Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola, is a maximum-security prison farm located around 50 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. Angola is located on an 18,000-acre property that was once the Angola Plantation. It is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States with 6,300 prisoners and 1,800 staff members, including corrections officers, wardens, janitors, and maintenance. 85% of prisoners at Angola are serving life-time sentences, where the average sentence is 89.9 years with almost no chance of parole.
Unlike most prisons, Angola is almost entirely self-supporting. Inmates cultivate, harvest, and process an array of crops each year, producing four million pounds of vegetables. The crops include cabbage, corn, onions, strawberries, and tomatoes. Any additional crops are donated to local food banks in the area.
Twice a year, the Louisiana State Penitentiary holds the Angola Rodeo. The Angola Rodeo first opened in 1965 as entertainment for the prisoners and the employees. In 1967, the rodeo became open to the public for the first time.
The rodeo quickly became a huge success. All proceeds from the rodeo cover its expenses and subsidize the inmate welfare fund, which provides inmates with educational and recreational resources. In 2001, the Rodeo Committee chose to donate the remaining proceeds to build a non-denominational chapel in one of Angola’s housing units. Since then, all proceeds have been allocated for the rodeo and the construction of chapels within the prison.
The goal of the rodeo is to create positive behavior changes in inmates. There is a Fall Rodeo that runs every Sunday in October and a Spring Rodeo that runs on the third Saturday and Sunday in April. The Rodeo begins at 9:00 AM with an arts and crafts fair and concludes with the actual event that starts at 2:00 PM.
The arts and crafts fair includes jewelry, paintings, leather goods, and woodwork made by the inmates and available for purchase. Rodeo events include bareback riding, bull riding, and wild cow milking. Tickets are $20 and are available online or by calling (225) 655-2607.
Angola also features its own magazine and radio station. Angola is the only penitentiary in the U.S. to be issued an FCC license to operate a radio station. KSLP, or the “Incarceration Station,” is operated solely by inmates to potential listeners including other inmates and penitentiary staff. All of the music that is played on KSLP is donated, and daily airtime is 20 hours. The radio station plays a variety of gospel, bluegrass, and golden oldies. The station has promoted a calming influence in the inmates’ lives. Mr. Sutton, or DJ Shaq on KSLP, said, “It’s a familiar voice, a voice they trust. Every morning, you get up and think, ‘Hey, there’s a purpose.’”
Many inmates believe that KLSP provides a sense of community, even pride because it is a positive daily influence. With 85% of prisoners at Angola serving life-time sentences, time can move quite slowly. However, KLSP helps inmates pass the time by listening to positive gospel music and information.
Visiting Angola allows the public to gain insight to Louisiana’s mass incarceration problem. Louisiana has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the United States, with 816 people in prison for every 100,000 residents. The rate is nearly double the national average.
In addition, nearly 35,700 people are incarcerated today. The number of prisoners has grown 30 times faster than the state’s population since the late 1970s. By visiting Angola, one is able to gain personal insight into Louisiana’s mass incarceration epidemic.
Organizations like Nola to Angola offer the ability for people to get involved with Angola Prison. This year Nola to Angola will be adding a new bike ride to their usual fall ride.
Nola to Angola is a long-distance, solidarity bike ride established in 2011 to raise funds for the Cornerstone Builders‘ Bus Project. In partnership with RUBARB and Bike Easy, they are putting on a “Cookout and Ride for Prison Justice.” The cookout will be held on April 7, and the meet-up spot is at City Park Shelter #1. This will be an 8-mile social ride starting at 10:00 AM with the cookout at 2:00 PM. You can register at nolatoangola.org and you can learn more about Nola to Angola with the interview with Katie Hunter-Lowery here.