In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six-by-nine-foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.
It begins at the beginning: born black, born poor, born in Louisiana in 1942, King journeyed to Chicago as a hobo at the age of 15. He married and had a child, and briefly pursued a semi-pro boxing career to help provide for his family. Just a teenager when he entered the Louisiana penal system for the first time, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.
Yet this remains a story of inspiration and courage, and the triumph of the human spirit. The conditions in Angola almost defy description, yet King never gave up his humanity, or the work towards justice for all prisoners that he continues to do today. From the Bottom of the Heap, so simply and humbly told, strips bare the economic and social injustices inherent in our society, while continuing to be a powerful literary testimony to our own strength and capacity to overcome. The paperback edition includes additional writings from Robert King and an update on the case of the Angola 3.
King has led a remarkable life: a hardscrabble childhood in and around New Orleans, a troubled adolescence, and a series of encounters with the justice system that led to several stints at Louisiana s Angola State Penitentiary. He radicalized while serving his third sentence, joining the Black Panther Party and agitating for improved conditions for prisoners. King was subsequently placed in solitary confinement, where he remained for the better part of three decades. The book is an important document of the failures of the justice system. Mumia Abu-Jamal s foreword attests to the gravity of these failures. However, King s own telling doesn t quite measure up to the story itself. His prose is loose and repetitive, particularly in the early chapters, so it sometimes difficult to keep tabs on people and events. The text is followed by a small collection of interviews and essays that prove engaging but haphazard, in keeping with the anecdotal bent of the autobiography. King s story is powerful, carefully observed, and deserves a wide audience, but such an incendiary topic requires greater precision in its telling. B&W photos.