2013 Press Releases

06.18.2013: ACLU of Louisiana and Southern Poverty Law Center Sponsor Free Screening of “Herman’s House”

Film chronicles friendship between New York artist and inmate held in solitary confinement at Angola for 40 years

NEW ORLEANS—The ACLU of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are co-sponsoring a special screening of the film, Herman’s House. The screening will take place on Thursday, June 27th, 7:30 p.m. at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center located at 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. The screening is free and open to the public.

Herman’s House tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Jackie Sumell, a young, politically engaged New York artist and Herman Wallace, an inmate in his 70s who has spent the last 40 years in solitary confinement at the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. Sumell befriends Wallace, and through letters and extended conversations their friendship develops. Fully accepting of Wallace’s life sentence, Sumell wonders how Herman Wallace achieves any feelings of freedom. Concluding that he can only feel freedom by dreaming it, she asks Wallace to describe his “dream house.” Wallace responds with a description so vivid as to inspire Sumell to create a model of the house, complete with swimming pool and gardens.  The model along with a recreation of Wallace’s prison cell would ultimately become an art installation that has appeared in 12 galleries in five different countries, including a stint at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans during the 2008-09 Prospect 1 Art Exhibit. 

“It’s been a great experience working with the Southern Poverty Law Center to bring this film to New Orleans,” says Marjorie R. Esman, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana.  Esman says that in addition to the story of the unusual friendship, there are other sub-plots where the film only touches the surface. “The filmmaker focuses on the unlikely friendship between these two very different people and that’s good, but there’s also the story of a man being held in solitary confinement for 40 years and the constitutional issues that surround it,” Esman said.  Katie Schwartzmann, Director of the Louisiana Office of the SPLC agrees.  “Solitary confinement is dangerous and damaging, but it is still used in jails and prisons around the country, including here at Orleans Parish Prison. Herman's House highlights the story of one man who has lived through this torture for 40 years, but who has continued to dream, hope and love. We are proud to work with the ACLU to bring such an important film for public showing," Schwartzmann said.

Herman’s House was written and directed by Angad Bhalla.  Bhalla says he is drawn to a film for its ability to have an emotional impact. His first independent project was U.A.I.L. Go Back, a film about Indian villagers attempts to resist an alumina project backed by Alcan, a Canadian Company. He has since worked on videos for groups including Human Rights Watch and the Global March against Child Labor.

Following the film will be a panel discussion on solitary confinement as torture and the need to end the practice in Louisiana and all U.S. prisons. Panel members will include artist Jackie Sumell, attorney Nick Trentacosta of the Truth in Justice project and Herman Wallace’s sister, Vicky. Joining the ACLU of Louisiana and Southern Poverty Law Center as partners for the special screening and panel discussion are the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, the Promise of Justice Initiative, Touro Synagogue, Critical Resistance, Breakout, National Lawyers Guild, Orleans Public Defenders, JJPL and JSRI.  For more information about the special screening of Herman’s House or for information about the ACLU of Louisiana, visit the website at www.laaclu.org.