Louisiana State Penitentiary

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Angola
Unincorporated community
Louisiana State Penitentiary
The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary has a guard house that controls entry into the compound - The placard says "Louisiana State Penitentiary" and "Burl Cain, Warden"
The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary has a guard house that controls entry into the compound - The placard says "Louisiana State Penitentiary" and "Burl Cain, Warden"
Angola is located in Louisiana
Angola
Angola
Location in Louisiana
Coordinates: 30°57′22″N 91°35′41″W / 30.95611°N 91.59472°W / 30.95611; -91.59472Coordinates: 30°57′22″N 91°35′41″W / 30.95611°N 91.59472°W / 30.95611; -91.59472
CountryUnited States
StateLouisiana
ParishWest Feliciana
Elevation
Angola Landing is 43 ft
49 ft (15 m)
Time zoneCentral (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST)CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes70712
Area code(s)225
GNIS feature ID553304[1]
Angola Landing: 542930[2]
Websitedoc.louisiana.gov/lsp/
The above GNIS IDs are related to the "populated places." The GNIS ID for the Louisiana State Pentientiary "locale" is 536752,[3] the GNIS ID for the museum is 2603238,[4] the GNIS ID for the fire department building is 2673017,[4] and the GNIS ID for the adult school facility is 2434828.[5] The GNIS for the previous Louisiana State Penitenitary building in Baton Rouge is 552789.[6]
 
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For similarly named locales, see Angola (disambiguation).
Angola
Unincorporated community
Louisiana State Penitentiary
The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary has a guard house that controls entry into the compound - The placard says "Louisiana State Penitentiary" and "Burl Cain, Warden"
The entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary has a guard house that controls entry into the compound - The placard says "Louisiana State Penitentiary" and "Burl Cain, Warden"
Angola is located in Louisiana
Angola
Angola
Location in Louisiana
Coordinates: 30°57′22″N 91°35′41″W / 30.95611°N 91.59472°W / 30.95611; -91.59472Coordinates: 30°57′22″N 91°35′41″W / 30.95611°N 91.59472°W / 30.95611; -91.59472
CountryUnited States
StateLouisiana
ParishWest Feliciana
Elevation
Angola Landing is 43 ft
49 ft (15 m)
Time zoneCentral (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST)CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes70712
Area code(s)225
GNIS feature ID553304[1]
Angola Landing: 542930[2]
Websitedoc.louisiana.gov/lsp/
The above GNIS IDs are related to the "populated places." The GNIS ID for the Louisiana State Pentientiary "locale" is 536752,[3] the GNIS ID for the museum is 2603238,[4] the GNIS ID for the fire department building is 2673017,[4] and the GNIS ID for the adult school facility is 2434828.[5] The GNIS for the previous Louisiana State Penitenitary building in Baton Rouge is 552789.[6]

The Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP, also known as Angola, and nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South" and "The Farm"[7]) is a prison farm in Louisiana operated by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections. It is the largest maximum security prison in the United States[8] with 6,300 offenders and 1,800 staff. It is located on an 18,000-acre (7,300 ha) property that was previously the Angola and other plantations owned by Isaac Franklin in unincorporated West Feliciana Parish, directly adjacent to the Mississippi state line. The prison is located at the end of Louisiana Highway 66, around 22 miles (35 km) northwest of St. Francisville. Angola is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River. Since 1995, Burl Cain has been the warden. Death row for men and the state execution chamber for both sexes are located at the Angola facility. In the State of Louisiana the names "Louisiana State Penitentiary" and "Angola," the name of the post office that serves the prison, are used interchangeably.[9]

History[edit]

An early camp, this one showing Lead Belly who was "discovered" by Alan Lomax at Angola.
Old cell block no longer in use

Before 1835, state inmates lived in a jail in New Orleans. The first Louisiana State Penitentiary, located at the intersection of 6th Street and Laurel Street in Baton Rouge, was modeled on a prison in Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1844 the state leased the prison and its prisoners to McHatton Pratt and Company, a private company. Union soldiers occupied the prison during the Civil War. In 1869 Samuel Lawrence James, a former confederate major, received the lease to the prison.[10]

Samuel Lawrence James
James Lawrence James, father of Samuel Lawrence James

The land that has become Angola Penitentiary was purchased by Isaac Franklin from Francis Routh during the 1830s with the profits from his slave trading firm, Franklin and Armfield, of Alexandria, Virginia and Natchez, Mississippi as four contiguous plantations. These plantations, Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola, were joined during their sale by Franklin's widow, Adelicia Cheatham, to James in 1880. The plantation, named after the area in Africa where the former slaves came from, contained a building called the Old Slave Quarters.[11] Major Samuel James ran the plantation using convicts leased from the state, which led to a great deal of abuse.[12] James died in 1894. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections states that the facility opened as a prison in 1901.[13]

The former LSP execution chamber at the Red Hat Cell Block. The electric chair is a replica of the original "Gruesome Gertie".

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that Angola was "probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930." Hardened criminals broke down upon being notified that they were being sent to Angola. Around that year, white-black racial tensions existed and each year one in every ten inmates received stab wounds. Wolfe and Lornell said that the staff, consisting of 90 people, "ran the prison like it was a private fiefdom."[14] The two authors said that prisoners were viewed as "'niggers' of the lowest order."[15] The state did not appropriate many funds for the operation of Angola, as the state saved money by trying to decrease costs. Much of the remaining money ended up in the operations of other state projects; Wolfe and Lornell said that the re-appropriation of funds occurred "mysteriously."[14]

In 1935 remains of a Native American individual were taken from Angola. They were donated to the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science.[16] In 1948 Governor of Louisiana Earl Long converted the position of warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary into a political patronage position. Long appointed distant relatives as wardens of the prison.[17] In the institution's history, the electric chair, Gruesome Gertie, was stored at Angola; the state transported the chair to the parish of conviction of a condemned prisoner before executing him or her.[18]

A former Angola prisoner, William Sadler (also called "Wooden Ear" because of hearing loss he suffered after a prison attack), wrote a series of articles about Angola entitled "Hell on Angola" in the 1940s which helped bring about prison reform.[19]

John Whitley, who served as a warden at LSP

In 1952, 31 inmates, in protest of the prison's conditions, cut their Achilles' tendons (referred to as the Heel String Gang.)[20] This caused national news agencies to write stories about Angola.[21] In its November 22, 1952 issue,[21] Collier's Magazine referred to Angola as "the worst prison in America."[22]

In 1956 on December 5, five men escaped by digging out of the prison grounds and swimming across the Mississippi river. Robert Wallace 25, Wallace McDonald 23, Vernon Roy Ingram 21, Glenn Holiday 20 and Frank Verbon Gann 30. The [23] Hope Star newspaper reported only one body pulled from the river(believed to be Wallace). McDonald was recaptured later in Texas, after returning to the states from Mexico. McDonald stated that 2 of his fellow escapees drowned but this was disputed by the Warden, Maurice Sigler. Warden Sigler stated that he believed no more than one inmate drowned. His men found 3 clear sets of tracks climbing up the river bank.

Gann's family wrote to the warden on multiple occasions, requesting he declare the man dead to free up benefits for his children. And although the family has never heard again from Frank Gann, Warden Sigler remained adamant to the end that Gann had successfully escaped and was likely in Mexico. Frank Gann was imprisoned in Angola after escaping from the Opelousas Parish Jail on April 29, 1956, where he was serving a charge for car theft. Gann, a renowned ladies man, had borrowed his girlfriend's car to visit another woman. The woman scorned reported her car as stolen and he was arrested. A guard was injured in his first escape and Gann's recapture put him in the hell that was Angola for what was to be an additional 7 year sentence. Some of his relatives believe he met his end in the Mississippi and others hope it was Mexico in the arms of a woman. All are glad he did not fall in Angola.

In 1961 female inmates were moved to the newly-opened Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.[24]

In 1971 the American Bar Association criticized the state of Angola. Linda Ashton of the Associated Press said that the bar association described Angola's conditions as "medieval, squalid and horrifying."[25] In 1972, Elayne Hunt, a reforming director of corrections, was appointed by Governor Edwin Edwards, and the U.S. courts in Gates v. Collier ordered Louisiana to clean up Angola once and for all, ending the Trustee-guard and Trusty systems.[26] In 1975 U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola of Baton Rouge, Louisiana declared conditions at Angola to be in a state of emergency. The state installed Ross Maggio as the warden; prisoners nicknamed Maggio "the gangster" because he strictly adhered to rules. Ashton said that by most accounts Maggio successfully improved conditions.[25] Maggio retired in 1984.[27]

In the 1980s Kirksey McCord Nix Jr. perpetrated the "Angola Lonely Hearts" scam from within the prison.[28]

On June 21, 1989, Polozola declared a new state of emergency at LSP.[27]

In 1993 LSP guards fatally shot 29-year old escapee Tyrone Brown.[29]

In 1999 six inmates who were serving life sentences for murder took three prison guards hostage in Camp D. The hostage takers bludgeoned and fatally stabbed 29-year old guard Captain David Knapps. Armed guards ended the rebellion by shooting the inmates, killing one, 26-year old Joel Durham, and seriously wounding another.[30]

In Stephen King's book The Green Mile and the adapted movie The Green Mile, the fictional setting of the Louisiana Cold Mountain Penitentiary was loosely based on life on death row at Angola in the 1930s.[citation needed]

In 2004 Paul Harris of The Guardian said "Unsurprisingly, Angola has always been famed for brutality, riots, escape and murder."[31]

On August 31, 2008, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin stated in a press conference that any New Orleans residents found looting during the evacuation of the city due to Hurricane Gustav would be arrested and immediately transported to Angola prison.[32]

In 2009, the prison reduced its budget by $12 million by "double bunking" (installing bunk beds to increase the capacity of dormitories), reducing overtime, and replacing prison guards with security cameras.[33]

On March 11, 2014 Glenn Ford, a convicted murderer and Louisiana's longest-serving death row prisoner walked free after a court overturned his conviction a day earlier when petitioned by prosecutors. Ford had spent nearly three decades at the prison, 26 of them on death row.[34]

Management[edit]

LSP was designed to be as self-sufficient as possible; it functioned as a miniature community with a canning factory, a dairy, a mail system, a small ranch, repair shops, and a sugar mill. Prisoners raised food staples and cash crops. The self sufficiency was enacted so taxpayers would spend less money and so politicians such as Governor of Louisiana Huey P. Long would have an improved public image. In the 1930s prisoners worked from dawn until dusk.[15]

As of 2009 there are three levels of solitary confinement. "Extended lockdown" is colloquially known as "Closed Cell Restricted" or "CCR." Until a period before 2009, death row inmates had more privileges than "extended lockdown" inmates, including the privilege of watching television.[35]

"Extended lockdown" was originally intended as a temporary punishment. The next most restrictive level is "Camp J," referring to an inmate housing unit that houses solitary confinement. The most restrictive level is "administrative segregation," colloquially referred to by inmates as the "dungeon" or the "hole."[35]

Location[edit]

The sign indicating the Angola Ferry

Louisiana State Penitentiary is in unincorporated West Feliciana Parish, in east central Louisiana.[36] It is located at the base of the Tunica Hills, in a region described by Jenny Lee Rice of Paste as "breathtakingly beautiful."[37]

The prison is about 22 miles (35 km) northwest of St. Francisville,[38] about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Baton Rouge,[14] and 135 miles (217 km) northwest of New Orleans.[39] LSP is about an hour's drive from Baton Rouge,[40] and it is about a two-hour driving distance from New Orleans.[41] The Mississippi River borders the facility on three sides.[15] The prison is in close proximity to the Louisiana-Mississippi border.[36] LSP is located about 34 miles (55 km) from the Dixon Correctional Institute.[42]

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that in the 1990s the prison remained "far away from public awareness."[15] The prison officials sometimes provide meals for official guests because of what the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections refers to as the "extreme remote location" of LSP; the nearest non-prison dining facility is, as of 1999, 30 miles (48 km) away.[43] The prison property is adjacent to the Angola Tract of the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area; due to security reasons regarding LSP, the Tunica Hills WMA's Angola Tract is closed to the general public from March 1 through August 31 every year.[44]

The main entrance is at the terminus of Louisiana Highway 66, a road described by Wolfe and Lornell as "a winding, often muddy state road."[14] From St. Francisville one would travel about 2 miles (3.2 km) north along U.S. Highway 61, turn left at Louisiana 66, and travel on that road for 20 miles (32 km) until it dead ends at LSP's front gate.[45] The Angola Ferry provides a ferry service between Angola and a point in unincorporated Pointe Coupee Parish. The ferry is only open to employees except during special events, when members of the general public may use the ferry.[46]

Composition[edit]

Aerial view of Louisiana State Penitentiary, January 10, 1998, U.S. Geological Survey

The 18,000-acre (7,300 ha) prison property occupies a 28-square-mile (73 km2) area.[47] The size of the prison property is larger than the size of Manhattan.[48] Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that LSP of the 1990s looks "more like a large working plantation than one of the most notorious prisons in the United States." Guards patrol the complex on horseback, as many of the prison acres are devoted to cultivation of crops. By 1999 the prison's primary roads had been paved.[14] The prison property is hemmed in by the Tunica Hills and by the Mississippi River. The perimeter of the property is not fenced, while the individual prisoner dormitory and recreational camps are fenced.[37] Most of the prison buildings are yellow with a red trim.[40]

Lake Killarney, a geographic feature of LSP

Inmate quarters[edit]

The state of Louisiana considers LSP to be a multi-security institution; 29% of the prison's beds are designated for maximum security inmates.[49] The inmates live in several housing units scattered across the LSP grounds. By the 1990s air conditioning and heating units had been installed in the inmate housing units.[14] Most inmates live in dormitories instead of cell blocks. The prison administration states that this is because having "inmates of all ages and with long sentences [to] live this way encourages cooperation and healthy peer relationships."[13]

Main Prison Complex[edit]

The Main Prison Complex consists of the East Yard and the West Yard. The East Yard has 16 minimum and medium custody prisoner dormitories and one maximum custody extended lockdown cellblock; the cellblock houses long-term extended-lockdown prisoners, in-transit administrative segregation prisoners, inmates who need mental health attention, and protective-custody inmates.[50]

The West Yard has 16 minimum and medium custody prisoner dormitories, two administrative segregation cellblocks, and the prison treatment center. The treatment center houses geriatric, hospice, and ill in-transit prisoners.[50] As of 1999 the main prison complex houses half of LSP's prisoners.[51]

Dormitories within the main prison include the Ash, Cypress, Hickory, Magnolia, Oak, Pine, Spruce, and Walnut dormitories. The cell blocks are A, B, C, and D. The main prison also houses the local Main Prison administration building, a gymnasium, a kitchen/dining facility, the LSP Vocational School, and the Judge Henry A. Politz Educational building.[52]

Outcamps[edit]

LSP also has several outcamps. Camp C includes eight minimum and medium custody dormitories, one cellblock with administrative segregation and working cellblock prisoners, and one extended lockdown cellblock.[50] Camp C includes the Bear and Wolf dormitories and Jaguar and Tiger cellblocks.[52] Camp D has the same features as Camp C, except that it has one working cellblock instead of an extended lockdown cellblock, and its other cellblock does not have working prisoners.[50] Camp D houses the Eagle and Falcon dormitories and the Hawk and Raven cellblocks.[52] Camp J has four extended lockdown cellblocks, which contain prisoners with disciplinary problems, and one dormitory with minimum and medium custody inmates who provide housekeeping functions for Camp J.[50] Camp J houses the Alligator, Barracuda, Gar, and Shark cellblocks.[52]

Camp F has four minimum custody dormitories and the "Dog Pen," which houses 11 minimum custody inmates.[50] All of the prisoners housed in Camp F are trustees who mop floors, deliver food to fellow prisoners, and perform other support tasks.[53] Camp F also houses LSP's execution chamber.[54] Camp F has a lake where trustees fish.[53] A prisoner quoted in Self-governance, Normalcy and Control: Inmate-produced Media at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola described Camp F as being "off from the rest of the prison".[55]

The Close Cell Restricted (CCR) unit, an isolation unit located near the Angola main entrance, has 101 isolation cells and 40 trustee beds. Jimmy LeBlanc, the corrections secretary, said in October 2010 that the State of Louisiana could save about $1.8 million during the remaining nine months of the 2010–2011 fiscal year if it closed CCR and moved prisoners to unused death row cells and possibly some Camp D double bunks. LeBlanc said that the prisoners in isolation would remain isolated.[56]

Reception center and death row[edit]

The Reception Center, the closest prison housing building to the main entrance, acts as reception center for arriving prisoners. It is located to the right of the main highway, inside the main gate.[40] In addition it contains the death row for male inmates in Louisiana, with 101 extended lockdown cells housing condemned inmates.[50] The death row facility has a central room and multiple tiers. The entrance to each tier includes a locked door and color photographs of the prisoners located in each tier.[57] Death row includes eight tiers, lettered A to G. Seven tiers have 15 cells each, while one tier has 11 cells. Each hallway has a cell that is used for showering.[58] The death row houses exercise areas with basketball posts.[59] The death row facility was constructed in 2006 and there is no air conditioning or cross ventilation.[60] In addition the Reception Center has one minimum custody dormitory with inmates who provide housekeeping for the facility.[50]

In June 2013 three prisoners filed a federal lawsuit against the prison in the court in Baton Rouge, alleging that the death row facility does not have adequate measures to prevent overheating.[61] The prisoners said that due to pre-existing medical conditions, the heat may cause health problems. Brian A. Jackson, the district federal judge, ordered collection of temperature data at the Angola death row for three weeks to determine the conditions. During that time, Angola officials blasted outer walls of the prison with water cannons and installed window awnings to attempt to lower temperature data. In response Jackson said that he was "troubled" by the possibility of manipulating the temperature data.[60] On Monday August 5, 2013, the federal trial regarding the condition of the death row in high heat started.[60] The following day, Warden Burl Cain apologized for violating the court order regarding data collection.[62] On Wednesday August 7, 2013 closing arguments in the trial ended.[63]

B-Line[edit]

The facility includes a group of houses, called the "B-Line,"[64] which function as residences for prison staff members and their families; inmates perform services for the staff members and their households. The employee housing includes recreational centers, pools, and parks.[65] The LSP B-Line Chapel was dedicated on Friday, July 17, 2009 at 4:00 PM.[66]

Residents on the prison grounds are zoned to West Feliciana Parish Public Schools. Primary schools serving the LSP grounds include Bains Lower Elementary School and Bains Elementary School in Bains.[67] Secondary schools serving the LSP grounds are West Feliciana Middle School and West Feliciana High School in Bains.[68] The West Feliciana Parish Library is located in St. Francisville.[69] The library, previously a part of the Audubon Regional Library System, became independent in January 2004.[70]

Tunica Elementary School previously served children living on the Angola property

Previously elementary school children attended Tunica Elementary School in Tunica,[71] located in proximity to Angola.[72] The school building, 4 miles (6.4 km) from Angola,[73] is several miles from LSP's main entrance, and many of its students lived on the LSP grounds.[71] On May 18, 2011, due to budget cuts, the parish school board voted to close Tunica Elementary.[67]

Fire station[edit]

The fire station houses the LSP Emergency Medical Services Department staff, who provide fire and emergency services to LSP.[50] The LSP Fire Department is registered as department number 63001 with the Louisiana Fire Marshal's Office. The department's equipment includes one engine, one tanker, and one rescue truck. Within LSP the department protects 500 buildings, including employee and prisoner housing quarters. The department has mutual aid agreements with West Feliciana Parish and with Wilkinson County, Mississippi.[74]

Religious sites[edit]

St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church

St. Augustine Church, built in the early 1950s, is staffed by the Roman Catholic Church. The New Life Interfaith Chapel was dedicated in 1982.[50] In the 2000s the main prison church, the churches for Camps C and D, and a grounds chapel were constructed as part of an effort to build chapels for every state run prison facility. A staff and family of staff chapel was also under construction. Outside donations and prison rodeo ticket sales funded the churches.[64] The Camp C Chapel was dedicated on Friday July 17, 2009 at 2:00 PM, and the B-Line Chapel was dedicated at 4:00 PM on that day.[66] The main entrance to LSP has an etched monument that gives tribute to Epistle to the Philippians 3:15.[75]

Recreational facilities[edit]

Butler Park

Prison staff members have access to recreational facilities on the LSP property. LSP has ball fields, the Prison View Golf Course, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a walking track.[76] Lake Killarney, an oxbow lake of the Mississippi River located on the prison grounds, has large crappie fish. The LSP administration controls access to Lake Killarney, and only a few people fish there. Therefore the crappie fish grow very large.[7] Butler Park is a recreational facility on the edge of the LSP property that houses gazebos, picnic tables, and barbecue pits. As of 1986, a prisoner who has no major disciplinary issues for at least a year may use the property.[77]

Prison View Golf Course[edit]

Prison View Golf Course, a 6,000-yard (5,500 m), 9 hole, 72 par golf course, is located on the grounds of Angola.[45] Prison View, the only golf course on the property of an American prison,[78] is between the Tunica Hills and Camp J, at the intersection of B-Line Road and Camp J Road.[79] All individuals wishing to play are required to provide personal information 48 hours before their arrival, so the prison authorities can conduct background checks. Convicted felons and individuals on LSP visitation lists are not permitted to play on the golf course.[45] Current prisoners at LSP are not permitted to play on the golf course.[78]

The golf course, constructed on the site of a former bull pasture, opened in June 2004. Prisoners performed most of the work needed to construct the course. Prisoners that the LSP administration considers to be the most trustworthy are permitted to work at the golf course. Warden Burl Cain stated that he built the course so employees would be enticed to stay at Angola over weekends, to provide support in case of an emergency.[80]

Guest house[edit]

Angola also has the "Ranch House," a facility for prison guests.[42] James Ridgeway of Mother Jones described it as a "a sort of clubhouse where the wardens and other officials get together in a convivial atmosphere for chow prepared by inmate cooks."[81] Originally constructed to serve as a conference center to supplement the meeting room in the Angola administration building, the "Ranch House" received its name after Burl Cain became Warden. Cain had the building renovated so guests could stay overnight. The renovations, which included the conversion of one room into a bedroom and the addition of a shower and fireplace, cost approximately $7,346.[42] There was a tradition where prisoners who worked as cooks in the Ranch House later began working at the Louisiana Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge. The current Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, does not participate in this tradition.[81]

Cemeteries[edit]

The original Point Lookout Cemetery, one of the prison cemeteries on the Angola property

Point Lookout Cemetery is the prison cemetery, located on the north side of the Angola property, at the base of the Tunica Hills;[50] deceased prisoners who cannot be transported from prison grounds by their family members are buried at Point Lookout.[82] A white rail fence surrounds the cemetery. The current Point Lookout was created after a 1927 flood destroyed the previous cemetery, which was located between the current Camps C and D. In September 2001 a memorial was dedicated to the "Unknown Prisoners." The original Point Lookout plot, with 331 grave markers and an unknown number of bodies, is full.[50]

Point Lookout II

Point Lookout II, a cemetery annex 100 yards (91 m) to the east of the original Point Lookout, opened in the mid-1990s; it has a capacity of 700 grave sites. As of 2010, 90 prisoners were buried at Point Lookout II. Before January 2002 all state prisoners' remains unclaimed by their families were buried at Point Lookout; during that month a cemetery opened at the Hunt Correctional Center, providing another place for burial.[50]

Angola Museum[edit]

The Angola Museum, operated by the nonprofit Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation, is the on-site prison museum. Visitors are charged no admission, but may make a donation if they wish.[83] The museum is located outside of the prison's main gate,[76] in a former bank building.[84]

Angola Airstrip[edit]

The prison includes the Angola Airstrip (FAA LID: LA67).[85] The airstrip is used by state-owned aircraft to transport prisoners to and from LSP and for transporting officials on state business to and from LSP. The airport is used during daylight and visual flight rules times.[86]

Other prison facilities and features[edit]

The guard house at the LSP Main Entrance

The facility's main entrance has a metal roof guard house to permit traffic to and from the prison. Michael L. Varnado and Daniel P. Smith of Victims of Dead Man Walking said that the guard house "looks like a large carport over the road." The guard house has long barriers, with Stop signs, to prevent automobiles entering and leaving the compound without the permission of the prison guards. To allow a vehicle access or egress, the guards manually raise the barriers.[40]

The Front Gate Visiting Processing Center, with a rated capacity of 272 persons, is the processing and security screening point for prison visitors.[50] The United States Postal Service operates the Angola Post Office on the prison grounds.[87] It was established on October 2, 1887.[88] David C. Knapps Correctional Officer Training Academy,[10] the state training center for prison guards, is located at the northwest corner of LSP,[14] in front of Camp F.[52] Near the training center Angola prisoners maintain the only nature preserve located on the grounds of a penal institution.[14] The R. E. Barrow, Jr., Treatment Center is located on the Angola premises.[10] The C.C. Dixon K-9 Training Center is the dog-training area.,[89] named in 2002 and commemorating Connie Conrad Dixon, a dog trainer who died in 1997 aged 89.[90] The Louisiana State Penitentiary Wastewater Treatment Plant serves the prison complex.[91] The prison also houses an all-purpose arena.[92]

History of composition[edit]

Topographical map, July 1, 1994, U.S. Geological Survey

Camp A was the first building to house inmates and was the former slave quarters ; currently Camp A does not house prisoners.[10]

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that in the 1930s Angola was "even further removed from decent civilization" than it was in the 1990s. The two added "that's the way the state of Louisiana wanted it, for Angola held some of the meanest inmates."[15]

Camp H, a prisoner housing facility that is no longer in service

In 1930 about 130 women, most of them African-American, were imprisoned in Camp D. In 1930 Camp A, which held around 700 African American inmates, was close to the center of the Angola institution. Inmates worked on levee control, as the springtime high water posed a threat to Angola. The river was almost 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, and many inmates who tried to swim across drowned; many of their bodies were never recovered.[15]

The prison hospital opened in 1940s; at the time the campus had only one permanent nurse and no permanent doctor.[17]

In the 1980s the main road to Angola was still only a dirt road,[93] but is now black topped.[citation needed]

As of 1993 the outcamp buildings, constructed in 1939, had been renovated in the 1970s. During May 1993 the buildings' fire safety violations were reported. In June of that year, Richard Stalder, the Secretary of Corrections, said that LSP would close the buildings if LDP S&C did not find millions of dollars to improve the buildings.[94]

Red Hat Cell Block[edit]

Main article: Red Hat Cell Block

In previous eras, the most restrictive inmate housing unit was colloquially referred to as "Red Hat Cell Block,"[95] after the red paint-coated straw hats that its occupants wore when they worked in the fields.[35] "Red Hat," a one-story, 30 cell building at Camp E, was built in 1933.[96] Brooke Shelby Biggs of Mother Jones said that men who had lived in "Red Hat" "told of a dungeon crawling with rats, where dinner was served in stinking buckets splashed onto the floors."[35] Warden C. Murray Henderson phased out "Red Hat,"[97] and in 1972 Elayn Hunt had "Red Hat" officially closed.[98] In 1977 Camp J took "Red Hat"'s role as the most restrictive housing unit in Angola.[35] On February 20, 2003, the National Park Service listed the Red Hat Cell Block on the National Register of Historic Places as #03000041.[95]

Demographics[edit]

Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest correctional facility in the United States by population.[99] In 2010 the prison had 5,100 inmates and 1,700 employees.[100] In 2010, the racial composition of the inmates was 76% black, 24% white; 71% of inmates were serving a life sentence and 1.6% had been sentenced to death.[101]

As of 2011 the prison has about 1,600 employees, making it one of the largest employers in the State of Louisiana.[102] Over 600 "free people" live on LSP property; these residents are LSP's emergency response personnel and their dependents.[76] In 1986 around 200 families of employees lived within Angola property. Hilton Butler, then Angola's Warden, estimated that 250 children lived on the Angola property.[103] Many prison employees are from families that have lived and worked at Angola for generations. Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio said "In a place so remote, it's hard to know what's nepotism. There's simply no one else to hire."[65]

Operations[edit]

Burl Cain, the warden of LSP

As of 2011 the annual budget of the Louisiana State Penitentiary was over $120 million.[102] Angola is still operated as a working farm; Warden Burl Cain once said that the key to running a peaceful maximum security prison was that "you've got to keep the inmates working all day so they're tired at night."[104] In 2009 James Ridgeway of Mother Jones said Angola was "An 18,000-acre complex that still resembles the slave plantation it once was."[105]

Of all American prisons, Angola has the largest number of inmates on life sentences in the United States. As of 2009 Angola had 3,712 inmates on life sentences, making up 74% of the population. Per year, 32 inmates die, while 4 are paroled during the same span of time.[106] Louisiana's tough sentencing laws result in long sentences for the inmate population, which mostly consists of armed robbers, murderers, and rapists. In 1998 Peter Applebome of The New York Times said "It's impossible to visit the place and not feel that a prisoner could disappear off the face of the earth and no one would ever know or care."[48]

Most new prisoners begin working in cotton fields; a prisoner may spend years working his way to a better job.[22]

In Angola parlance a "freeman" is a prison guard.[107] Around 2000, the prison guards were among the lowest-paid in the United States, and few of them had graduated from high school.[22] As of 2009 about half of the prison guards were female.[108]

LSP prisoners perform cleaning and general maintenance services for the West Feliciana Parish School Board and other government agencies and nonprofit groups within the West Feliciana Parish.[109]

Warden Burl Cain maintains an open-door policy with the media, which led to the production of the award winning documentary The Farm.[11] Films such as Dead Man Walking,[110] Monster's Ball,[111] and I Love You Phillip Morris were partly filmed in Angola. A Christian blogger stated that warden Burl Cain did not permit one sex scene between two male inmates in I Love You Phillip Morris to be filmed at the prison.[112]

The prison hosts a rodeo every April and October, and its inmates produce the award-winning magazine The Angolite, available to the general public and relatively uncensored.[113] There is a museum which features among its exhibits Louisiana's old electric chair, "Gruesome Gertie", last used for the execution of Andrew Lee Jones on 22 July 1991.[citation needed] Angola Prison is also home to the country's only inmate-operated radio station, KLSP.[114]

Farming[edit]

Crops produced at LSP include cabbage, corn, cotton, okra, onions, peppers, soybeans, squash, tomatoes, and wheat. Hundreds of cattle are kept on the Angola premises. As of 2010 the prison has 2,000 head of cattle. Each year, the prison produces four million pounds of vegetable crops.[84]

Inmate education[edit]

LSP offers literacy classes for prisoners with no high school diploma and no General Equivalency Diploma (GED) from Monday through Friday in the main prison and in camps C-D and F. LSP also offers GED classes in the main prison and in camps C-D and F. The prison also offers ABE (Adult Basic Education) classes for prisoners who have high school diplomas or GEDs but who have inadequate Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) scores to get into vocational school. SSD (Special School District #1) provides services for special education students.[115]

Prisoners with satisfactory TABE scores may get into vocational classes. Such classes include automotive technology, carpentry, culinary arts, graphic communications, horticulture, and welding.[115] In the 1990s, Angola partnered with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to offer prisoners the chance to earn accredited bachelor's degrees in Ministry. Dr. Bruce M. Sabin wrote his doctoral dissertation evaluating moral development among those college students.[116] The United States Congress voted to eliminate prisoner eligibility for Pell Grants in 1994, making religious programs such as the New Orleans Baptist program the only ones available to prisoners.[57] As of Spring 2008 95 prisoners were students in the program. LSP also offers the PREP Pre-Release Exit Program and Re-Entry Programs for prisoners who are about to be released into the outside world.[115]

Inmate library services are provided by the main Prison Library and four outcamp libraries. The prison is part of the Inter-Library Loan Program with the State Library of Louisiana.[64]

Manufacturing[edit]

LSP has several manufacturing facilities. The Farm Warehouse (914) is the point of distribution of agricultural supplies. The Mattress/Broom/Mop shop makes mattresses and cleaning tools. The Printing Shop prints documents, forms, and other printed materials. The Range Herd group manages 1,600 head of cattle. The Row Crops group harvests crops. The Silk-Screen group produces plates, badges, road and highway signs, and textiles; it also manages sales of sign hardware. The Tag Plant produces license plates for Louisiana and for overseas customers. The Tractor Repair shop repairs agricultural equipment. The Transportation Division delivers goods manufactured by the Prison Enterprises Division.[117]

Radio[edit]

Angola is the only penitentiary in the U.S. to be issued an FCC license to operate a radio station. KLSP (Louisiana State Penitentiary) is a 100-watt radio station that operates at 91.7 on the FM dial from inside the prison to approximately 6,000 potential listeners including inmates and penitentiary staff. The station is operated by inmates and carries some satellite programming. Inside the walls of Angola, KLSP is called the "Incarceration Station"[118] The station airs a variety of programming including gospel, jazz, blues, rock-n-roll, country, and oldies music, as well as educational and religious programs.[118] The station has 20 hours of daily airtime, and all of the music aired by the station is donated.[75] Music from His Radio and the Moody Ministry Broadcasting Network (MBN) airs during several hours of the day. Prisoners make the majority of broadcasting decisions.[37]

A station was originally established in 1986 as a means of communication. Jenny Lee Rice of Paste said "the need to disseminate information rapidly is critical" because Angola is the largest prison in the United States.[99] The non-emergency uses of the station began in 1987 when Jimmy Swaggart, an evangelist, gave the prison old equipment from his radio network.[119] Originally the radio station had more emphasis on announcements and music than it did on religion; today religion is the main focus of the radio station.[120]

In 2001 Chuck Colson invited radio veteran Ken Mayfield and executives from a South Carolina radio network to visit Angola and conduct an on-radio fundraiser to buy new radio equipment.[75] The fundraiser exceeded its $80,000 goal, with over $120,000 within several hours. Warden Burl Cain used the funds to update the radio equipment and train prisoner DJs in using the new electronic systems.[37] The new radio equipment allowed KLSP to broadcast in stereo, expand its daily airtime to 20 hours and to upgrade its programming.[75] As of 2012 KLSP had an output of 105 watts.[121] Once one is 7 miles (11 km) away from LSP on Louisiana Highway 61, the signal begins to fade. At 10 miles (16 km) one can hear white noise. Paul von Zielbauer of The New York Times said that "Still, 100 watts does not push the station's signal far beyond the prison gate."[75] All 24 hours are devoted to religious programming.[76] After religion became the primary focus, some inmates stopped listening to the station because they did not always want to listen to religious music.[122]

Television[edit]

The prison officials have started LSP-TV, a television station. According to Kalen Mary Ann Churcher of Pennsylvania State University, the television station follows the radio station more closely than it does with The Angolite.[120]

Magazine[edit]

Main article: The Angolite
Wilbert Rideau was an editor of The Angolite

The Angolite is the inmate-published and -edited magazine of the institution, which began in 1976.[123] Each year, six issues are published.[76] Louisiana prison officials believed that an independently-edited publication would help the prison. The Angolite gained a national reputation as a quality magazine and won international awards under two prisoner editors, Wilbert Rideau and Billy Sinclair,[124] who became co-editors in 1978.[125]

Burial of the deceased[edit]

Coffins for deceased prisoners are manufactured by inmates on the LSP grounds. Previously, deceased prisoners were buried in cardboard boxes. After one body fell through the bottom of a box, Warden Burl Cain changed a policy, allowing for the manufacture of proper coffins for the deceased.[37]

Death row[edit]

Prisoners on death row are confined to their cells for 23 hours per day. For one hour per day[59] a prisoner may take a shower and/or move up and down the halls under guard. Three times a week a prisoner is permitted to use the exercise yard. Death row prisoners are allowed to have several books at a time, and each prisoner may have one five-minute personal telephone call per month. Death row inmates receive unlimited visitor access.[126] Prison guards patrol the death row corridors nightly as a suicide prevention tactic. Nick Trenticosta, an attorney, argued that warden Burl Cain treats death row inmates in a more favorable manner than wardens of other death row prisons in the United States. Trenticosta said "It is not that these guys had super privileges. But Warden Cain was somewhat responsive to not only prisoners, but to their families."[57]

Execution[edit]

Male death row inmates are moved from the Reception Center to a cell near the execution chamber in Camp F on the day of the execution. The only person informed of the exact time when a prisoner will be transferred is the Warden; this is for security reasons and so as to not disrupt prison routine. On a scheduled execution date, an execution can occur between 6 PM and Midnight. Michael L. Varnado and Daniel P. Smith of Victims of Dead Man Walking said that, on many occasions, the rest of LSP is not aware of the execution being carried out. In 2003 a man with the family name Lee, the assistant Warden of the Reception Center, said that once death row inmates learn of the execution, they "get a little quieter" and "[i]t suddenly becomes more real to them."[53]

When the State of Louisiana used electrocution as its method of capital punishment, it formally referred to the anonymous executioner as "The Electrician." When the State of Louisiana referred to the executioner by name, he or she was called "Sam Jones," after Sam H. Jones, the Governor of Louisiana in power when electrocution was introduced as the capital punishment.[127]

Inmate life[edit]

Musical culture[edit]

As of 2011 several Angola inmates practiced musical skills. The prison administration encourages prisoners to practice music and uses music as a reward for inmates who behave.[128]

In the 1930s John Lomax, a folklorist, and Alan Lomax, his son, traveled throughout the U.S. South to document African-American musical culture. Since prison farms, including Angola, were isolated from general society, the Lomaxes believed that prisons had the purest African-American song culture, as it was not influenced by popular trends. The Lomaxes recorded several songs, which were plantation-era songs that originated during the slavery era. The Lomaxes met Lead Belly, a famous musician, in Angola.[128]

Sexual slavery[edit]

A 2010 memoir by Wilbert Rideau, an inmate at Angola from 1961 through 2001, states that "slavery was commonplace in Angola with perhaps a quarter of the population in bondage" throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.[129] The New York Times states that weak inmates served as slaves who were raped, gang-raped, and traded and sold like cattle. Rideau stated that "The slave's only way out was to commit suicide, escape or kill his master."[129] Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, members of the Angola 3, arrived at Angola in the late 1960s and became active members of the prison's chapter of the Black Panther Party, where they organized petitions and hunger strikes to protest conditions at the prison and helped new inmates protect themselves from rape and enslavement.[130] C. Murray Henderson, one of the wardens brought in to clean up the prison, states in one of his memoirs that the systemic sexual slavery was sanctioned and facilitated by the prison guards.[131][page needed]

Inmate organizations[edit]

Angola has several inmate organizations. They include the Angola Men of Integrity, the Lifers Organization, the Angola Drama Club, the Wonders of Joy, the Camp C Concept Club, and the Latin American Cultural Brotherhood.[107]

Angola Rodeo[edit]

Main article: Angola Prison Rodeo

On one weekend in April and on every Sunday in October, Angola holds the Angola Prison Rodeo. On each occasion, thousands of visitors enter the prison complex.[76] The idea of the rodeo was born in 1964,[107] and it began in 1965.[132] The current 10,000-person stadium used for the rodeo opened in 2000.[132] As part of the prison rodeo,[133] the prison holds an Arts and Crafts Festival that is biannual.[134]

Programs for fathers[edit]

Angola has two programs for fathers who are incarcerated at Angola. Returning Hearts is an event where prisoners may spend up to eight hours with their children in a Carnival-like celebration. Returning began in 2005; by 2010 a total of 2,500 prisoners had participated in the program. Malachi Dads is a year-long program that uses the Christian Bible as the basis of teaching how to improve a prisoner's parenting skills. Malachi began in 2007; as of 2010 it had 119 men participating.[135] It is based on Malachi 4:6, "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..."

Notable inmates[edit]

Death row and non-death row

Death row

Non-death row:

Lead Belly was pardoned for murder convictions by two governors because of his singing talent.[139]

Notable employees[edit]

Cultural references[edit]

Musical references[edit]

The prison has held many musicians and been the subject of a number of songs. Folk singer Lead Belly served over four years of his attempted murder sentence and was released early from Angola for good behavior. Tex-Mex artist Freddy Fender was pardoned from there.

The song "Grown So Ugly" by American blues musician and ex-convict Robert Pete Williams references Angola. The song's lyrics have some basis in fact, as Williams was imprisoned there and was officially pardoned (from a murder charge) in 1964, the year the song says that he left the prison.

The classic New Orleans song "Junco Partner" includes the lines:

Six months ain't no sentence, and a year ain't no time
They got boys down in Angola doin' one year to ninety-nine

In the Clash's version of "Junco Partner", the lines are a little bit different:

Singing six months ain't no sentence, and one year ain't no time
I was born in Angola, servin' fourteen to ninety-nine

Aaron and Charles Neville wrote "Angola Bound":

I got lucky last summer when I got my time, Angola bound
Well my partner got a hundred, I got ninety-nine, Angola bound

Angola also features in the Neville Brothers song "Sons and Daughters" on the album Brother's Keeper.

Folklorist Harry Oster recorded "Angola Prison Worksongs" for his Folklyric Records in 1959, now re-released on Arhoolie Records. According to Oster, between 1929 and 1940, 10,000 floggings were carried out in Angola.

Singer Gil Scott-Heron wrote and recorded the song "Angola, Louisiana" on his 1978 album with Brian Jackson, Secrets. The song deals with the imprisonment of inmate Gary Tyler.

Canadian blues and roots musician Rita Chiarelli filmed the documentary "Music From the Big House" at Angola in 2010. The film, directed by Bruce McDonald, focuses on a concert at the prison, organized by Chiarelli, that featured four bands comprising musicians incarcerated in Angola.

Comprising the entire B-Side of his album Remedies, New Orleans musician Dr. John features an extended 17:35 song titled "Angola Anthem".

Singer-songwriter Myshkin recorded "Angola" in 1998 for her album Blue Gold. The song refers to the case of former Angola warden C. Murray Henderson, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the attempted murder of his wife, writer Anne Butler:

Release me from this life I will seek my punishment
On the other side but the judge said
"Warden in cold blood you shot your poor poor wife
You're going back to Angola, there your hell to find"

New Orleans rap artist Juvenile has part of a verse in the Hot Boys song "Dirty World" that says:

They'll plant dope on ya, go to court on ya
Give ya 99 years and slam the door on ya
Angola, the free man bout it, he don't play
Nigga get outta line, ship 'em to Camp J

New Orleans pianist James Booker mentions Angola prison in his cover of "Goodnight, Irene" ; where he was sent for heroin possession:

Lead Belly and little Booker both, had the pleasure of partying,
on the pon de rosa, *laughs* you know what I mean, you dig?
Yeah, on the pon de rosa, you know, down in Angola
where they have boys doing from one year to ninety nine

(As Booker was less than 10 years old when Lead Belly died, they would not have been there at the same time.)

Ray Davies has recorded a song entitled "Angola (Wrong Side of the Law)", which was released as a bonus track on the expanded release of Working Man's Café in February 2008.

The American folk singer David Dondero in the song "20 years" describes the experiences of a prisoner released from Angola prison:

All I got on me, is my Angola prison I.D.
Ain't a place in this whole damn city willing to hire me
It's been twenty years

Jazz trumpeter Christian Scott has a track on his 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow called "Angola, LA & the 13th Amendment"

Texas Country Music artist, Sam Riggs of Sam Riggs and the Night People (Austin, Texas) wrote and recorded a song called "Angola's Lament." It was released in 2013 on the "Out Run the Sun" album.

Books about Angola[edit]

Non-fiction books about Angola[edit]

Articles about Angola[edit]

Other references[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Angola, Louisiana". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  2. ^ "Angola Landing, Louisiana". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  3. ^ "Louisiana State Penitentiary". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  4. ^ a b "Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  5. ^ "Louisiana State Penitentiary Special School District Facility". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  6. ^ "Louisiana State Penitentiary (historical)". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External images
Images of LSP - Andrew Testa Gallery