The Louisiana State Prison, nicknamed “Angola” after the plantation land it sits on, is unique, infamous and impressive all at once. They also call it “The Farm,” because all prisoners work, and the farms on the grounds feed the inmates. Some have likened this to slavery, but a working man gets in less trouble, and Angola has over five thousand prisoners, a large percentage of which will never walk free again. Louisiana’s sentencing guidelines are some of the toughest, and the prison has a hospice for all the elderly cons it must take care of. And not all are convicted of violent crimes.
Angola has a great variety of programs to keep the prisoners involved. There is the Angola Rodeo, which is as dangerous as any other, and garners criticism comparing it to the Roman gladiatorial arena. There is also a golf course for prison staff, where prisoners with the best behavior records can work as caddies, and recreational grounds and ball parks they can use as well. There are two programs for fathers in prison where they can meet with their families once a year.
|Angola Prison Rodeo|
However, the last thing you’d say about Angola is that it coddles prisoners. The prison has a long history of violent abuse and it was only turned around in the last two decades. Sex slavery rings were common, the “Red Hat” cell block was a pit of inhuman misery, and the guards were among the lowest paid in the nation. It has turned around, and while at first glance this may look like a country club, when you watch these prisoners or read their articles in The Angolite, the prison magazine, you see they are different from most convicts in other prisons. They have some dignity. They are not marking time in a cell, they can see the fruits of their labor, whether they sport a silver rodeo belt buckle, harvest crops, or ease a fellow con’s pain in the hospice. And according to the Shreveport Times, Angola has a lower rate of recidivism than local facilities, but this may not be correlated to these programs.
An excellent documentary on Angola and prison life in general is The Farm: Angola USA. The film documents the hospice, the rodeo, and the difficulties in housing a large prison population, many for life sentences. At least three of the prisoners featured were released after long legal fights over their convictions. Which is available to view on Liveleak:
I found out about The Angolite through my writer buddy and ex-con Les Edgerton, author of The Bitch, Just Like That, The Perfect Crime, Gumbo Ya-Ya and many more. Subscriptions are $20 a year, and having read my first issue of this slick and well-written magazine, it is quite a bargain. The July/August 2011 issue had an in-depth article on illicit cell phone use in prisons, plus articles on the “Long Termers,” cons in Angola for 25 years or more, the Returning Hearts family visit program, plus short “expressions” and poetry by convicts, including a touching elegy to a lifer who’d rehabilitated himself yet died behind bars, an old trusty they called “Papa Smurf.” It’s great reading, and gives an insight into prison life.
© 2012 Thomas Pluck