Louisiana State Penitentiary: It had been many years….at least 20…since I had been to the deep south. I’d been to most of the southernmost states doing hi tech pulp mill inspections throughout the early 1990s and had ample opportunity to become familiar with the climate, landscape, culture and people.
Flying over many states for four hours, then driving another few through the swamp surrounded highway from Baton Rouge to Louisiana State Penitentiary (otherwise known as ‘Angola’, after the African country where the slaves deposited there had been kidnapped up to over two hundred years earlier).
The compound was over 18,000 acres of combined, former slavery era plantations, surrounded by the winding Mississippi on three sides and the mountains on the fourth. In the wake of the confederacy’s fall, the land was bought up by the government for relative peanuts and began accumulating the most notoriously violent and bloody history of any prison in U.S. history…right up to the 1990s.
My first night there I sat for dinner with a young man, 25, who had been at Angola since he was 17 for drug related offenses. As he spoke zealously about the faith he had discovered since being there, I had the thought “The poor kid…he’s in a fool’s paradise of naive faith that has blinded him to the implications of the life sentence he was only 8 years in to”.
Man was I completely wrong, and he was just the tip of a huge iceberg that lay just beneath the surface of my understanding. Check back on February 28 for ‘My weekend on death row at Angola – Part 2’.