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Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement—in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana—all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America’s prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.
Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a fifty-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016.
Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.
ABC Radio National: Sunday Extra
Globe and Mail ($)
New York Times: Books of the Times
New York Times
Publishers Weekly (starred review) ‘This breathtaking, brutal, and intelligent book will move and inspire readers.’
Weekend Australian ($)
‘[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?’
‘This breathtaking, brutal, and intelligent book will move and inspire readers.’
‘An important story for these times…An astonishing true saga of incarceration that would have surely faced rejection if submitted as a novel on the grounds that it never could happen in real life.’
‘Sage, profound and deeply humane, Albert Woodfox has authored an American testament. Solitary is not simply an indictment of the cruelties, absurdities and hypocrisies of the criminal justice system, it is a call to conscience for all who have allowed these acts to be done in our name.’
‘Solitary is the stunning record of a hero’s journey. In it a giant, Albert Woodfox, carries us boldly and without apology through the powerful, incredibly painful yet astonishingly inspiring story of a life lived virtually in chains. He is, as readers will learn, a ‘Man of Steel.’’
‘[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.’
‘In beautifully poetic language that starkly contrasts the world he’s describing, Woodfox awes and inspires. He illustrates the power of the human spirit, while illuminating the dire need for prison reform in the United States. Solitary is a brilliant blend of passion, terror and hope that everyone needs to experience.’
‘[H]eart-rending…“We must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus famously wrote, and such a prompt is the ennobling virtue at the core of “Solitary.” It lifts the book above mere advocacy or even memoir and places it in the realm of stoic philosophy.‘