Angola, Louisiana State Penitentiary: A Half-Century of Rage and Reform
by Anne Butler and C. Murray Henderson
“Who but Anne Butler, with her meticulous probing research and her gentle moving style, her vividly complete and colorful characterizations and her social conscience, could uncover for us the spark of humanity in even coldblooded killers and make us care so deeply. She is one of the best writers in Louisiana today, and her books all matter, whether they are preserving the past or urging change for the future. This one matters a great deal.” –Damon Veach, syndicated columnist and author
“There is rich and important material here. Our prison system and the way we handle those we consider criminals are among the greatest challenges facing our society today. Murray Henderson’s experience in leading one of the country’s most notorious prisons out of the Dark Ages should arouse interest and concern in both the past and present conditions of our prisons.” –Wilma Dykeman, historian and award-winning author
One tried to swim his way out, masquerading in woman’s finery that dragged him beneath the raging waters of the Mississippi River. Others tried to rehabilitate their ways out, only to find themselves after all still mired inescapably in the turbulent murky quagmire of Louisiana politics. Yet others tried merciless self-mutilation to rivet the attention of the press and an uncaring public upon brutalities of the system, and this worked, but only briefly.
Louisiana’s immense and infamous state penitentiary called Angola held them all. The more they struck out in despair and desperation and yes, violence, in protest against the system and the place, the more tightly it clutched them.
And so the ones who are not dead are still in there, their fascinating stories providing heartrending glimpses into what it was like to grow up black and deprived in South Louisiana and awaken to the dichotomy between what life promised and what it actually delivered. And yet, these stories are as universal as they are unique, for in every penal system in the country may be found similar cases. Each case has been carefully chosen to represent certain facets and failings in the American criminal justice system.
At a time in the late sixties when it was at the height of its “knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out” days, Angola was considered one of the nation’s worst, a brutal world of violence and intrigue, political abuse and racial turmoil, where one in ten inmates would suffer stab wounds annually and others slept with thick mail-order catalogues taped to the chest to deflect knives at night. Nationally respected professional penologist C. Murray Henderson was hired to clean up the country’s largest maximum-security penitentiary, and his comments following each fascinating chapter give intimate details from the inside and an expert’s perspective on what we must do to make our criminal justice system work.
Softcover, 180 pp., ©1990