Artist Jackie Sumell first heard about Herman Wallace at a lecture on solitary confinement. She was outraged to learn that Wallace, a Louisiana state prisoner, has lived in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for more than 40 years now. He is believed to be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States.
According to PBS, Wallace "went to jail in 1967 at age 25 for a robbery he admits committing. In 1972, he was accused of the murder of a prison guard, a crime he vehemently denies, and placed in solitary confinement in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. Wallace was subsequently convicted and given a life sentence."
“Shortly after I started writing Herman, he went into this cell, which is the dungeon, which is a lot more punitive," says Jackie. "It was during that time that I started to see him dilapidate and to suffer, and so I knew that. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not rich, you know, and I'm not powerful, but I'm an artist and I knew that the only way I could get him out of prison was to get him to dream.”
She asked Herman to describe in detail his dream house and vowed to create it.
Filmmaker Angad Bhalla follows Jackie as she raises awareness of long-term solitary confinement through art exhibitions featuring models of Herman's solitary cell and his dream house, and then as she struggles to make Herman's dream house a reality in the form of a community center in his hometown of New Orleans.
"Herman's House" premiers tonight on PBS. Bhalla and Sumell join The Takeaway to discuss solitary confinement and their new film.