The Land of the Free holds a man in solitary confinement for 41 years — lets him out to die!


Photograph from The Innocence Project, 2008

Herman Wallace’s world for much of the last 41 years had been a solitary prison cell, 6 feet by 9 feet, when he left a Louisiana prison on Tuesday, freed by a federal judge who ruled that his original indictment in the killing of a prison guard had been unconstitutional.

On Friday morning, Mr. Wallace died of cancer in New Orleans. He was 71.

He had been one of the “Angola 3,” convicts whose solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, an 18,000-acre prison farm on the site of a former plantation, became a rallying point for advocates fighting abusive prison conditions around the world.

Mr. Wallace was serving a prison sentence for armed robbery when the correctional officer, Brent Miller, was stabbed to death in a riot at Angola in April 1972. Mr. Wallace and two other men were indicted in the killing. Two of the three — Albert Woodfox and Mr. Wallace — were convicted in January 1974.

They were placed in solitary confinement, joining another prisoner there, Robert King, who had been convicted of a different crime, and for decades to follow they were locked up for as much as 23 hours a day. Amnesty International published a report on them in 2011, and they were the subject of a documentary film, “In the Land of the Free,” directed by Vadim Jean…

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Human skin biological wound dressings

Researchers from Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine and CHU de Québec have shown that it is possible to treat venous ulcers unresponsive to conventional treatment with wound dressings made from human skin grown in vitro. A study published recently in the journal Advances in Skin and Wound Care demonstrates how this approach was successfully used to treat venous lower-extremity ulcers in patients who had been chronically suffering from such wounds.

About 1% of the population suffers from lower-extremity ulcers. These wounds regularly become inflamed or infected and are very slow to heal, if they do at all. They are frequently associated with aging, diabetes, and circulatory system disorders such as varicose veins and oedema. “Obese individuals and those who work constantly standing up are especially vulnerable. These ulcers can persist for years. It can be a hellish clinical situation when standard treatments don’t work,” noted Dr. François A. Auger, director of both the study and LOEX, the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine laboratory where it was conducted…

…LOEX researchers used their expertise with in vitro skin culture to create biomaterial-free biological wound dressing. The process is complex and requires several steps: removing 1 cm2 of skin from the patient, isolating the appropriate cells, growing them in vitro, and creating a skin substitute with both dermis and epidermis. After eight weeks of growth the self-assembled sheets of skin substitute can be applied over the ulcers, much like bandages, and replaced weekly as long as necessary. “This totally biological bandage is much more than a physical barrier,” stresses Dr. Auger. “The cells secrete molecules that speed up healing by helping to set natural healing processes in motion. It would be hard to imagine a model closer to the human body’s natural physiology…”

Dr. Auger sees another promising application for these biological bandages: “We have shown that this is effective for patients with leg ulcers. Now, we intend to carry out a clinical study to demonstrate that the same treatment works for patients with serious burns, as soon as we get the necessary approvals.”

The biggest problem is common to early stages of development of new medical techniques like this one. Cost. For that reason Dr. Auger considers this a last resort even though it is so effective. One would hope that as further development is compiled, target treatments are broadened, costs will become reduced.