Before walking out of jail a free man in February, Albert Woodfox spent 43 years almost without pause in an isolation cell, becoming the longest standing solitary confinement prisoner in America. He had no view of the sky from inside his 6ft by 9ft concrete box, no human contact, and taking a walk meant pacing from one end of the cell to the other and back again.
A few days ago he found himself on a beach in Galveston, Texas, in the company of a friend. He stood marvelling at all the beachgoers under a cloudless sky, and stared out over the Gulf of Mexico as it stretched far out to the horizon.
“You could hear the tide and the water coming in,” he says. “It was so strange, walking on the beach and all these people and kids running around.”
Of all the terrifying details of Woodfox’s four decades of solitary incarceration – the absence of human touch, the panic attacks and bouts of claustrophobia, the way they chained him even during the one hour a day he was allowed outside the cell – perhaps the most chilling aspect of all is what he says now. Two months after the state of Louisiana set him free on his 69th birthday, he says he sometimes wishes he was back in that cell.