Since 2011, Nola to Angola has been uniting people in a 170-mile solidarity bike ride from Municipal Court in the shadow of Orleans Parish Prison to Angola Prison, and that solidarity extends way beyond the miles trekked on the ride. The ride focuses on bringing people together, no matter what barriers try to separate them. We talked with one of the organizers, Katie Hunter-Lowrey, to find out what the ride entails from the beginning to the end.
Q: How would you describe the impact that Nola to Angola has?
KHL: Nola to Angola is currently Cornerstone Builder Bus project’s main source of funding. Cornerstone runs free busses for friends and families of incarcerated folks to go visit their loved ones. This is especially crucial around the holidays and for people who do not have the funds to travel on their own. For so long, income and economics have been a barrier to connecting folks on the inside to folks on the outside. That means phone calls, visitations, and sending money to spend in the commissary.
These rides are crucial to keep families connected with people who are still part of their family unit, but are physically separated for a little bit or a long period of time.
The money that Nola to Angola raises each year is absolutely instrumental to Cornerstone’s operations and the lives they are able to impact. It’s really wonderful to be able to be an organization that supports a specific and dedicated mission of a group that is part of the community, knows what they’re doing, and it is a chance for mostly white folks to be actual allies. We can extend to our communities and explain that this may not be an issue that impacts your life, but it is an issue that impacts lots of communities, and here is how you can be an actual, real support.
Q: What information about Nola to Angola or the Cornerstone Bus project would you like to see covered that never gets covered?
KHL: The idea that this project could be a model for so many different places and so many different ideas doesn’t often get covered. It’s truly a way to raise money and connect communities that may have more access to wealth to issues or ideas that do not normally affect them personally. There are so many different components where our riders can reach out to their communities (whether they are here, across the states, or worldwide) and bring this issue to their attention.
Meanwhile, in addition to talking on the ride about reform of prisons, we are also talking about environmentalism. We are talking about cycling. We are talking about the history of Louisiana. There’s a real intersectionality there that makes it such a great experience for everyone.
Q: Tell us about Leo Jackson.
KHL: Leo is amazing. He’s a minister, Minister Leo Jackson. He’s been with Second Zion Baptist Church for eight going on nine years. In addition to the Cornerstone busses, he also has a work-release program for recently released folks, and he also mentors children of incarcerated parents.
He works so hard and is so inspiring while also being incredibly sweet and humble.
He spent thirty-two year in Angola. His connection to that place is ever present in those ways. He got released and immediately started giving back in ways where he saw gaps.
Q: What do the riders experience when they arrive at Angola prison?
KHL: The ride intentionally goes to Angola during the month October because that is when the Angola Prison Rodeo is happening. That is the time of year when the public is let into the prison grounds. We don’t attend the rodeo, but we absolutely encourage riders to head into the craft fair and talk to folks who are selling their wares and do what you feel is a completion to the miles you just rode.
What will you get out of the conversations with people who make some of the only money that they’ll make that year at the craft fair? We have riders who have pen pals, who can go find their pen pal and catch up with them in person or take other riders and introduce them. We have a good relationship with the Angolite, the newspaper at Angola, so we stop and chat with those guys.
It’s a lot. There are a lot of emotions to walk into a space after what has been a couple of days knowing that you get to walk out and leave and so many of these people don’t. It’s a lot to think about and a lot to talk about.