The project that inspired the film

 

In 2003 artist Jackie Sumell asked a prisoner, Herman Wallace a very simple question:

“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A SIX-FOOT-BY-NINE-FOOT-CELL FOR OVER THIRTY YEARS DREAM OF?”

Herman Wallace spent over 4-decades in solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Solitary confinement at Angola, or Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) consists of a minimum 23 hours a day in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell. Herman maintained his innocence for the duration of his incarceration and on Oct. 1st 2013 his conviction was overturned. Herman left the prison unshackled, free and innocent in the eyes of the law. Less than three days later Herman joined the ancestors passing peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by supporters who loved him dearly.

The House That Herman Built is an on-going (he)art project that radically transformed the lives of both Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace. It began as a simple exchange between two and over the course of a decade has expanded into an international art exhibition, a book, a documentary film and now it is in the fundraising stages to build Herman Wallace’s dream home in the city of New Orleans- where Herman grew up and Jackie now lives. Please stay tuned as we ultimately transform this great loss into the visuals of resounding victory- to honor Herman Wallace, the legacy of his struggle and the struggle of all people forced to endure wrongful convictions and long term solitary confinement.

In the wake of Herman’s death, this project continues to elevate the conversation around the practice of long term solitary confinement in hopes of bringing it to an end. At present, more than 80,000 people are held in isolation in US jails, prisons, and detention centers. Solitary confinement places prisoners in single cell isolation for a minimum of 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. The context for this struggle is informed by the reality that the United States is the greatest incarcerator in the world, maintaining 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prison population. 97% of those who are incarcerated will be released back to our communities.

Herman’s House is intended to spur debate, interrupt the status quo and to bring about positive change- pushing humankind in the direction of compassion, kindness, and prison abolition.

All Power to the People.

The House That Herman Built:

[This project] helps me to maintain what little sanity I have left, to maintain my humanity and dignity. It’s probably the best move that I’ve ever made in my life.  –Herman Wallace

Project History


For over 41 years Herman Wallace has been in Solitary Confinement in Louisiana’s State Prison System. In 2003 artist Jackie Sumell asked Herman a question:

“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A 6′ X9′ BOX FOR OVER 30 YEARS DREAM OF?”

The answer to this question has manifested a remarkable project called: THE HOUSE THAT HERMAN BUILT.

This project has been exhibited in over a dozen countries. It has been the focal piece for two biennials, and in 2013 the documentary film, Herman’s House.

As Herman & Jackie transition from building a virtual home to building Herman’s actual dream home in his birth city of New Orleans, their vision has grown exponentially through a worldwide community of supporters.

The House That Herman Built is a testament to the human imagination, an illustration of kindness, an art project, and an introduction to history that highlights institutionalized racism, and the culture of torture in the United States. Ultimately, Herman’s House is a monument to resilience, courage, creativity and magnanimity. Herman Wallace & Jackie Sumell have committed their lives to building it. Please join us on this journey.

What is the Vision?


In the wake of Herman’s death many questions have understandably arisen as to the future of the project.

Jackie Sumell and the Herman’s House Team is committed to the vision of Herman Wallace’s Dream Home. As per his design, Herman’s House will serve as a community center in New Orleans, maintained by an existing network of volunteers. We are now in the process of applying for property through the City of New Orleans. It is an exciting time. We are also looking to republish the book, The House That Herman Built in conjunction with Akademie Schloss Solitude. The new addition will include an appendix more congruent with Herman’s vision of ending the use of long term solitary confinement. It is a LOT of work, but we are truly inspired and motivated by the great legacy and life of Herman Wallace and promise to do everything we can to honor that legacy and life. Please check the site frequently for updates and subscribe to our mailing list.

The House is designed to interrupt the prison pipeline, providing adequate space for “Art, Activism, Education and Ideas”. Through out the design of his home Herman included spaces for activists to stay, educational libraries, a giant kitchen (we build community with food!) and a conference room. Many of the bedrooms can be multi-use with programming centered around food sustainability, vocational training, and self determined education. Or, as in the words of Herman Wallace, “to give these kids another option besides the street.”

To build the dream home of a man who has been confined to a six-foot-by-nine foot cell for over 41 years is to build the ultimate symbol of resistance, of survival and of hope. It illustrates the triumph of the imagination and transforms the horrifying situation of a prisoner into a portrait of a human being. Building this house would bring into fruition a dream from within a nightmare. This project encourages people to take chances and realize that we can change things. We can assuage difficulties.

We can fight for what we believe in, for righteousness, for kindness and we can triumph. It encourages us to step outside of our immediate beings and become part of something much bigger- a bigger society, a bigger dream, a bigger life, a bigger existence.

Where is the Project Now?

In 2003 artist Jackie Sumell made a commitment to Herman Wallace to build his dream home after (then) 30 years of solitary confinement. Sumell had no idea where this commitment would take her, or how many hurdles she would face- but the strength of that commitment has brought her to New Orleans Louisiana where she continues to work on this project. She made a promise to Herman regardless of the outcome of his legal status or life expectancy and  in the wake of Herman’s freedom and passing is now more committed than ever to build the house of a man who spent more than 42 years in a six-foot-by-nine-foot-box.

Until this point, The House That Herman Built has existed in the world as a successful exhibition, book, website and more recently inspired a documentary film (HermansHousetheFilm.com). Herman and Jackie are fundraising to build Herman’s House in his hometown of New Orleans. They now have a fiscal sponsor (Fractured Atlas) and now all donations are tax deductible.

We ask that if you are moved by the project you give what you can- be that your time, money, labor or just continue sharing words of encouragement through social media. We ask that you stay active in the fight to end solitary confinement and that you stay tuned while we come together and build this house. By contributing to the building of his house, through word or deed, you are materializing a legacy of hope and resistance.

Let’s build this house together.