Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Ultimate Gated Community

It was another tearful goodbye as I left Aunt Pauline, Uncle Joe and all the cousins.  I vowed that it would not be as long before I returned to this part of Louisiana again.  If all goes well I am planning to return in a year and their hugs and good wishes will stay with me until then.

Next Stop--Angola Prison!
The prison has a yearly rodeo and arts & crafts fair.  This gate is as far as they would let me carry a camera so you will have to trust me--it was hot, dusty, crowded, interesting, awe-inspiring and emotionally gripping.  Please note the coiled barbed wire over the gate.  But there were guards in all the towers and guards at every turn.  There were 5200 prisoners and the ones I met were nice as can be.  Many of the prisoners sat at tables and sold their paintings or carvings or leatherwork directly to the customers but there were also many more prisoners behind high chain link fences who could only reach through the fence to gesture and encourage you to buy their goods.

The rodeo was like most rodeos but the participants in the competitions were all prisoners--and seemingly fearless.  The crowds gave them much encouragement and huge applause .  But I left early--rodeos are a little too rough for me.  I am told that these are the all-time greatest rodeos because the participants have so little to lose. I kept thinking about Roman Gladiators.

As I drove out of the parking area I was steered to another part of the grounds and saw this--old abandoned buildings that were part of the prison from years past.  At one time Angola was known as the 'bloodiest prison in the country'.  For 20 miles in all directions from the prison there are swamps and a jungle thickness of brambles, vines and trees.  My phone stopped working approximately 20 mile before getting to the prison and someone told me later that the signals for phones and the internet are all purposely scrambled.
 The next day I had a chance to go back on some personal business (I may post something on that in the future) and I had a chance to meet the Deputy Warden and the Warden plus I got a tour of the offices and a brief history of the prison.  The deputy warden showed me some incredibly beautiful carousel horses that were hand-carved and painted by the inmates.  He introduced me to secretaries and trustees. Then he told me that "today is take-the-boss-to-lunch day so some of the staff are out for the afternoon." A 1/2 hour later he walked me back to the main gate and laughingly told me, "Come back anytime.  Did you know Angola is the ultimate gated community?"  Well, it is also the friendliest.

1 comment:

  1. Those old buildings are "Camp H".

    There is a very interesting blog reprinting a series of articles named "Hell on Angola" written by a prior inmate nicknamed "Wooden Ear". These articles lead to reform of Angola Prison


    "...The Angolite is pleased to print "Hell on Angola," a series of articles written for The Item in New Orleans by "Ole Wooden Ear," the pseudonym of Angolite founding editor William Sadler, and published in The Angolite with permission from The Times-Picayune, the progeny of The Item and other former New Orleans newspapers...."