For over a decade, Jackie Sumell has been working to bring awareness to the use of solitary confinement and its detrimental effects. Widely used in 44 states, 80,000 prisoners are currently locked away for a minimum of 23 hours a day in a 6x9 foot cell without any human contact for months or even years. In Louisiana, the state with the highest incarceration rate in the nation, Albert Woodfox has earned the dubious title of spending the most consecutive time in solitary—an astounding 42 years. He was joined until recently by fellow Angola 3 member Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned in 2013.
In 2003, Sumell sent Wallace a letter asking: "What kind of a house does a man who has lived in a 6 ft. x 9 ft. cell for over 30 years dream of?" This sparked a correspondence between the two through which Wallace describes in detail what his future home might include. This communication evolved into a strong friendship that served as the heart of Sumell’s campaign to not only build Wallace’s dream home, but also fight for his release from prison. Owing to the resolute efforts of his supporters, Wallace died from the complications of liver cancer, a free man on October 4, 2013, three days after his release. While working to build Herman’s House to serve as a community center, Sumell has created projects in support of the campaign to abolish the use of indefinite solitary confinement.
This iteration of the project includes a wall drawing that translates one of Wallace’s sketches of his cell, an architectural model of his dream house, and an audio recording of Wallace reading excerpts from his ten year correspondence with Jackie.
Jackie Sumell is a multidisciplinary artist, Soros Fellow, and activist inspired most by the lives of everyday people. Best known for her project The House That Herman Built (Herman’s House), her work speaks to both traditional artist communities and those historically marginalized from the political process. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, and was featured in the NYTimes, ArtForum, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Democracy Now, and Afterimage Journal. A documentary film about her project Herman's House premiered nationally on PBS in July 2013. She currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana where she continues to work on Herman's House, and several other advocacy-based projects designed to interrupt the status quo and repair the collective imagination.