Visiting a Modern-Day Slave Plantation
by: Angola 3 News, t r u t h o u t
An Interview With Nancy A. Heitzeg.
Nancy A. Heitzeg Ph.D. is a professor of sociology and program co-director, critical studies of race and ethnicity at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Angola 3 News: Please tell us about your recent visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola this past month.
Nancy A. Heitzeg: I was at Angola with a university-level off-campus class I was teaching on Racism In The Criminal Justice System. Students and I were in New Orleans for a week where we met with Sister Helen Prejean and did some work for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. I had been to Angola once before and both tours were comparable.
I should say that it is surprisingly simple to get a tour at Angola - just call the Museum, fill out a form and just turn up. No background checks, no IDs and no trips through metal detectors - which, of course, I have experienced at other prisons even when I was an invited speaker. You can and we did even drive our own vehicle through the grounds on the tour with a tour guide who rides along. Of course matters would be much different if one was at Angola to visit an inmate.
A3N: What happened during the tour?
NAH: The tour is quite extensive - we were there for six hours - and consisted of the following stops/activities:
Guard/employee Village: A small "town" - built by inmates of course - house about 200 employees that live and work there with their families. Kids are bused in and out of the prison gates to outside schools. The town sits in the shadow of the Warden's new mansion atop a high hilltop - built again by inmate labor. The Dog Kennels: Angola is very proud of their dog breeding and training operation, which includes Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and wolves. They are attempting to breed a more "vicious" attack dog by crossing Shepherds with the metaphoric "black wolf" they have. It is Mengelian really. Dogs are trained to track and attack unruly and escaping inmates. Some are trained to sniff drugs and contraband - some sold to law enforcement. Point Look-Out: The inmate cemetery for those whose bodies are not claimed and removed by relatives after death. Angola now claims a "dignified burial" for inmates by actually giving them a coffin! A coffin made, of course, by other inmates - and a horse drawn hearse procession. The coffin-making work drew recent attention when Billy Graham's wife Ruth was buried in one. Point Look-Out has recently been renamed - ironically - for the slain guard Brent Miller, which does not seem to bode well for Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, of the Angola 3, who were convicted of Miller's 1972 death (note: Miller's widow, Leontine Verrett, now questions their guilt and has called for a new investigation into the case).
The Horse Barn: Angola loves its horses. They have quarter horses, Percherons, some thoroughbreds and mules. Again mad breeding experiments - crossing Percherons with mules and thoroughbreds - these, of course, are for sale at auction, often to law enforcement agencies.
The "Red Hat": The most chillingly evil place I have ever been. The Red Hat is a Louisiana "Historical Landmark" - it is a cement cellblock with maybe forty 8 x 8 cells. It is cold as ice regardless of the weather outside and still smells of death and suffering even though it is open to ventilation. The Red Hat was built in the 1930s and was used for disciplinary purposes and public execution. The original electric chair with its old generator and battery is there. This is the chair that failed to kill Willie Lee Francis the first time in 1947, so yes, they had to "execute" him twice. Anywhere from 6-13 inmates were thrown naked into a single cell for punishment. This facility was used until 1973! Tour guides tell the story of Charlie Frazier who murdered two guards in the cane fields and escaped. After apprehension and upon his extradition from Texas, he was put in the last cell on the left and the door and window were welded closed. He lived that way for 7 years until he became ill and died. This is supposed to be a great story of punishment and justice served.
The New Death House: Tours do not go in, but the new larger death house is further inside the property. There were complaints that it was too close to the gate and outer perimeter. There was an escape from the old death house in the late 1990s where 3 inmates made it out and off the prison property.
The Execution Chamber: Tours go right in and stand by the lethal injection table. Louisiana used the electric chair until 1991 - there is still a ventilator which was used to clear the smell of burned flesh. The witness rooms are small. Louisiana does not allow an inmate's family to witness an execution and Warden Cain edits and reads the inmate's last words. Angola owns all of you, even this.
Inmate "Dormitory": Tours walk right into and through a "typical" 90 bed dormitory as if the inmates there were invisible. A bed and a trunk for possessions is what you get. Due to state budget crunches, Angola may go to double-bunks in these dorms.
Lunch: For $3, tours can eat what the entire prison eats. The day I was there it was a grease soaked piece of fish, rice in bacon grease, a biscuit, 2 greasy cookies and some sugar flavored drink. Needless to say, we looked at the trays and went without.