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“There is infinite opportunity to do something amazing at any point in your life, as long as we can get over the impression that amazing is complex.” -Jackie Sumell

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In 2003, artist Jackie Sumell asked Herman a very simple question: “What kind of a house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?” Herman has been answering this question through an extraordinary 11-year exchange with Jackie. Through over 300 letters, dozens of phone calls and visits to the prison Sumell has been giving voice and substance to Herman’s imagination. Filmmaker Angad Bhalla documented the entire project in an Emmy Award winning documentary film “Herman’s House” released on PBS on July 8th 2013. As a monument to Herman’s struggle and the struggle of all people forced to endure the torture of solitary confinement they are currently fundraising to build Herman’s house in New Orleans. The House That Herman Built is an on-going collaborative project bolstered by a thriving community of support including an incredible network of architects, designers, builders, artists, friends and activists.

Practically, Herman has asked that the house be used as a community space that is committed to interrupting the prison pipeline by providing the space for education and alternative drug prevention for juveniles. The house is designed with a library, conference room and several guest bedrooms for people to stay in. It is design to be an open space that encourages the exchange of ideas, art and activism- a space to live and dream, and for anyone to visit.

To build the dream house 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.

Quotes for Attribution from Artist Jackie Sumell

“After 12 years of corresponding with Herman Wallace I have absolutely no doubt that solitary confinement is torture and should be eradicated from the American vocabulary.”

“The best activism is equal parts love and equal parts anger.”

“Herman Wallace has taught me that we must continue to change the system the oppressive system through a generator of compassion and love. We must empower ourselves by knowing our history our herstory and refuse to repeat our most tragic mistakes”

“Herman, Albert and Robert, like so many other prisoners suffer greatly at the hands of a corrupt system that institutionalizes racism. Their resolution is an inspiring testament to the human spirit. They are incredible men to whom I am indebted and from whom we all have much to learn. Befriending Herman Wallace has been one of the most significant experiences of my life. I no longer write prisoner 76759, I write a friend, aconfidant, a comrade. That change is revolutionary.”

“The State of Louisiana has never relied on lethal injection to kill its incarcerated- it has systemically used methods of neglect, cruel and unusual punishment, or what I call lethal injustice to do so through out its egregious history of injustice”

“There is infinite opportunity to do something amazing at any point in your life, as long as we can get over the impression that amazing is complex.”

“All power to the people”

Quotes for Attribution from Herman Wallace

“The deeper they bury me, the louder my voice becomes”

“I am totally committed to people and the process of using the imagination to experience freedom and joy. At the heart of my approach is the belief that all people wish to be happy and that you need to shift the morality of the public before this can happen. Chattel slavery was legal and constitutional in the United States for 200 years before a movement by the people was able to collectively shift the consciousness and bring about its end legally. I want my work to contribute to the next collective shift of public opinion and spur the debate needed to end the use of long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.”

“My reason for this project is not because I enjoy it, its because I have to. It’s because it’s the pathway to my freedom. I’m under constant pressure but I cannot afford to wallow in my own misery and do nothing.”

“This house is actually a people’s house. The building of this house has so far brought hundreds of people together. It has brought together artists, activists, designers, rich and poor.”

“It’s true. I suffer, but I rise above that suffering because I know it is through my suffering that the masses of people are so inspired to fight back.”

“[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.”

“Always remember, your strength is not measured by the number of people you outwit but by the compassion you display towards their concern.”

“All power to the people”

Selected Press Coverage

Democracy Now, interview with Amy Goodman

Cancer-Stricken Angola 3 Prisoner Herman Wallace Given Days to Live after 42 Years of Solitary Confinement

WWNO,  interview by Laine Kaplan Levenson

The Legacy of Herman Wallace

Tulane University, New Wave Hannah Dean

Break Down of Racial Binaries

New Orleans Magazine, 2013

People to Watch

Mother Jones Magazine 8 July 2013

Article by Hannah Levintova

Will This Prisoner Die in Solitary Confinement or In His Dream House?


Fuse Magazine Issue 35-3- July 2012

6-page color feature by Nasrin Himada

Living in a Place With No Prisons


Baltimore Sun, by Stokely Bash

Jackie Sumell


afterimage vol 38 no 5.  2011

Cover Story and 4-page feature, Marc James Leger


Citizen K International Autumn 2009

2-page color review by Barbara Polla


Times Picayune, December 13, 2008

Prisoner Dreams Up A Home

Full Page Article by Doug McCash


New York Times, March 2007

Full page article by Chris Colin


Newsweek, Nov 5, 2007

For a Home Away From the Big House

Article by Zvika Krieger


Worker’s World, November 2007

Art exhibit: dream house of a long-term


Reviewed by Anne Pruden


Domus, December 2006

Front cover plus 8 page article in Italian bi-lingual architecture magazine

Edited by Fabrizio Gallanti and Loredana Mascheroni


Irish Times, November 2006

Full page review in the Arts Section by Aiden Dunne


Circa magazine, Vai November 2006

Reviewed by Katherine Waugh

Bio Jackie Sumell

 Jackie Sumell is a multidisciplinary artist inspired most by the lives of everyday people. Her work speaks to both traditional artist communities and those historically marginalized from the political process. Her work was a center piece for the 2008 New Orleans Biennial, Prospect 1, the 2010 St Etienne Design Biennial, and Nancy Solomon’s Westobou Festival 2012.
Sumell’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the US and Europe, including The Luggage Store Gallery, Artists Space NY, deYoung Museum, Royal College of Art and Dublin County Museum. She has been the recipient of several residencies and awards including Akademie Schloss Solitude, and InContext-3 (Ireland), [CCA] Udjadowski Castle residency in Warsaw Poland. Ms Sumell also received a cultural fellowship to participate in the Stars Symposium in Penglai China 2012. Sumell published 2 artist books  A=AGHT (2008) and The House That Herman Built (2006/2008) which documents the extraordinary collaboration with longterm solitary confinement prisoner and Black Panther, Herman Wallace. Their collaboration was featured by the NYTimes, Art Forum, Newsweek, Citizen K, Domus, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, TDR and most recently as the cover/ feature of Afterimage Journal. Her work with Herman Wallace inspired the Emmy award winning documentary Herman’s House by filmmaker Angad Bhalla. This film was screened nationally on PBS in 2013.

She received a B.S. from the College of Charleston, and M.F.A. from Stanford University. Ms Sumell currently resides in New Orleans Louisiana where she continues to work on Herman’s House, teaches at Dillard University and balances in time for yoga and gardening. She is 2013 Soros Justice Fellow, a 2015 Nathan Cummings Awardee and a 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellow.

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