A Sad Legacy: Louisiana’s Prison Economy

This is the stuff that creates documentaries and sad movies.  It is the prison state that is Louisiana.

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.

The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.

If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.

from NOLA.Com.

Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.

In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.

It is a shameful situation.  Here are some stories from Angola.  It’s probably the most infamous prison in the world.  It’s known for its rodeo and its harsh treatment of prisoners who basically are subjected to “Faith-Based Slavery”.  It seems that when a state can’t produce real jobs that it produces prisons.

“Unique” is one way Warden Burl Cain likes to describe his prison, and it would be impossible to argue otherwise. With grazing cattle and rolling hills in the distance, it’s hard not to admire its strange, sprawling beauty, even as the towers come into view. The prison itself is absent from my GPS’s “points of interest,” yet Angola’s Prison View Golf Course—the first public golf course on the grounds of a state penitentiary—is not. At Angola’s official museum, opened by Cain in 1998, a retired electric chair and rusty prison contraband are displayed adjacent to a gift shop selling mugs and tote bags reading: “Angola: A Gated Community.”

Angola is the largest maximum security in the country, sitting on 18,000 acres of farmland and home to 5,200 men. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of adult prisoners in the United States; thanks to the state’s unforgiving sentencing laws, at least 90 percent of Angola’s prisoners will die there. It’s a large-scale embodiment of a national phenomenon: elderly inmates are the country’s fastest growing prisoner population.

Yet Angola is also lauded as a revolution in corrections, its story told many times: Angola was once the “bloodiest prison in America,” where inmates slept with magazine catalogs strapped to their chests to protect themselves from stabbings. Things began to turn around in the 1970s, when a federal judge ordered a major overhaul. But most of the credit has gone to Warden Cain for imposing order through a new model of incarceration.

Like all of Angola’s wardens, Cain has continued the tradition of hard labor: most inmates work in the fields eight hours a day, five days a week, harvesting hundreds of acres of soybeans, wheat, corn, and cotton—picked by hand and sold by Prison Enterprises, the business arm of the Louisiana Department of Corrections. But unlike his predecessors, Cain, an evangelical Christian, has also made it his mission to bring God to Angola. Inmate ministers tell new prisoners that they can either work on their “moral rehabilitation” or remain a “predator”—“the choice is yours.” The radio station plays gospel music. On the walls leading to the execution chamber are two murals: Elijah ascending to Heaven and Daniel facing the lion. One of Cain’s favorite anecdotes is the execution of Antonio James, a born-again Christian whose hand he held just before giving the go-ahead to end his life. As James lay on the gurney waiting for lethal drugs to enter his veins, Cain said, “Antonio, the chariot is here…you are about to see Jesus.”

You should really read this MJ article to get the full feel of life inside Angola.  It’s called “Gods Own Warden”.

Everyone was there except the person I had come to see: Warden Burl   Cain, a man with a near-mythical reputation for turning Angola, once   known as the bloodiest prison in the South,  into a model facility. Among  born-again Christians, Cain is revered  for delivering hundreds of  incarcerated sinners to the Lord—running the  nation’s largest  maximum-security prison, as one evangelical publication put it, “with an  iron fist and an even stronger love for Jesus.” To Cain’s more secular  admirers,  Angola demonstrates an attractive option for controlling the  nation’s  booming prison population at a time when the notion of  rehabilitation  has effectively been abandoned.

What I had heard about Cain, and seen in the plentiful footage of  him, led me to expect an affable guy—big gut, pale, jowly face,  good-old-boy demeanor. Indeed, former Angola inmates say that prisoners  who respond to Cain’s program of “moral rehabilitation” through  Christian redemption are rewarded with privileges, humane treatment, and  personal attention. Those who displease him, though, can face harsh  punishments. Wilbert Rideau, the award-winning former Angolite  editor who is probably Angola’s most famous ex-con, says when he first  arrived at the prison, Cain tried to enlist him as a snitch, then sought  to convert him. When that didn’t work, Rideau says, his magazine became  the target of censorship; he says Cain can be “a bully—harsh, unfair,  vindictive.”

“Cain was like a king, a sole ruler,” Rideau writes in his recent memoir, In the Place of Justice.  “He enjoyed being a dictator, and regarded himself as a benevolent  one.” When a group of middle school students visited Angola a few years  ago, Cain told them that the inmates were there because they “didn’t  listen to their parents. They didn’t listen to law enforcement. So when  they get here, I become their daddy, and they will either listen to me  or make their time here very hard.”

Another former prisoner, John Thompson—who spent 14 years on death  row at Angola before being exonerated by previously concealed  evidence—told me that Cain runs Angola “with a Bible in one hand and a  sword in the other.” And when the chips are down, Thompson said, “he  drops the Bible.”

We’ve talked about Angola’s horrible legacy before. Here’s a recent UK Guardian Story on two men that have spent 40 years in solitary confinement.  This is the stuff that causes insanity.  Every human rights group actively opposes this kind of treatment.

“I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door,” Herman Wallace says as he describes the cell in which he has lived for the past 40 years. “If I turn an about-face, I’m going to bump into something. I’m used to it, and that’s one of the bad things about it.”

On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana‘s notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since.

They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, “exercise” three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards.

A new documentary film takes us into that cell, providing rare insight into the personal psychological impact of such prolonged isolation. Herman’s House tracks the experiences and thoughts of Wallace as he reflects on four decades banged away in a box.

Our own Governor wants to turn our Prison Economy into a privatized, money-making scheme for corporate donors.  Fortunately, his bill didn’t get very far.  But, this is because so many local politicians make money off of renting out prisoners to their own local donor base. They also get to use them for services that would normally go to paid workers. No wonder no one can find these types of jobs unless you are in prison.

A bill strongly backed by Gov. that would have allowed for the sale of the Avoylles Correctional Facility has been abandoned, as support for it was limited, according to the Associated Press. Now, the prison may be run under a new plan. Here is some more information.

* The original bill would have allowed for the Avoyelles Correctional Facility to be sold for $35 million to a private firm that would be responsible for operating it, according to the Town Talk.

* The state would then pay the company that buys it a daily fee to operate it.

* Rep. (R- Haughton) sponsored the bill, House Bill 850.

* Opposition from the privatization of the prison stems from the fact that 296 jobs would be lost in the sale.

* One group, the , made a plea to representatives to vote against the bill, saying that if the prison was run privately, the company could demand an exorbitant amount of money from Louisiana taxpayers to run the prison, and that the sale would actually cost Louisiana residents more.

* The bill was rewritten on Wednesday to allow for a private firm to be contracted to run the facility, but not to buy it.

* The contract would be for 10 years and the approval of the contract would be by the House and Senate budget committees.

* On Wednesday, the House voted 62-43 to pass the new amendment to the bill, according to Gambit.

* The bill was not sent to the Senate for approval, however, as Burns says that he is giving legislators time to look over the new bill, according to the Capitol News Bureau.

* There is still a lot of disapproval of the new bill as well, as opponents still cite the decreased wages for employees that are working for private companies as opposed to wages for state employees as unacceptable.

* Safety is also a concern, as Rep. Robert Johnson cited the lower wages as attracting lower quality workers to guard the prison, which would mean an unsafe environment, according to The Times-Picayune.

* The privatization of Avoyelles is a part of a larger plan by Gov. Jindal to privatize more prisons in Central Louisiana and close the and move those prisoners to Avoyelles, according to the Town Talk.

* Alexandria Mayor Jacques M. Roy has come out against the plan, saying that it would decrease public safety and would not save the state any money.

Any one in Louisiana lives among this prison legacy.  Prisoners clean up our roads.  They are brought out to shore up levees.  They make our license plates.  They are visible everywhere doing jobs that would usually be given to parish employees. No place is this more true than in small communities where sheriffs can make a good living off of renting them out to local business.  Kinda makes you proud of that old entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t it?  Take some time to read the series at the Times Picayune I think you will find out more about my part of the good ol’ USA than you really would like.

Wednesday Reads: Video Tears, 40 years, 20 Years and LA

Good Morning!

I am feeling a little under the weather, so this post is going to be a link dump of sorts.

First, these series of links about two men in Angola Prison who have been held in solitary for forty years, yup you read that right!

I first saw this story in The Guardian, figures it would be on a foreign press site…

Forty years in solitary: two men mark sombre anniversary in Louisiana prison | World news | guardian.co.uk

They’ve spent 23 hours of each day in the last 40 years in a 9ft-by-6ft cell. Now, as human rights groups intensify calls for their release, a documentary provides insight into an isolated life.
Herman Wallace Angola prison

Herman Wallace, left, and Albert Woodfox in Angola prison in Louisiana. Robert King, the third member of the Angola 2, had his conviction overturned and was released in 2001.
Herman Wallace describes the cell in which he has spent 40 years Link to this audio

“I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door,” Herman Wallace says as he describes the cell in which he has lived for the past 40 years. “If I turn an about-face, I’m going to bump into something. I’m used to it, and that’s one of the bad things about it.”

On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana‘s notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since

Please read about these men and the life, or should I say non-life, they have been living. These men have been stuck in a small cell for almost as long as I have been alive!

Here are some more links on this story:

Marking 40 Years of “Inhuman” Solitary Confinement for Angola 2 Prisoners, Amnesty International Set to Deliver Tens of Thousands of Petition Signatures to Louisiana Governor | Amnesty International USA

Torturous Milestone: 40 Years in Solitary | Mother Jones

Amnesty International calls on Gov. Jindal to remove prisoners from isolation after 40 years | The Republic

40 Years in Solitary Confinement: Two Members of Angola 3 Remain in Isolation in Louisiana Prison

Solitary Watch

Okay, let’s go from forty years…to twenty.

Its been twenty years since the LA Riots:  Bill Boyarsky 20 Years After the L.A. Riots and Nothing Has Changed – Bill Boyarsky’s Columns – Truthdig

AP/Nick Ut

A Korean shopping mall burns in 1992 on the second day of rioting in Los Angeles.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a reminder of the racial divide poisoning American life, which has resisted all attempts to bridge it, even after the country elected its first African-American president.

I write this on the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, a multiracial affair. It’s been 17 years since the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which further showed the antipathy between whites and blacks.

I covered those events for the Los Angeles Times. The riots, in particular, stick in my mind. I remember being at the First AME Church, a center of Los Angeles’ black community, and walking toward a nearby boulevard where young black men were battling Los Angeles Police Department officers. Church members, who knew me, grabbed my arms and led me back to AME, one of them saying, “This is no time for journalistic heroics.” I sneaked back and watched the battle. I also saw men from the church and Latino residents of nearby apartments fight the rioters’ fires, with no help from the city fire department, black and brown hands together around garden hoses. I drove through a city aflame to the paper downtown and then home, returning to the fires and rubble early the next morning.

Nor will I forget the challenge of reporting on the O.J. trial and a criminal justice system that was stacked against defendants, except for one as rich as Simpson. Each day, I watched from the courthouse as lawyers, witnesses, reporters and the famous defendant took part in a drama that plumbed the depths of how Americans feel about race.

Now, take a moment to remember the massacre in Norway almost a year ago. Anders Brevik has shown no remorse for the killings. And yesterday, while watching a film he made, tears rolled down his face. Anders Behring Breivik cries at own propaganda film – video | World news | guardian.co.uk

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who killed 77 people in a bomb-and-shooting spree on 22 July 2011, is seen wiping his tears in court when his propaganda film is shown by the prosecutors. The video was put together from stills and texts depicting his vision of the evils of multiculturalism and the Islamisation of Europe

Video at the link.

Georgia has gone the way of the dark lord, by that I mean Voldemort aka Rick Scott, Governor of Florida:  Georgia welfare law requires drug test to receive aid | Reuters

Low-income adults seeking public assistance in Georgia will have to pass a drug test before receiving benefits under a measure signed by Governor Nathan Deal on Monday, making it the latest state to push through the controversial testing requirement.

Supporters of the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act said it is designed to ensure that welfare payments, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are not “diverted to illicit drug use.”

Under the law set to take effect on July 1, applicants who fail a drug test will become ineligible to receive benefits for a certain time period, based on the number of past test failures.

The law is not supposed to affect children:

If a parent fails a drug test, children can still receive payments through another person designated by the state.

Well, Georgia is also closing a bunch of their Labor Dept Offices, most of them in the Northeastern part of the state. That is bad news for the folks in Banjoville, yes, ours is one of the offices to be closed. It is a sad situation.

Over on the The Maddow Blog – Outside our windows: Tax Day these are some great pictures from the protest on Tax Day. However, I think this image from The Daily Dish is the best:

Face Of The Day – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast


A protestor wears stickers on his face during a tax day demonstration in front of the James A. Farley Post Office on April 17, 2012 in New York City. Dozens of protesters participated in a demonstration against loopholes that allow banks and corporations to pay lower income taxes than most individual tax filers. Similar rallies were held across the city throuhgout the day. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Image.

And lastly, did you all see the prom picture featuring Michelle Obama, wow…what legs!

Michelle Obama’s Prom Picture Is Pretty Damn Sexy

Michelle Obama is so cool that not even her prom picture is embarrassing. Yes, it’s a little risque (avert your eyes, Sasha and Malia), and it’s definitely of a certain fashion era—as is that ahhh-mazing wicker chair—but all things considered she looks damn good for a high schooler. The picture was unearthed by Ellen DeGeneres, who brought it out in an effort to stick it to Michelle after Michelle beat her at a push-up contest in February. Of course, in the end Ellen’s prom pic (as you can see in the below clip) was the more humiliating of the two. It just goes to show you, when it comes to fashion and fitness, Michelle is called the First Lady for a reason.

Photo at the link…

So, what sort of things are you reading about today? Please share them with us…