Angola Prison: A Place of Encouragement

Link / External content not produced by TOW Project

How did what Life magazine called America's bloodiest prison become a center of rehabilitation, a place of encouragement, and a model for states around the country? Warden Burl Cain never let go of the biblical promise that people can change, even people convicted of murder, rape, armed robbery and habitual felon. He changed the culture of Louisiana's Angola prison from "lock and feed" to "correct the deviant behavior and get them back out into the community to prevent more victims of violent crime." Moral education is the key to the change, he says. "If you teach people skills and trades without the moral component, you just made a smarter criminal. You have to change the person. Overcoming hopelessness is crucial. The lack of hope is our greatest enemy. Most religions believe in life after death. So if you believe in life after death, then it's not hopeless here."

Warden Cain welcomes corrections officers from other states who want to learn from Angola's experience. But these days he has to turn down offers from citizens who want to become chaplains in the prison. The prisoners themselves are more skilled. "You've got these inmates that have this four-year seminary degree, and they know more about the Bible than the guy trying to teach them. So we try to divert them to other places without hurting their feelings."

Preaching is only one of the many vocations the prisoners have taken up. Four of the inmates advanced so far in generator and diesel school that they were sent to Plaquemines Parish (county) after the flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac. "So you have four lifers living in Plaquemines Parish, working and fixing things on the Bayou and getting those generators up and running. The largest one they worked on so far is a 250 Kilowatts, which is large enough to run a pretty small town. So that shows some of the leadership of the people here who do have the life sentence. And what's sad is, prison should be a place for predators and not dying old men."

Cain's next goal is to convince legislators that longer sentences and harsher treatment are not the most effective way to protect the community from violent crime. Click here to read the entire article on the website of the Religion & Liberty journal.