Sunday, January 06, 2013

Angola Prison

This past fall, I went to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola). The bad news is that it is the largest prison in Louisiana, and a high security facility. The good news is that I was only there for the day.

I was there for the 48th Annual Angola Prison Rodeo.They have a web site which features tickets for the spring event.

First of all, getting in....there was a line of cars from US-61 which wound down the 20 or miles or so into what seemed like wilderness in the direction of the River. Then I had to go through the checkpoint. They gave us a list of what we were allowed to bring with us onto the rodeo grounds. Included in the "no" list were cameras as well as even cell phones and knives. There was a checkpoint at the pedestrian gate, and folks who had bags (like purses) had those searched.

I bought the program, and started by looking at the crafts. Part of the "rodeo event" is the arts and crafts market which accompanies it, and surrounds the rodeo arena. The craft sales are one of the ways that inmates can earn money. It is a massive exhibit, and includes many interesting items. (But no photos, no cameras or even cell phones allowed inside -- see above.)

The program has some interesting tidbits. The prison:
  • is one of only three accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA)
  • is the largest in Louisiana -- 5,149
  • is on 18,000 acres 
  • grows enough fresh produce to feed 11,000 inmates in five prisons year around
  • has the only FCC licensed, prisoner run radio station (KLSP 97.1 FM)
  • is the only prison with its own zip code (70712)
  • has the highest percentage of its inmates serving life sentences (75%); 1.6% are under the death sentence
  • has been the setting for many movies (but not Cool Hand Luke).
The rodeo part is a combination of events from a professional rodeo circuit, entertainment, and events with inmates. For me, it was the first time I had ever sat through a "full" rodeo or even seen all of any one rodeo event. The entertainment is, well, just that. Most of the entertainment is built around horses and rodeo type events. The most interesting part are the events with the inmates. The web site describes the events. Words cannot do justice to these events. For instance Convict Poker. Four inmate cowboys sit at a table in the middle of the arena at a poker table.  Suddenly, a wild bull is released with the sole purpose of unseating the poker players.  The last man remaining seated is the winner. It takes a lot more than I have to sit there knowing that a a wild bull is about to be released. When the bull is released, the inmates stay seated, sometimes even as the bull -- encouraged by the rodeo riders and rodeo clowns -- heads straight at them.

If you ever have a chance, it is worth a visit.

For me, the added interest involves my job. One of the things that reference staff (small "r" since it is both Reference Staff and Louisiana Section Staff) answer questions mailed to us by inmates. Many, many of these letters come from Angola -- the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

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