Locked up in solitary confinement for 29 years for a crime he didn’t commit makes Robert Hillary King extremely furious.
However, the former Black Panther member refuses to be consumed by anger because he knows that can affect the healing process.
King spent 32 years in Louisiana State Prison, also known as Angola, in a tangled case that ended with his original conviction for murdering a fellow prisoner being overturned in 2001.
“I am angry and bitter, but not to the point where that can overcome me,” he said while in Toronto recently for the second annual Toronto Black Film Festival. “I could have lived a sedated lifestyle after I came out of prison and forgotten about what I went through. I couldn’t do that because I am angry at what they did to me. But I am angry enough to do something about it.”
King co-founded the Angola Prison Black Panther chapter with fellow inmates Albert Woodfox, who is still incarcerated, and Herman Wallace who succumbed to cancer three days after his release last October.
Woodfox and Wallace were accused of murdering a prison guard while King, who entered the prison shortly after the guard’s murder, was linked to the crime through his association with the Black Panthers.
“We were targeted because we were Black Panther members,” he says. “Evidence was manufactured against us and we were held in solitary confinement for no stated reason. Because I was a Black Panther member, I was under investigation for 29 years for a crime that the state knew I had nothing to do with.”
Prior to King’s discussion, Hard Time – a film produced by Canadians Ron Harpelle and Kelly Saxberg that focusses on racism and human rights in the American penal system – was screened on the last day of the festival at Carlton Cinema.
The 41-minute documentary was released in 2012.
“I stumbled on this film as a subject,” said Harpelle, who teaches Latin American and Caribbean history at Lakehead University. “I was making another film about barbed wire when I went to Louisiana State Prison and found out there was actually a prisoner, a famous one, that had managed to get out. I called up King and told him what I was doing and he invited me to his home. As soon as I got there, he told me he didn’t know anything about barbed wire because where they kept him was surrounded by steel bars and concrete.”
Harpelle used the Internet to track down King.
“It didn’t take me long to realize another film had to be made,” he said. “There are several films that deal with the Angola Three and they are all great films dealing from different perspectives. It was, however, surprising that nobody had focused on King as the only freed Angola Three member before Wallace was released. King was very gracious with his time and he’s very articulate.”
Haitian-born award-winning actress Fabienne Colas started the TBFF in 2012.