Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Louisiana: Angola and ...

Angola prisoners. Credit: Angola Museum

Angola is the Louisiana State Prison.

Like a few other American prisons - such as Alcatraz, Folsom, Attica, Rikers - its infamy also elicits a perverse ... awe? reverence? pride? I don't know, but whatever it is, it says something uncomfortable about humans. 

Dave Robicheaux on Angola

(See references to fictional homicide detective, Dave Robicheaux here, here, here, here, and here.)

From Jolie's Bounce (2002): 
It is difficult to describe in a convincing way the kind of place Angola was in the Louisiana of my youth, primarily because no society wishes to believe itself capable of the kinds of abuse that occur when we allow our worst members, usually psychopaths themselves, to have sway over the powerless.

For the inmates on the Red Hat gang, which was assigned to the levee along the river, it was double time and hit-it-and-git-it from sunrise to sunset, or what the guards called "cain't-see to cain't-see." The guards on the Red Hat gang arbitrarily shot and killed and buried troublesome convicts without missing a beat in the work schedule. The bones of those inmates still rest, unmarked, under the buttercups and the long green roll of the Mississippi levee.

The sweatboxes were iron cauldrons of human pain set in concrete on Camp A, where Leadbelly, Robert Pete Williams, Hogman Matthew Maxey, and Guitar Welch did their time. Convicts who passed out on work details were stretched on anthills. Trusty guards, mounted on horseback and armed with chopped-down double-barreled shotguns, had to serve the time of any inmate they let escape. There was a high attrition rate among convicts who tried to run.
(links added)

'course, when I thnk of Angola, I think of the old state prison in New Mexico, site of the massacre at the 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary Revolt.

And of the growing unsettledness about solitary confinement of our prisoners.

Which brings me to this March 2014 article in The Guardian:  Why Do We Let 80,00 Americans Suffer a 'Slow-Motion Torture of Burying Alive'? The article compares the experience of Sarah Shroud, who spent 13 months in solitary confinement in Iran, with that of American prisoners who face similar conditions for the indefinite future.

You can read more about solitary confinement here

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