Robert King spent 29 years in a six-by-nine foot prison cell, convicted of crimes he didn’t commit.
He was wrongfully convicted of a robbery in 1969 and became a member of the Black Panthers while in jail. Three years later he was framed for the death of another inmate and spent the next 29 years in solitary confinement in Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana.
King’s conviction was overturned in 2001 and for the last 12 years he’s travelled around the world telling his story and advocating for prison reform.
His story is the subject of Hard Time, a documentary by Lakehead University history professor Ron Harpelle.
King told his story to a full auditorium at the Waverly branch of the Thunder Bay Public Library Wednesday afternoon and is also speaking at LU Wednesday evening.
“Ron heard about our case and he’s one of the individuals who had taken intiative to kind of shed light and focus on our case because he understands the injustices that were involved in the conviction,” said King.
“I think he sees it the way we do – that it was a grave injustice.”
King is one of the Angola 3 along with fellow Black Panthers Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, who fought for prisoners rights. Woodfox and Wallace are still in Angola, going on 41 years of solitary confinement.
King said the three were targeted in Angola for being members of the Black Panthers.
And he feels it is his legacy to share his story with as many people as possible because the abuses in the prison system are pervasive in the United States.
“It’s almost the norm and it shouldn’t be the norm,” he said, adding after what he went through, he couldn’t go back to a sedated, normal life after being released from prison.
“What motivates me is the fact there are still people in that position. That people are still being treated in a manner that is akin or tantamount to slavery. That is what keeps me going,” King said.
“This is something that is self-willed … it’s a must that I do it.”
Harpelle said what drew him to King’s story was King himself.
“He’s a remarkable individual,” he said. “When I first met him, I knew that this was somebody whose story had to be told.”
Harpelle followed King on and off for about a year. They met in Austin, Texas and then they travelled through Louisiana and Harpelle even followed King to New York where he gave presentations.
Harpelle hopes people walk away from Hard Time knowing they can make a difference.
“King is making a difference. He chose with his freedom to use it to help raise awareness of what goes on in prison,” he said.
King will be talking at LU Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. in the University Centre (UC1017). Admission is free.
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