Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope by Albert Woodfox, a Review

“Our resistance gave us an identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will.” ― Albert Woodfox

It pains me to write this review.

Solitary is Albert Woodfox’s heartbreaking memoir of the four decades he spent in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. After reading Woodfox’s heroic and sometimes excruciating account of how he was framed for murder and of the suffering and abuse he endured in prison, I am pondering how he survived his ordeal.

Albert Woodfox served the longest time in solitary confinement of any prisoner in the United States. OVER FORTY YEARS. Known as one of the Angola 3, along with Robert King and Herman Wallace, Woodfox was held in isolation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola), known as “the bloodiest jail in America” or “the Alcatraz of the South.”

His book chronicles, in detail, the inhumane conditions inside Angola: the needless, senseless, brutal beatings by guards; the physical pain from unbearable heat in the summer and brutal cold in the winter in a six-by-nine foot cell; the screams and cries from other men in solitary confinement; the constant dismissal of medical needs of prisoners; the horrific minutia of everyday life inside a room that is smaller than some closets; and more. His book demonstrates how racism is indeed institutionalized in Angola and the state of Louisiana.  

While in prison, Albert joins the Black Panthers and fully resonates with their disciplines and philosophy. He teaches himself to read and devours law books. He becomes a new man. In his words,

“In my forties, I chose to take my pain and turn it into compassion, and not hate. Whenever I experienced the pain of any origin I always made a promise to myself never to do anything that would cause someone else to suffer the pain I was feeling [at] that moment. I still had moments of bitterness and anger. But by then I had the wisdom to know that bitterness and anger are destructive. I was dedicated to building things, not tearing them down.”

Woodfox then begins advocating for abused prisoners and becomes a leader at Angola, garnering the utmost respect from his fellow inmates. The Angola 3 then join forces to fight for the improvement of prison conditions and their freedom. Many organizations and individuals learn about their plight and help them fight for their freedom from the outside. The rest of the story exemplifies courage and heartbreak. I won’t ruin the ending for you. You will have to read the book.  

No person, whether guilty of a crime or not, should spend more than a few days (if that) in solitary confinement, much less forty-four years! The Angola 3 were not the only prisoners sentenced to life in prison (or worse) for petty crimes. There are thousands of prisoners in U.S. prisons today that were wrongly convicted or given sentences that do not fit their crimes. Most are black and Hispanic.

The prison industrial complex in the United States is cruel, inhumane, racist, and needs a full overhaul. Private prisons are a business, and black individuals are targeted. These prisons have NO incentive to rehabilitate prisoners because they would lose money if they did. As this book thoroughly demonstrates, the system is corrupt, from prison guards to wardens, to police, to prosecutors, to judges. Solitary is a must-read and the beginning of educating yourself if you are not aware of what is occurring in U.S. prisons. As one of the most heartbreaking and simultaneously hopeful books I have ever read, Solitary left me in tears.

I highly recommend Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope by Albert Woodfox to anyone interested in the prison industry’s injustice and abuse, racism, and prisoner’s rights. This reading should be required for every criminal law student. Out of the sixty-one book reviews I have completed, this one was the hardest I’ve had to write thus far. Although shocking and sad, read it if you care about human rights.

A bit about the author, Albert Woodfox:

Albert Woodfox being released from Angola prison on February 19, 2016, after serving almost 44 years in solitary confinement

Albert Woodfox is the longest-standing solitary confinement former prisoner in the U.S. and was held in isolation in a six-by-nine-foot cell with only one hour of “yard-time” per day almost continuously for close to forty-four years.

At seventy-three, Woodfox is a speaker and activist who fights to expose the inherent racism in American prisons and works tirelessly for the improvement of prison conditions. He reiterates, “Their [the prison system’s] main objective was to break my spirit. They did not break me.”

Albert lives in his hometown, in New Orleans.   

Solitary can be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon, or other online and offline book stores. 

Four Ways to Handle This COVID Thing Without Losing Your Mind

Do you feel like you’ve lost control of your life or wonder why you have a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings, lately? Or, do you feel like you are going to lose your mind during this COVID-19 pandemic?

I sure have! I was not, at all, expecting this worldwide illness, and it caught me completely off guard.

If you have lost your job due to this latest coronavirus and had to stay home with or without anyone else, you must have felt off balance and wondering what the hell is happening or when all of this will end.

You are not alone.

I discovered it is normal to feel discombobulated, angry, sad, or even depressed. What has happened to the world is very traumatic. And trauma requires healing, and healing takes time – sometimes lots of it.

You might be one of the lucky people who did not lose their job and is able to work from home, you might be retired, or a stay-at-home mother who was not affected too much by the pandemic. You might be a person who is a first responder on the front lines (I have the utmost respect for you!). Or, you might be someone, like me, who lost their career and now has to “redo” herself. Wherever you are during this pandemic and whatever you are experiencing, know that it is normal to feel confused, afraid, and bewildered.

I actually had quit my corporate job to become a full time copywriter and content writer ONE WEEK before the virus was designated very contagious. I was planning on taking some time off to recoup from my very stressful former job and then work on building my business. I did not expect a pandemic, the world shutting down, and my partner losing his job. None of that was part of the plan.

But, life happens. Yes, it does.

My plan was to move on from my former job and career quickly (that did not happen – I had to rest and heal and get back on a schedule and lifestyle that supported my wellness physically, mentally, and emotionally, and that took much longer than anticipated). I was going to start my business in March (um, no, didn’t happen either). I was planning on living a great life that suited me until retirement, but then COVID happened.

Ugh. Can you relate to any of this?

Since end of February, I have been ill twice, had to have a root canal, threw out my back, which put me out for three weeks in Apr (the pain was awful), and watched my savings fly out the window month after month (it is still flying high). Life doesn’t always go as planned, does it? Sometimes, no matter what you do or how impeccable you think your plans are, life happens and throws you for a loop. It happens to all of us, sooner or later.

In addition to all of this, I have not been able to write. Until recently, my mind has been in some state of “foggy disillusionment,” for lack of better words. What kind of business was I going to have if I couldn’t write, when writing is THE BUSINESS? Yikes. I was not in a good place.

But, I finally snapped out of my funk.

To be honest, I am not sure exactly how I did it. Nothing big happened. I think I finally realized that the world is experiencing something unprecedented and decided to be kind to myself and lower my expectations. Once I did that, I learned the next four lessons that stopped me from feeling like I was losing my mind:   

  • I acknowledged that it is normal to feel confused and angry. You can too. What is now happening to the world is shocking. It is unexpected, hit us like a brick really, and no one knows when it will all end, or if we are ever going back to “normal.” The ramifications of this on the human psyche is nothing less than traumatic. One of the definitions of the word trauma is “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” So, it is normal to feel shocked, fearful, and like you are losing control of your life. It takes time to heal from trauma.

The solution is to be gentle with yourself. Know that you are not alone. Know that so many other people are feeling what you are feeling. Know that this too shall pass, and that life will get back to normal. It is okay to feel your emotions: feel your anger or your sadness, but don’t stay in that space for long. Feel it, talk about it with someone, scream if you have to, and then move on.

  • I established a new routine and stuck with it. You can too. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me! Whatever your routine was prior to the pandemic, most likely it does not exist anymore. The human body and mind works best with a routine for physical, emotional, and mental wellness. A lack of routine is a recipe for disaster.

The solution is to establish a routine during these troubling times: get up at the same time every morning, eat well and exercise, set time aside to do what you do, whether work or something else you love, and go to bed at the same time every night. A routine will help you to cope with the uncertainty in this world right now. This lesson alone helped me tremendously.

  • I decided to do something that I love to do every day. You can too. This may seem obvious, but when human beings are thrown off balance, we don’t always realize that doing what we love will bring about momentum and get us out of our self-imposed funk.  You have been given a throat punch from COVID-19. Punch it back.

The solution is to be good to yourself by doing something creative that you love or learn something new. I have reorganized my craft room, and am now in the process of reorganizing my garage (both were a horrific mess). The reorganization gave my brain a time out from worry, fear, and confusion, and helped get my creative mind working again, so I could write again and plan a new career. Being creative always helps heal your mind from trauma. Punch back COVID-19 by being good to yourself, even if it is only for a half hour per day. Just start and don’t wait until you are motivated. The motivation will appear after you begin.

  • I chose to reach out to other people. You can too. This one is obvious to extroverts, so I am writing to the introverts here. If you are introverted like I am, reaching out to others might be the last thought you have during this worldwide crisis. I empathize. But, even the most introverted person needs human companionship, once in a while.  
  • The solution is to communicate with at least one other person every day. It does not matter what method of communication you use: phone, IM, chat, email, Skype or Zoom, or in person (safely). What matters is reaching out to someone else who is also going through the same feelings, thoughts, worry, stress, or sadness. It will help you handle this unexpected life of isolation better, give you hope, and remind you that you are not alone. If you live alone, especially, it is vital to reach out.

We are all in this together. Despite all the layoffs and furloughs, massive unemployment, fear, sadness, discouragement, uncertainty, and anxiety, you are still able to have some control over your life. You get to choose how you will take care of your mind, body, and emotions through these unpredictable times. You get to choose whether to live in disappointment or to live in acceptance and creativity during COVID-19.

Here’s to taking good care of yourself and to hoping for a better, new normal in the near future.  

The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly by Franziska Iseli, a Review

Unique and inspiring, The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly by Franziska Iseli demonstrates how to live your best life by stepping out in courage despite the fear you may face.  

Most people stay locked in their fear. How many times have you not pursued your passions because you were afraid? How many times have you told yourself that you “can’t do it,” or how many times have you given up because things got too difficult or because you were afraid?

I sure have!

Franziska, in The Courage Map, gives us a guide on how to change the habit of fear, to live boldly, and do the great things we aspire to do.

The thirteen principles in Iseli’s book are very helpful and will inspire you to live a passionate and fearless life. Each chapter explains how to overcome obstacles that hinder our dreams, our desires, and our goals. An adventurer and world traveler, Iseli beautifully weaves her travel stories from her motorcycle trip on the Silk Highway from Switzerland to Kazakhstan into this book, explaining how she overcame her fears by taking needed courageous steps. She recaps the lessons and beautiful, unforgettable moments that came from those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

This book was a pleasure to read. As a lover of traveling myself, some of her amazing stories brought tears to my eyes, not only because I could imagine myself experiencing what she wrote about (I have always wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle and travel around the country but did not due to … wait for it… lack of courage), but also because I resonated with the interpretation of her travel experiences and how her courage brought about a richer, more fulfilling adventure. Franziska also includes suggested intentions, exercises, and questions at the end of each chapter for further contemplation and self-improvement.

I recommend The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly by Franziska Iseli to anyone seeking to learn how to live with courage and live in the present moment, or to those seeking self-improvement, a passionate life, mindful living, or more joy in their lives. This reading would also be exceptional for those interested in psychology and human behavior.

A bit about the author, Franziska Iseli:

Franziska Iseli is a visionary and eternal optimist. No challenge seems to be too big for her, it seems. She is known for her rebellious nature and doing things differently. She has this rare combination of being both creative and strategic, which makes her a powerful leader in the business world as entrepreneur and co-founder of several companies: Basic BananasOceanLoversMoments of Humanity, and The Business Hood.

In addition to The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly, Franziska Iseli is the author of Perception: Take charge of how others view your brand, Become Irresistible and Make a Bigger Impact, and Bananas About Marketing: How to Attract a Whole Bunch of Customers. 

In her spare time, Franziska loves going on mad adventures, surfing the ocean’s waves, motorcycling around the world, playing music with her band Salty Lips, learning, writing, meaningful discussions, and spending time with family and friends.

To learn more about Franziska Iseli, visit: FranziskaIseli.com.

To purchase a copy of The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly, visit Amazon.

Thinking about publishing your book? Visit TCKpublishing.com.

December Book Review: I am Enough: Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life by Marissa Peer

A quick, easy but profound read, I am Enough: Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life by Marissa Peer is a book for those who are willing to heal from their childhood emotional wounds and want a simple, very effective solution with dramatic change. Marissa’s book will help you realize what is holding you back from living the life you truly want and deserve.

Sound cheesy? Well, it’s actually not.

Let me tell you I used to be very insecure. I grew up in an emotionally abusive household and was constantly told I was never enough explicitly and implicitly: no matter what I did, it was not good enough or wrong. I was made to feel that my very existence was shameful. A childhood like this is incredibly damaging on so many levels. It takes years, decades, and sometimes a lifetime to change these beliefs and reverse the damage from this type of abuse (and it took me decades to heal). Learning how to accept and love myself, to love others, and to love my life is to thrive, and this is what Marissa’s book taught me. It can do the same for you!

Marissa demonstrates, step by step, how to heal from the emotional damage you might have experienced by changing your thinking to create happiness, better handle anxiety, and feel a million times better. She demonstrates how our thoughts can be destructive habits and to change them is to create a more joyful life, and more. What I love most about this book and Marissa’s approach is that she gets right to the bottom line: you believe you are NOT ENOUGH.

If you are addicted to alcohol or porn, if you have issues with self-image, if you eat for emotional reasons, or end up in harmful relationships, etc., you basically believe there is something wrong with you (consciously or unconsciously), or that you are not enough. Through decades of research and experience, Peer has determined that the common thread to additions or damaging behavior is the belief that we are “not enough.” She offers the solution to misery, and it is easier than you think it is.

I recommend I am Enough: Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life by Marissa Peer to anyone who has been abused, those who struggle with low self-esteem or self-hate, and those who are ready to become healthy and happy. Honestly, you can read this in one or two hours and do the exercises she recommends, and it will improve your life!

A bit about the author, Marissa Peer:

Marissa Peer is a motivational speaker, psychologist, and hypnotherapist. She started her career as a child psychologist, and after decades of counseling clients realized there was a faster, more efficient way to heal her clients’ emotional wounds, so she developed her own pioneering hypnotic therapy. In addition, Marissa is a national magazine columnist and has appeared on major media outlets and television shows including GMTV, Lorraine Kelly, This Morning, Sky News, ITV News, BBC News, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio, Supersize Versus Superskinny, Celebrity Fit Club, Celebrity Big Brother, and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. She has appeared on countless news channels in America, Scandinavia, Japan, Africa, and throughout Europe.

A best-selling author of five books including I am Enough, Marissa lives in Britain and improves people’s lives worldwide.

To learn more about Marissa Peer or to purchase a copy of I am Enough: Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life, visit: MarissaPeer.com.

Happy Holidays to My Readers

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf

As a thinker and writer, I appreciate you, my readers, IMMENSELY.

A writer must write; a writer is a creator full of more ideas than they can express. A writer is an artist with words. We ponder, wonder, draft, organize, re-organize, agonize, rewrite, express, and criticize our writing more than you can imagine.

We read a lot.

We think a lot.

We love life and written communication. We love to learn. We live to ask, “What if?”

We want to be read and heard. We want the people in our lives to understand that writing is something we need to do. It is us.

Writers write to express who they are, to discover who they want to become, to change the world, to tell their story, to persuade, to convince, to examine, to entertain, to emote, to share, and just because. Because they must.

Thank you for reading my musings. My hope is that they have inspired you to think beyond what is familiar.

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Vilma

woman-lifting-her-head-up-1738964

Letting Go…

I live in a neighborhood full of deer.

I often have to watch out for them as I drive to and fro, so I don’t hit them with my car. In February, in the ice and bitter cold, the mother deer watch their fawns stroll across the street, hoping they are not harmed. It is truly a beautiful sight to embrace, a moment that stops my racing thoughts and reminds me of the mystery of life.

As I observe these precious animals walking in front of my car, I take a peek at their concerned mothers off the road nearby; they are watching with anticipation and wondering, “Is my baby going to make it?” They know they have to allow them to walk across the street knowing they cannot always protect them from harm.

I’m also a mother, and I relate to the mother deer. I am now at a point in my life where I have to watch my baby cross the street by herself, and I have to let go.

As a mom, I’ve always cherished the short car ride up the long hill in my neighborhood on school mornings. I have driven my baby to school for eleven years. These days, my seventeen-year-old and I sometimes talk. We are sometimes silent, and that is okay. Grade school, middle school, and high school in wind, snow, ice, rain, and sun, we have made it to school, despite the deer.

Each school just happens to be farther in distance from the house, and we’ve mostly taken the easiest route available that led us to all three schools. When I drove her to her first day in grade school, I knew that one day it would be our last time driving to that school, and then months later, I would be driving father away, to the next school. Soon, the day will come when I will drive my young adult to her last day in high school. It is coming, and I can’t avoid it.

Little shoes, pretty dresses, big backpacks, crayons, and smiles in grade school – 5 minute drive.

Friends, sleepovers, crushes, and new music in middle school – 7 minute drive.

Cell phones, Snap Chat, raw emotions, first loves, and the beginning of independence in high school – 10 minute drive.

(And, she has never wanted to wear a coat!)

Life happens. It changes and we have to let go. We have to embrace it. We have no choice. Somehow, we have to find the strength to believe that if we let go, it will be okay.

To know that I have done my best in the situation I had…

To know that I have allowed my fawn be herself always…

To know that I have guided my fawn to be kind, to be considerate, to be compassionate…

To know that I have watched my fawn work hard towards her goals and dreams…

To know that I have watched my fawn learn that life is not perfect, that it is unpredictable, that it can be amazing and also heart-wrenching…

To know that I have taught my fawn to avoid what harms, what is dangerous, what will hurt her…

To know that I have guided my fawn to be humble, encouraging, and loving…

To know that I have witnessed my fawn give it all she has…

To know that I have taught my fawn to cross the street after looking both ways…

To know that I have loved my fawn with all of my heart…

Is to know that I have not failed.

It is to know that this is life. It is to know that life is about letting go.