Riding for a cause: Nola to Angola

A pause while riding for Nola to Angola (photo credit: Steve Merlan)

This Friday, October 13 at 8:30 AM, a group of sixty volunteer cyclists and twelve organizers will pull away from the Orleans Parish Prison. Their final destination, Angola Prison.

The ride is approximately one hundred and sixty five miles. It is split over three days. It is quite a trek, but then, that is the purpose. The yearly ride—that began in 2011—is intended to draw attention to the huge distance and many barriers that separate incarcerated individuals from their family members. Visitation is critical to both prisoners and their families, but far too often, the means to make these visits are out of reach.

This might seem like something that is far away from our own day-to-day experience, but, as Noam Sandweiss-Back—a rider from 2016 who will be taking the three-day trek this year—says, “I think a system that so deeply hurts and dehumanizes my neighbors is also a threat to my own humanity. The carceral system in Louisiana is historically and unprecedentedly massive, and it affects every person in the state.

Nola to Angola is a sponsored ride. Friends and family financially sponsor each of the riders. The money raised by each rider is donated to Cornerstone Builders Bus Project.

The Cornerstone Builders Bus Project provides free transportation to families of incarcerated peoples across Louisiana, allowing them to re-unit. “The Cornerstone Bus Program is an important resource for families who don’t have the means to travel hours away to visit their loved ones. I’m glad to support their work in a tangible way and to join Nola to Angola in its larger work to make more visible the injustices created by the system.”

Noam continues “Nola to Angola is a key financial supporter of Cornerstone. Without the ride, the bus program would be more limited. Every dollar raised by the ride goes to the bus program, which is pretty important.”

More than forty-five thousand dollars in donations were raised for this years Nola to Angola ride. With a waiting list of over two hundred people for the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project in Shreveport, this money will allow for more buses, more visits, and for more people to see their families. That second bus and increased visitation will be a direct result of this weekends efforts.

While the emphasis of the rider is on supporting the incarcerated peoples of Louisiana and their families, it is about the community of riders and other volunteers.

Noam told me about his first experience as a rider, “Nola to Angola is incredible for so many reasons…the opportunity to travel slowly through new parts of the state, the sense of purpose and support that seems to be the ride’s lifeblood. It’s a wonderfully unusual experience.”

The ride does not only raise money, but emphasizes discussion about the issues facing the incarcerated. Over the three-day ride, the organizers and community leaders address the volunteers about the struggles of incarnation, including environmental racism, police brutality, prison reform, the importance or re-entry advocacy and the lack of access to legal services.

Nola to Angola is a support organization, one that aims to elevate the goals of projects that are combating the violence and racism present in the mass incarnation system.  “Ultimately, Nola to Angola aims to support the work of building power to confront racism, violence, and mass incarceration. It seems important to build a caring community of our own in the process,” Noam explains.

Riding is not the only way to be involved!

I missed the rider registration, so I reached out the organizers and hooked myself into food prep. The riders have got to eat! If you are not into cooking, you can volunteer as a bike mechanic to help along the route, a medic to patch folks up, a masseuses to work out kinks, or as speakers or print artists to get the word out.

All of this is about community. Take it from a rider, “for three days, this little transient community forms around the ride and, because of the mission, I think there is an intensified camaraderie that emerges,” Noam says, “riders quickly learn to look out for another and a lot of people support the ride by doing everything from cooking food, setting up routes, preparing seminars on the carceral system. Last year, after our second day we rolled into camp and I couldn’t believe that a bunch of massage therapists had volunteered to drive up from New Orleans to give massages to every rider who wanted one. They stuck around until midnight, long after I had gone to sleep!”

If you want to see the riders off on Friday morning, you can meet them at Orleans Parish Prison at 8 AM for a press conference and to see them out of the city safely. I’ll be there to support riders like Noam, who ended our conversation with, “ultimately, my goal is to ride and then use the energy from the weekend to continue to plug into the work happening every day. I hope other riders and supporters can join me in that.”


To learn more, sign up to volunteer or make donations for the ride, visit www.nolatoangola.org or https://www.razoo.com/team/Ekf6xf



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