11 March 2011

Lockup, Raw!

11 March 2011--Our original plan for today was to go to a plantation, but seeing as we had already been to one in South Carolina we decided to go to the Angola State Penitentiary Museum instead. This prison has been on plenty of those late night TV shows, so as a minimum you have probably seen it for a minute while flipping channels.

Angola is the only maximum security prison in Louisiana and houses just over 5000 prisoners, 86% of whom are violent offenders and 52% of whom are serving "life, without the possibility of parole"! They have 84 men and even 1 woman on death row. So, needless to say, this place is no walk in the park.

The brochure told us the prison sits on land that was previously several privately-owned plantations, that it is 18,000 acres of "the finest farmland in the south," and is named Angola after the country in Africa that most of the slaves who lived here came from. They wrapped it up by saying that it is situated perfectly for a prison, in that it was in a rural area and surrounded on 3 sides by the mighty Mississippi!!! Not much chance of escape, I guess!
I tried to get Cathy to act all mean like she was the overseer of the prison sitting out on the porch, but she doesn't look very intimidating here.
I am prisoner #5522, while Cathy is #5533...if you are playing the lottery maybe you should keep those numbers in mind.

I kept thinking of the movie "Cool Hand Luke"...Can't you just hear the overseer saying to Paul Newman, "What we have here is a failure to communicate"!

You enter the museum thru the gift shop and the 1st pics on the wall are of these generations of families involved in the system...just seemed a little odd to me.

Several movies have been made here. NOTE: If you have never seen Monster's Ball, don't! It is horrible!

These are pics of the bathroom and shower areas in 1940. Keep in mind that the Louisiana prison system was placed under federal receivership from 1983 to 1999...I wondered what took them so long?

A quick story: We were at about this point in the museum when a guy came up to me and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised and happily said yes. With that, he sort of pointed around the corner to where Cathy was, so I called out and asked her if she wanted some. Cathy said no, and that is when this guy said "come with me". As I turned and looked more closely, it dawned on me that this approximately 30 yr old guy was dressed all in white and was actually what they call a "trusty"...a prisoner who works outside the fence. If you know me at all you know that at this point I was almost immobilized with fear, but I also didn't want to offend him (how stupid!), so I gingerly complied as he said a few times "follow me". I lagged a few steps behind him, so when I turned the corner into the next room (empty) I was able to see him go down a hallway and into a little side room, once again saying "follow me", and "do you want some cream"? I couldn't move!!! I saw a table in the empty room in front of me and pretended to go over there as though there was something on the table I was looking for...if you had put a gun to my head I was not following that prisoner down that hallway! As it turned out, that was where the coffee pot was, so the prisoner eventually came up behind me and passed me an empty cup and some creamora. I swear to God, I was so scared I couldn't move my feet. I sort of bent at the waist to reach out for the cup and creamora, my heart pounding, and hoping Cathy would turn the corner and come to my rescue. I finally poured some coffee, said a couple words to the prisoner about how hot the coffee looked (again, stupid!), and left, giving him a wide birth, to find Cathy. I don't know if that guy was up to no good, or if he was just being nice and my fertile imagination got the best of me, but I was a nervous wreck by the time I got back to Cathy!!!

Anyway, here is a pic of some of the weapons the guards have used over the years, from Tommy guns to shotguns, followed by the proverbial 50 lb ball and chain.

And a couple of the homemade guns the prisoners used...they actually had a homemade shotgun on display but I couldn't get a decent pic of it thru the glass.

A few more confiscated weapons. One of the books is a bible, one of the knives is made from headphones, and I love the one the inmate claimed he was just using as a "Duck call"! haha

The coffee pot was made into a whiskey still, and the end of the comb is a key that fit into all the cells...are some of these geniuses, or what?

Look at the guys feet sticking out of the tank on the left side.

I am sure a lot of desperate people did a lot of desperate things in here over the years.
A copy of the 1860 census showing how one of the slave women prisoners had given birth here, and the policies on slave children born/living here.
This guy, Leadbelly, was an inmate here from 1930 to 1937 and became a famous blues man. Most interesting was that one of his famous songs was "Goodnight, Irene"...does anyone remember that? I know I heard my mother sing it, and I think it was either Helen King or Sis Hayhurst that used to sing it when we were young.
Angola is really a multifaceted facility; it not only has a 9-hole golf course on it (don't know how you sign up because it is actually on the prison grounds), it puts on a big-time prisoner rodeo every Sunday in October and one Sunday in April. It has been doing the rodeo since 1965. They also farm 1 million lbs of vegetables that are fed to the inmates, and sell corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat to the public thru "Prison Enterprises". They said they do the farming to keep the prisoners busy.

Here are some of the prisoners that have been previous rodeo champs!
The guy shown is the actual builder of the hearse.

The Death Row inmates called the chair "Gruesome Gertie". I just know I could not maintain any dignity when they were putting that hood on my head!!!

And back out thru the gift shop. This was on one of the t-shirts for sale...pretty witty, huh?!


  1. I think if Cathy had a different shirt on she might have had a better chance at being intimidating. Though in person I am sure she could have pulled it off.

    I would have paid money to record on video you and the inmate! I am sure the inmate was thinking this lady has mental issues when he had to keep telling you to follow him. Cathy leaving you to fend for yourself is priceless :)

    (Note: I actually read the blog otherwise I would not have known about the inmate)


  2. The whole coffee story is to funny!!!!
    Now you no how I felt in Montanna when you wanted me to walk the trails!!!!
    Thanks for clearing up who was who in the mug shots, not sure I would of known which one was you!!!!!

  3. I keep laughing to myself about the coffee story, probably from relief that he did me no harm!!! And Grace, it is funny that you asked if I drank the coffee, because I actually whispered to Cathy when I got back "Do you think he put anything in it?"

    And Ellen, you got me on that one...I was trying to call your attention to how we changed the numbers on our mug shot, it didn't occur to me when I wrote it that it could be construed that I was pointing out who was who. haha

  4. From having worked in a couple jails, I can tell you that trustees don't get to work in the public like that unless they are pretty low level or are really well behaved. Having said that, there is no time that I don't think these guys/gals are trying to figure out a way to escape or get over on someone. It's just a matter of when they choose to carry it out. :D
    They are genius....they have nothing but time to figure out how to take a few bars of soap, a piece of bedding and some silverware and fashion it into a real looking glock.

  5. your face on top of the numbers - scary!!!!!!!!
    i totally understand your crippling fear. I think I would have done the same thing. What's wrong with us???? What did Cathy say about it? I am shocked at 1991 still with that electric chair!
    The selling of slaves is the worst. To educate whites? i don't know what's worse - a child living in jail or being sold at 10.

  6. Paula I am surprised at you, you should have been calling out to Cathy "stranger....danger"!!! When we are little the phrase is "do you want some candy" and when we get older the phrase is "do you want a cup of coffee".
    I can't believe you actually drank it.
    I am so glad that we are "back on the road again"!

  7. Barb, I know a trusty is supposedly low level, or as you say really well-behaved, but knowing I was at a penetentiary, being cajoled into following a "con" into anto an empty room, and knowing that I was in a building with very few people in it, had me thinking I would be dead before anyone could reach me after hearing my screams! haha I felt I was in a "fight or flight" situation and yet I was immobilized!!! haha I still laugh with a bit of "hysteria" at the thought of it!

    Marie, Cathy thought I was being ridiculous of course, but she wasn't experiencing the knot in my stomach as I was. And I meant that picture to be scary! haha And I think being sold at 10 would have to be one of the worst things a human being could ever experience...I would rather be with my mother in jail.

    Arlene, yelling "stranger danger" never crossed my mind, but I will tuck that into my toolbox in case the situation ever repeats itself!

  8. The comment on the trustee was great. Is that all we have to do is scare u and u will do what ever we want.

  9. I so wish I could have seen you with the inmate!
    My fear, if I suffered any, would have immediately diminished as yours increased. You always were, and always will be, a chicken at heart!

  10. Julie, you are so right...I am a chicken, but like you said, if someone else was there and scared with me, it would have made me less scared...haha