BY Rebecca Willman Gernon
One of the toughest prisons in the U.S., if not the toughest one to serve your sentence, is the Louisiana State Prison in Angola, Louisiana. The prison is famous not only for its rodeo, which is held every weekend in April and October, but also for the violence that occurs there. While it is nothing to be proud of, Angola, as people in Louisiana call the prison, is the largest maximum security prison in the world. Yes, the world! Over 6000 men are confined in cell blocks, dorms, and other facilities on over 18,000 acres. (28 square miles.)
Outside the entrance gate is a small museum. Old Sparky is on display, along with a variety of shims, knives, and other weapons confiscated from prisoners, and a mock-up of the current execution chamber. Rather grisly, but fodder for writers.
How do I know so much about this place? For the past 12 years, the Sicilian and I have made the 2-hour drive to Angola to visit his cousin who was sent there as a result of Louisiana’s “3 times you’re out law.” (For the cousin; multiple drug charges) Three to four times a year, we’ve had breakfast at Angola. Surprisingly, the food is not that bad. Nothing close to 5 star dining, just decent grub at reasonable prices. The food does not come in a blue Tiffany box, just on a flimsy paper plate.
In the main visiting area, a number of the clubs in the prison (Toastmasters, Toy Shoppe, Literary Club, Sober Group, Malachi Fathers, and Muslim Brotherhood to name a few) each cook a special menu. Pizza one place, breakfast another. Stuffed potatoes, sandwiches, and the best caramel popcorn. Popping corn fills the huge visiting area with an irresistible aroma. The money earned allows the workers to buy extras for their fellow inmates: TVs, exercise equipment, etc.
Yesterday was not visiting day, but we were at Angola before 8 a.m. Three other family members had arrived before us. The huge visiting area which can seat over three hundred people was vacant except for two other tables where other nervous families and friends waited with their inmate for the big day: a parole hearing.
One food section was open serving juice, sodas, and baked potatoes. Too nervous to eat, we drank coffee. Two hours passed.
Parole hearing: 20 minutes. Release granted. Tears. hugs. Prayers answered. Relief. A great day.
Now only one more trip to Angola: to bring the cousin home. There will be no breakfast at Angola. Waffle House and freedom await someone who has been incarcerated for 20 years.