The injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in HERMAN'S HOUSE, a feature documentary that follows the unlikely friendship between a New York artist and one of America’s most famous inmates as they collaborate on an acclaimed art project.
In 1972, New Orleans native Herman Joshua Wallace (b. 1941) was serving a 25-year sentence for bank robbery when he was accused of murdering an Angola Prison guard and thrown into solitary confinement. Many believed him wrongfully convicted. Appeals were made but Herman remained in jail and—to increasingly widespread outrage—in solitary. Years passed with one day much like the next. Then in 2001 Herman received a perspective-shifting letter from a Jackie Sumell, a young art student, who posed the provocative question:“What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”
Thus began an inspired creative dialogue, unfolding over hundreds of letters and phone calls and yielding a multi-faceted collaborative project that includes the exhibition “The House That Herman Built.” The revelatory art installation—featuring a full-scale wooden model of Herman’s cell and detailed plans of his dream home—has brought thousands of gallery visitors around the world face-to-face with the harsh realities of the American prison system.
But as Herman’s House reveals, the exhibition is just the first step.
With compassion and meaningful artistry, HERMAN'S HOUSE takes us inside the lives and imaginations of two unforgettable characters–forging a friendship and building a dream in the struggle to end the “cruel and unusual punishment” of long-term solitary confinement.
The abuse of solitary confinement in our prison system -- its misuse as a method to punish rather than to protect and rehabilitate prisoners -- has been given far too little media attention in the United States. "Herman's House" steps into this media vacuum by bringing the abuses of solitary confinement into sharper focus. "Herman's House" also provides a moving illustration of how provocative and important art can flourish even under the most adverse circumstances. This is a must-see film for anyone interested in social justice, criminal justice or how the creative process can be used to reflect on the misapplication of justice in our society.
It illustrates an egregious situation through the relationship of an artist and a prisoner as their lives are built together. Herman's House is a touching story that makes me angry for the circumstances which brought them together but hopeful that change will come. Thanks to Angad Bhalla for showing us what might not have been seen and in such a compelling way.