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Where is Angola Prison?

Angola prison, officially known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is a maximum-security prison farm located in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. It is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with over 6,000 inmates.

History of Angola Prison

Angola prison has a long and dark history. The land that the prison sits on was previously a plantation, purchased in the 1800s by Isaac Franklin and used for growing cotton and other crops. Convict leasing was used after the Civil War, where prisoners were essentially re-enslaved and made to work the fields.

The land was eventually purchased by the state of Louisiana in 1901 and the official state penitentiary was constructed. The name “Angola” comes from the country in Africa where many slaves in the area had originated from.

Notable Features of Angola Prison

Some key facts about Angola prison:

  • It occupies a total of 18,000 acres of land.
  • The perimeter of the prison complex is 23 miles long.
  • It is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River. There is only one road leading into and out of the prison.
  • Most inmates at Angola are serving life sentences for murder. The average sentence is 90 years.
  • Angola is self-sustaining through inmate labor. Inmates work the land, farming crops and caring for livestock.
  • Inmate labor is also used to keep up the facilities and cook the food served there. There are no outside food vendors.
  • It has its own museum, magazine, and radio station within the prison complex.
  • There is a hospice program for terminally ill inmates as well as an inmate-run burial program.

Daily Life for Inmates

Daily life for Angola inmates is highly regimented and strictly scheduled. They are required to work most days in the farm and industrial operations. The types of labor include:

  • Farming crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and more
  • Caring for cattle, chickens and other livestock
  • Staffing the prison kitchen, laundry, and living quarters
  • Constructing new facilities and maintaining current ones
  • Manufacturing assorted items like mattresses, garments, and cleaning supplies

When not working, inmates have recreational time and access to facilities like a law library, hobby shop, and gymnasium. There is also an Education Department that offers literacy classes, vocational training, and college degree programs.

Religion plays a major role in the prison. The Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum states that 83% of inmates at Angola identify as Christian. There are a range of faith services and programs available.

Location and Geography of Angola Prison

Angola prison is located in West Feliciana Parish in the state of Louisiana. Specifically, it is situated in the unincorporated community of Angola, LA. This is about 50 miles north of Baton Rouge, LA.

Rural Location

The prison is situated in a rural, relatively isolated area. The nearest town is St. Francisville, Louisiana which has a very small population of roughly 1,700 people. Surrounded by the Mississippi River on three sides, the prison itself occupies the tip of a bend in the river.

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This remoteness is intentional, as escaping from the facility surrounded by swampland and water would be extremely difficult. The rural location also provides plenty of cheap land for the prison to use as farmland.

Features of the Land

Angola occupies 18,000 acres of land. This land contains a mixture of cropland, pastures for livestock, ponds and some wooded areas. Having arable land for farming is essential since the prison is self-sustaining when it comes to food production.

The land is flat and sits at an elevation of around 100 feet above sea level. The soil in West Feliciana Parish is described as mainly loess with high sand content. This makes it highly suitable for agriculture.

The climate in the region is humid subtropical with long, hot summers and short, mild winters. The weather allows Angola’s farms to produce a variety of crops and run cattle operations year-round.

Access and Transportation

Reaching Angola prison starts with taking Highway 66 to St. Francisville. At the town, Highway 66 crosses the Mississippi River on the John James Audubon Bridge. Once over the bridge, make an immediate right turn onto Highway 65. After about 6 miles, turn right onto Angola Road. This is the only road leading into Angola prison.

Angola does not have its own airport or railway line. The small Angola Airport was closed in the 1970s. The nearest major airport is in Baton Rouge. The Canadian National Railway runs trains carrying crops and livestock between Angola and locations around the country.

Inside Angola: Facilities, Operations, and Life for Inmates

Angola functions as a self-contained complex with its own farms, factories, living quarters and more for inmates. Here is an overview of the major facilities and operations inside the prison walls.

Prison Operations

The Angola penitentiary describes itself as the “city within walls.” It has its own police and fire station, utility systems, administration services, and more. These operations keep the prison running:

  • Security: Armed officers patrol the perimeter and correctional emergency response teams are ready to handle incidents. Guard towers, perimeter fencing, and surveillance monitor inmates.
  • Healthcare: Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and a dentist work in multiple clinics. Critically ill inmates go to an offsite hospital by ambulance.
  • Rehabilitation: Addiction counseling, education programs, religious services, and recreation aim to better inmates during incarceration.
  • Maintenance: Inmate labor keeps facilities repaired and constructed. Ground crews tend to utilities and roads.

Prison Facilities and Housing

Major facilities within Angola prison include:

  • Cellblocks – Housing blocks with rows of cells to hold inmates. Some blocks date back to the early 1900s.
  • Dormitories – Open bay housing units with beds instead of cells. Added as the prison expanded.
  • Dining Halls – Cafeterias serving meals to the incarcerated populations. Food is prepared on-site.
  • Recreation Centers – Gyms, sports fields, and hobby shops for inmate recreation.
  • Education Centers – Classrooms, vocational shops, and libraries for inmates to learn and train.
  • Factories – Manufacturing facilities making mattresses, garments, cleaners and other goods.
  • Farm Lands – Thousands of acres of crops and pastures for livestock tended by inmates.

Inmate Jobs and Labor

Inmates are expected to work unless they are too ill or have dispensation. Angola’s operations would cease without inmate labor:

  • Farm Work – Tend crops, bale hay, feed animals, process milk. Work can be done in all weather.
  • Construction and Maintenance – Build new facilities. Handle repairs and janitorial work.
  • Food Services – Work the massive prison kitchens, bakery, and butcher shop.
  • Manufacturing – Produce goods like mattresses and garments in the factories.
  • Grounds Work – Pick up litter, paint, work on utility systems, mow grass.
  • Hospice Care – Terminally ill inmates can provide palliative care to fellow inmates.

Daily Life for Inmates

A typical day for an Angola inmate may include:

  • 5:00am – Wake up call. Shower and dress.
  • 5:30am – Breakfast in the dining hall.
  • 6:00am – Inmate count, gather work squad for the day’s tasks.
  • 6:30am – Work call. Depart for job site. Labor until 11:00am.
  • 11:00am – Return from work for lunch at dining hall.
  • 12:00pm – Resume work shift until 4:00pm.
  • 4:00pm – Return to housing block. Shower and dinner at the chow hall.
  • 5:00pm – Leisure time. Access to recreation, church, library until 8:00pm.
  • 8:00pm – Lockdown in housing for the night.
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Lights out at 10:00pm. Schedule repeats daily. Weekends have more free time.

Controversies and Issues Surrounding Angola

Angola has faced many controversies and accusations regarding conditions, human rights violations, and more over its long history.

History of Abuse

For decades, Angola operated much like a Southern plantation with rampant abuse of inmates who were seen as slave labor. Whippings, solitary confinement, and even killings happened with impunity. Reform efforts began in the 1950s and 60s but problems persisted. The prison conditions led to lawsuits and federal oversight of Angola for civil rights violations.

Harsh Conditions

While conditions have improved, Angola is still known for a harsh environment. Inmates face overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, and extremes of heat and cold in the housing blocks. Mental health is a major concern given that 95% of inmates will die inside Angola. Critics condemn the lengthy sentences and lack of parole opportunities.

Health and Safety Risks

Farming and industrial work carry risks. Inmates have limited health and safety protections. Lead and mercury poisoning have been documented. The hospice program relies on untrained inmates providing medical care. Angola has also battled COVID-19 outbreaks despite its isolated location.

Lack of Oversight

Human rights advocates say there is insufficient independent oversight of Angola. With limited visibility, there are concerns that abuses of power and violence between inmates may still regularly occur. Racial disparities and outcry over Angola’s omission from recent criminal justice reforms further fuel criticisms.

Contrasting Perspectives on Angola Prison

There are contrasting views on Angola prison’s current state and mission. Supporters point to reforms, while critics allege serious ongoing problems.

Rehabilitation Supporters

Warden Burl Cain, who retired in 2016 after 20 years leading Angola, championed the view that Angola provides rehabilitation through work, education, and religion. He aimed to build a “place of hope” and started programs like the hospice. Backers see the farm work as giving skills and purpose. They believe most inmates are at Angola for a tragic reason and can find redemption there.

Prison Reform Advocates

Advocacy groups like the ACLU condemn current conditions at Angola and call for substantial changes. They want to see sentences reduced, parole expanded, healthcare improved, mental health prioritized, housing updated, and oversight increased. There are calls for less isolation and more chances at release so inmates have incentives to reform. Critics highlight that other prisons have moved away from a “work farm” model.

Justice for Victims’ Views

Victims of violent crimes oppose reforms that would allow criminals, cop killers, and murderers in Angola to ever be released back into society. They view field work and strict conditions as justified for those who took a life. Groups like Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention see current sentencing as delivering true justice and closure for affected families.

Recent News and Updates

Several major stories have come out of Angola prison in the past couple years. Here are some highlights.

  • Warden Announcement – In May 2022 Angola named its first Black warden, FBI veteran Sherman Anderson, to replace longtime warden Darrel Vannoy. This followed calls to diversify leadership.
  • Documentary Series – An Angola prison documentary titled “The Farm” was filmed from 2018 to 2020. It provides an insider look at life inside the walls. Episodes aired on television in late 2022.
  • COVID Impacts – Angola experienced COVID-19 outbreaks with hundreds of infected inmates. Strict measures included suspending visitation. Inmate Wayne Guzzino died in October 2020 in the first virus related death. Vaccinations were administered in 2021.
  • Newspaper Revival – The award winning Angolite prison newspaper was revived in 2021 after being shut down in 2020. Inmates write the articles. The current editor is 36-year Angola inmate Kerry Myers.
  • Stock Show Returns – The Angola Prison Rodeo and Livestock show is held annually. The popular event draws crowds to see unique inmate-run competitions. It returned in October 2022 after a pandemic related pause.
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Table of Crimes and Dates at Angola

YearCrime/Event
1880Angola Plantation purchased by state of Louisiana to build a prison
1901Louisiana State Penitentiary officially opens at Angola
195231 inmates slit their own Achilles tendons in protest of prison working conditions
1953Convict leasing ends at Angola after public outcry over abusive treatment
1964US Department of Justice files lawsuit over segregation, abuse and neglect
1975Federal court orders desegregation of inmate housing and jobs
1989Camp J added to lower crowding and improve living conditions
1990AARP names Angola one of the 10 worst prisons in America
1993Congress investigates violence and inmate-on-inmate rape at Angola
1995ACLU files suit alleging continued racial discrimination and rights violations
1999Lawsuits reduce Angola’s prison population from over 5,000 to about 4,000
2009New unfenced dormitories built under improved rehabilitation focus
2012Lawsuit settled to better protect disabled inmates from mistreatment
2018Angola hospice program highlighted for providing humane end-of-life care
2020COVID-19 leads to first inmate death and widespread infections at Angola
2022Longtime warden Burl Cain retires, replaced by first Black warden

Questions and Answers About Angola Prison

Here are some common questions and answers about Angola State Penitentiary.

How did Angola get its name?

Angola is named after the African country of Angola due to the fact that many African slaves in the local area were originally from Angola. The land that is now the Angola prison complex was the Angola Plantation in the 1800s.

Who owns and runs Angola Prison?

Angola is owned by the Louisiana Department of Corrections and operated by the state. It is currently run by Warden Sherman Anderson who oversees all operations and management.

What security measures are in place?

Angola is secured through 23 miles of perimeter fencing, patrols by armed officers, guard towers, surveillance cameras, and other technology. The Mississippi River provides a natural barrier on three sides. There is only one road into or out of the prison.

How many inmates are at Angola?

The inmate population hovers around 6,000 to 6,500 prisoners. A few hundred staff work at the penitentiary as well. Angola is the largest maximum security prison in the United States due to its high number of inmates and massive acreage.

Can the public visit Angola Prison?

Yes, there are limited options for the public to visit. Special tour days are offered several times per year. Visitors can tour prison facilities and museums on these days with an approved guide. An annual rodeo and craft fair held at Angola is also open to spectators.

Do inmates stay at Angola their whole sentence?

Most inmates will spend their entire sentence at Angola since over 95% are serving life sentences for murder. Angola does not typically transfer prisoners elsewhere. There are exceptions, such as inmates requiring specialty medical care.

What happens when an inmate dies?

Inmates can be buried in Point Lookout Cemetery which has been part of Angola since the late 1800s. Family can also claim the remains. Inmates operate the burial process. The prison hospice program and chapel oversee end of life matters.

Can Angola inmates get a college degree?

Yes, Angola offers inmates the chance to earn an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree. Programs are offered through partnerships with schools like Louisiana State University Eunice. Classes take place inside education buildings at Angola. Inmates serve as tutors.

Conclusion

Angola State Penitentiary has an extremely long and often dark history as a former plantation turned notorious prison. While it has modernized from its earlier explicitly cruel conditions, Angola remains known for strict routines, extensive farm labor by inmates, and very limited prospects for early release.

Debates continue around whether Angola provides rehabilitation or infringement of human rights. Additional reforms could improve inmate treatment and living conditions. But major changes seem unlikely for a massive prison vital to the economy of rural Louisiana and seen by many as providing justice to victims.

Visitors getting a tour offer one perspective, while advocacy groups paint a far bleaker picture. The reality of daily life inside Angola may lie somewhere in the middle. But the isolation and hopelessness felt by generations of inmates is undoubtedly compounded by the knowledge they will someday die behind bars within the confines of Louisiana’s Angola prison.

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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