P.O.V.: Herman’s House

About This Episode

New Orleans native and former Black Panther activist Herman 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. Wallace was subsequently convicted and given a life sentence.

Except for a brief period, Wallace has remained in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for 40 years, and he has never stopped protesting and appealing his murder conviction. Over the years, concern has grown that Wallace and an estimated 80,000 other prisoners in the United States are being subjected to solitary confinement. In 2002, Wallace received a letter that asked an extraordinary question. Jackie Sumell, a young New York artist, wrote, "What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?"

Herman's House is a portrait of a man who won't give up fighting for his freedom and, inevitably, a critique of a justice system that has confined him for decades in solitary — a condition that some decry as torture. The film is even more the story of an unlikely artistic collaboration that brought thousands of Americans face-to-face with the harsh reality of Wallace's confinement and went on to change profoundly the lives of both the Louisiana prisoner and the New York artist.