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Albert Woodfox, who survived decades of solitary confinement, dies

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Albert Woodfox, the author and activist who spent 43 years in solitary confinement, died this week at the age of 75. He was one of three men known as the Angola 3, with long stretches spent in isolation at the notorious Angola prison farm in Louisiana. 2019 we asked Mr. Woodfox to read from his memoir, "Solitary," in which he detailed the decades where he spent 23 hours a day confined to a 6-by-9-foot cell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALBERT WOODFOX: (Reading) I pace the cell to think. I pace to relieve tension. I lightly box the walls. My knuckles have calluses on them from boxing the wall. I do pushups on my fists. I don't have deep thoughts. I'm practical. I get through the day the way I have done a thousand times. Will this be the day I break? I push that thought away - mind over matter. I keep moving so later I can sleep sometime.

SIMON: Albert Woodfox was sent to jail in 1965 on armed robbery charges and placed in solitary confinement after being accused of killing corrections officer Brent Miller. Mr. Woodfox always maintained his innocence and said he was blamed for the crime after he helped set up a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was finally set free in 2016 after pleading to lesser charges. When we spoke to Albert Woodfox just three years after his release, he was using his freedom to speak out about the cruelty of solitary confinement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WOODFOX: One of the things that the three of us promised and made a vow to is that when we went free that we would be the voice and the face of the many women and children that - hidden behind the walls of prisons in this country. So that's, you know, what we are trying to do now. And, of course, we are trying to end the use of solitary. You know, solitary confinement is the most cruel form of torture.

SIMON: Albert Woodfox's memoir, "Solitary," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

(SOUNDBITE OF CYMANDE'S "ONE MORE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.