PBS to air documentary on NY artist's project

Jackie Sumell in New Orleans. A PBS series

Jackie Sumell in New Orleans. A PBS series details Sumell's plans to build a Herman's House in New Orleans -- a community center in honor of Herman Wallace, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. (Credit: Handout)

When New York artist Jackie Sumell, who grew up on Long Island, started correspondence with Herman Wallace she had only one question.

"What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?"

Wallace has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison -- one of the longest solitary sentences ever in the United States. That experience is the basis of a new documentary, "Herman's House," by filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla, which will air Monday night on the PBS series "POV."

"It became apparent that early on he was using his imagination to escape his solitary confinement," Sumell said. She's featured in the film.

Sumell wanted to portray Wallace's reality with his dream and also make a statement on the system of solitary confinement, which she called one of the cruelest forms of punishment.

Wallace was arrested in 1967 for a robbery. In 1972 while in prison, he and two others -- known as the "Angola Three" -- were suspected of killing a prison guard. Wallace, who, with one other member of the trio, was convicted of murder, claims he did not kill guard Brent Miller, 23. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Sumell cultivated a 12-year friendship with Wallace that showcased his dream home and a replica of his cell in art exhibitions around the world. The movie also details Sumell's plans to build a Herman's House in New Orleans -- a community center in honor of Wallace, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. It will be a place where people can go to discuss the prison pipeline. She is raising money and trying to get city land donated.

"There are 2.3 million people in jail in the United States," said filmmaker Bhalla. "More than 80,000 of those are in solitary confinement. 'Herman's House' is an effort to humanize at least one person behind bars."

The film will be available at the POV website, www.pbs.org/pov, from Tuesday through Aug. 6.

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