denied because I am a political and economic prisoner. Simply put, I cannot retain counsel to get out of prison."
When Whitmore was sent to Angola in 1978, he met King and Woodfox of the Angola Three. He had met Wallace previously, during a 1973 stint in the Baton Rouge jail for a robbery charge which was later dropped. Wallace planted the seed of political activism then, which continued to grow in Whitmore's mind. At Angola he became close friends with Woodfox and King, and later reunited with Wallace, and he joined the Black Panther Party.
"Once in the cage a Big Brother stopped and spoke to me," he said. "He told me his name was King, and went on to explain to me that the tier was organized in a way to benefit everyone and explained to me what was expected of me if I decided to remain on the tier" - which was known as the "militant tier."
Today King is a free man, released in 2001. He continues working for the freedom of Wallace, Woodfox and Whitmore, among others. Here he talks about Whitmore's struggle.
Q: How did Zulu get connected with the Angola Three?
A: Herman (Wallace) was going to trial in Baton Rouge parish at the time Zulu was arrested (in 1973) - he met Herman in a holding cell. A relationship developed. Zulu went back out in the community in the mid-1970s, trying to organize the community. That was in Zachary - a little town where it's like you're going back into the past.
Zulu became a target when he became outspoken about some things going on in the community.
As a result of that he was arrested on a charge, and then later charged with another crime while being held. That was around 1977. He got caught up in the same thing so many other people got caught up in - Zulu wasn't really any exception, it was a nationwide conspiracy to squelch dissent wherever it was. When you're in custody, you're already in the belly of the beast - all they needed to do was plant evidence. If they really wanted to mess you up good, it was easy -- Albert's and Herman's cases, mine, there are so many more. Lots of people are still in prison as a result of being targeted and really not realizing they were targeted. There was a green light from J. Edgar Hoover that if you were militant, nonconformist, "incorrigible," they would come after you. They came after you with a vengeance because they felt you would be a threat in the future. They did this with the Black Panther Party and individuals who were just sympathizers, who were in the struggle.
Q: And Zulu was framed...?
A: If you read the alleged confession they attributed to him and if you read the court transcripts of the trial where you hear his answers to their questions, you would know there's no way possible that the confession was his. I got intrigued by reading the legal ..s for the drama. When Zulu entered the drama, (testifying in court), it's almost like he has a speech impediment - his dialect and vernacular was indistinguishable - he was the epitome of this thing they call "ebonics". He didn't have a vocabulary above the fourth grade, at the time. Then the statement that implicated Zulu was so articulate and the vernacular was perfect, you don't have to be an expert to know it was a fake. If he had had a linguistics expert as a witness, Zulu wouldn't be in prison right now.
Q: How have things changed politically or in the justice system since Zulu was convicted? Does this figure into his case or his chances for getting out?
A: It's no better, if anything it's worse. At one time if you had a life sentence, you could get out of Angola . Now 90 to 95 percent of people will die in Angola . Now if you have a life sentence, life means life. And life in Angola means death -- is there any difference? There is psychological torture and physical torture. Angola has both. The psychological trauma is worse.
At one time the maximum for armed robbery was three years. When Zulu got there, the (maximum sentence allowed under the) law had changed from 30 to 66 to 99 years. They put laws in place that would keep people permanently in prison.
Q: Would you say Zulu has been a leader in prison?
A: Yes, the entire time. He's always there helping others with legal work. He's learning more and more, you couldn't begin to appreciate the progress he's made - before he had a speech impediment and he couldn't really articulate ideas -- now he's always learning and he's passing his knowledge on. He said people call him Red Cross and come to him with their problems. He is very well regarded among prisoners, he's respected as a prisoner with principles. I'm sorry to say some prisoners don't have principles. He's among one of the few who maintain principles. He's always been quiet, but when I was at Camp J I came back and he had been on his tier with Woodfox, and he was Woodfox's number one support. Zulu and Albert were real close. Zulu and I got real close too. I worked on Zulu's legal case before I worked on my own or anyone else's.
Q: Is he still targeted by guards or other powers that be in prison?
A: His affiliation has placed a stamp on him - like I was he's been relegated to be in CCR or Camp J or some type of closed, restricted area, the whole time he's there. I think this is because of his affiliation with the Angola Three. The administration is aware of Zulu's potential. Same with Roy Hollingsworth - they have been targeting Roy and Zulu for his affiliation with Roy.
Q: What do you think his chances are, since he's representing himself?
A: They appoint you a lawyer, but it's like a roll of the dice. He could be incompetent. He could be a competent lawyer, but still he could not be competent for you, not aggressively dealing with your case. He could have good intentions, but not be knowledgeable. Or he may not be aggressive enough to command people's respect. Then there's the jury and the prosecutor. They tell you the jury decides your fate, but the jury is influenced by the DA.
Zulu was targeted - he's a victim. Morally he should be out; legally he's a slave- the legal system has made him a slave, lock stock and barrel. I think (his release) could happen with this campaign that is growing. And other campaigns. I think more people are speaking out. The focus is definitely there by the supporters. People around the country are consumed by the latest case, the San Francisco 8. The "Legacy of Torture" campaign, a film being shown around the US and Canada in conjunction with the Black Panther film, films about Mumia. Work around political prisoners is really picking up. He's optimistic and I am too that he could be released.
Q: If he does get out, do you see Zulu being a strong activist and positive force in the community?
A: I believe strongly that Zulu understands the nature of the beast. He understands that there's really no alternative. Struggle becomes like wearing a second skin. You aren't going to come out of your skin. It goes on. Zulu has the volition to do so. He's been there. He's developed a sensitivity that people develop in prison - a quiet respect for life - you don't have to go to prison to do this, but being in prison you become more reflective. Seeing your life flash by you on a daily basis, seconds seem like hours. You learn to appreciate and internalize life a little more. Zulu is one of those who will continue to do what's necessary, to speak out. I do believe he will.
Kari Lydersen is a free lance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, In these Times, Glamor and The New Standard