No Word From Warden Cain of Angola About Prisoner’s Fate

Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore remains in solitary confinement in Louisiana

More than two weeks ago, Warden Burl Cain, outside the gates of Louisiana State Penitentiary, addressed the imprisonment of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore who has been held in solitary confinement for 35 years. (Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project)

By Edward Ferguson, Alexa Santos, Ellen Schmitz and Tori Simkovic
The Medill Justice Project

Is Warden Cain still feeling the blues?

Sixteen days ago, Burl Cain said within two weeks he would personally talk with Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore to consider removing the prisoner from solitary confinement, where he has been held for 35 years—28 of them consecutively—at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. “When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell,” the warden said July 19 to Medill Justice Project students who were at Angola, researching Whitmore’s case and the issue of solitary confinement.

When the students bumped into the warden outside the prison gates, he agreed to an impromptu interview in which he said he would consider removing Whitmore from what is known as “closed cell restriction” or CCR and placing him in the general prison population if the warden determines Whitmore is no longer a risk.

Cain, who oversees the largest prison in America, declined to comment today through a spokesman who said the warden had a “horrible schedule.”

The Medill Justice Project sent a JPay, an electronic communications message for prisoners, to Whitmore today, asking whether he had heard from the warden but no response was received; Whitmore can make occasional telephone calls but has described that he gets only one hour a day outside of his 6-by-9-foot cell. Now 59 years old, he said he suffers from vision damage, hypertension and other ailments, which he attributes to his confinement. Whitmore also said he is deprived of most human interaction and given no educational or training opportunities.

Angola prisoner Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, pictured on the left with his sister Joycelyn Dyson and her husband Joseph in 1997, has spent 35 years in solitary confinement—28 of them consecutively. (Photo courtesy: Joycelyn Dyson)

Whitmore’s younger sister, Sheila, said on Saturday she visited her brother who told her the warden had not seen him and “he don’t think he will.” Reached for comment, his lawyers said they were not aware the warden had contacted Whitmore in recent days.

“It is my understanding that Warden Cain has yet to meet with Kenneth ‘Zulu’ Whitmore,” said one of his lawyers, Emily Posner, in an email. “The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) has now held Zulu for 28 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The institution’s long-standing commitment to isolating Zulu within such conditions demonstrates its ongoing practice of discriminating and persecuting advocates for racial justice.

“While I was hopeful that Warden Cain would take the necessary steps to release Zulu from solitary confinement, his inaction is sadly in line with LSPs historic treatment of political prisoners.”

Two weeks ago, Cain said he was concerned about Whitmore’s longstanding affiliation with the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party, a black revolutionary socialist organization that grew to prominence in the 1960s. Whitmore tried to escape in 1986, which also made him a security risk.

Last year, Whitmore filed by pen a federal suit in Baton Rouge against the warden and other prison officials, claiming his imprisonment in solitary confinement violated his constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Once again, the Warden’s actions confirm the allegations made in Mr. Whitmore’s petition: that LSP [Louisiana State Penitentiary] continues to violate his due process rights and has failed [to] provide a constitutionally adequate review of his confinement in solitary,” said one of Whitmore’s attorneys, Michelle M. Rutherford.

Whitmore was sentenced to life at Angola in 1977 for second-degree murder following the 1975 death of former Zachary, Louisiana, mayor, Marshall Bond; at the same time, Whitmore was sentenced to 99 years for armed robbery in the Bond murder and 125 years of hard labor for a shoe-store robbery.

Rutherford and Posner filed a post-conviction petition Thursday to challenge his conviction, citing evidence of a prejudiced investigation and a coerced confession.

After hearing Cain said he would talk to Whitmore, Joycelyn Dyson, the inmate’s older sister, said she is hopeful the warden will see that he poses no threat. Said Dyson: “Violence has never been his motive…I think he would be a model prisoner.”

Videos by Alexa Santos.

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