Rare Glimpse Inside Angola, Part I !!
I have a friend (let’s call him Paul) serving nine years in Angola. He never used a weapon but took any and all unlocked bicycles and entered unlocked cars and broke into glove boxes and took the contents. He was a heroin addict and came from a good uptown family and is a smart and nice guy. If you had him over the house he’d rob you blind if you turned your back. He would steal a 1,500 or $1,000 bike and sell it for $100.
Angola, aka Louisiana State Penitentiary, currently is budgeted to house 5,145 maximum-security offenders. The current count stands at 5,316 however. There are 3,992 Lifers and 85 on Death Row. Of the remaining population of those who are eligible for parole, the average sentence length is 93 years. Last year a total of 52 offenders were released and 37 offenders died in custody.
Angola also serves as a farm, growing four million pounds of vegetables each year and is home to hundreds of cattle. Men who may never get out of the Louisiana State Prison are getting state licenses as landscape contractors and pesticide applicators. Some also are teaching other long-term inmates and short-timers who are serving their time in the maximum-security prison so they can get that training.
Paul has been arrested almost four dozen times, and was finally stopped after being caught by an undercover cop after purchasing heroin on the street. He knew better than that, making such a risky purchase, but was out of time and needed the drug.
I send my friend a few bucks a month via jpay, a site that lets you put money in a prisoner’s account with only his prison number and knowing what state his prison is in. He writes me long letters, and this entry is mostly taken from one.
He spends the money I send him on food for the most part because he says the majority of the food there is complete and utter slop. Breakfast is the best meal- grits, eggs, biscuits a few days a week, pancakes and oatmeal a couple of days and surprisingly good homemade cinnamon rolls served with oatmeal on Sundays. Lunch and dinner are for the most part atrocious. Rice for lunch and dinner a good bit of the time with badly cooked beans or gizzards and gravy with more rice. Starch, sugar and carbs. There’s almost no meat except the occasional chicken leg quarter or bits of baloney in the beans.
For those with lots of money to blow there’s a restaurant in the compound where you can order burgers, fries, wings, nachos, wraps and much more. He orders his food from the commissary three times a week. He gets ramen noodles, canned tuna, chips, cokes, ice cream, candy, and other similar items like you can get at a convenience store.
Paul works as an assistant librarian, pushing a book cart to the lifers that are in the hole for any number of reasons. Whereas my friend lives in a dormitory of bunk beds with 96 people, the guys he brings books to are- as punishment- kept in two man cells 23 hours a day unless they’re called to go work in the fields. One cell block has protective custody guys that are in cells all by themselves. Most have committed crimes so heinous that they can’t live in with the general population lest they get raped or killed or both. My friend likes his job, it’s easy and he feels like he’s making a bit of a difference in these guys’ lives. Everybody loves a good book, and I’m the guy that brings them. Most of these prisoners have nothing to do and the vast majority will die here and be buried here.
I’ve met all types, an old black man who has been locked up since 1971 for raping an NOPD officer’s wife in New Orleans; a white guy about 40 who while on drugs murdered his friend, cut up his body and put it in a ice chest in the woods; another white guy from the Irish Channel is doing 198 years for 2 armed robberies in the Garden District 20 years ago when he was a teenager (in most states he’d have been out 10 years ago!)