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Friday, January 7, 2011

Angola Prison - A Vacation Destination?

A prison might not sound like an ideal place for a field trip, but if that prison is Louisiana State Penitentiary, it’s certainly possible. Yesterday I received a reference request from a current resident of the institution, and I realized that I didn’t really know much about the place. I’d passed an “Angola” road sign on the way to Baton Rouge once and knew that it had a reputation as one of the rougher prisons, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So, I set out to learn.

More commonly referred to as Angola, the prison is currently the largest maximum security facility in the country, covering 18,000 acres, and has some interesting characteristics not commonly found at other prisons. For instance, there’s a prison rodeo that takes place each year in April and October. For one weekend in April and every weekend in October, thousands of people flood through Angola’s guarded gates to watch prisoners show off their cowboy skills. They also get the opportunity to view and purchase crafts produced by inmates. Apparently, it’s a popular event, drawing over 70,000 spectators each year. Inmates also publish a magazine called The Angolite, run a gospel radio station (the only FCC licensed radio station on the grounds of a maximum security prison), and have a television station.

Many of the prison’s employees live onsite, and to improve the quality of their lives, the administration has built several amenities, including tennis courts, parks, and a 9-hole golf course called Prison View. Opened in June 2004, Prison View is the only golf course on the property of an American prison. It’s open to the public, and the cost to play is $20, which includes cart rental. Inmates aren’t allowed to use the course, but they do help maintain it.

There’s a prison museum, where visitors can see the original electric chair used by the prison for executions, authentic inmate contraband, and officer’s weapons. The museum also contains old maps of the penitentiary, records of the first inmates, inmate and officer uniforms AND a gift shop.

And then there are the tours that I mentioned earlier. A regular tour entails a visit to the museum, the historic “Red Hat” cell block where the most dangerous and violent prisoners used to be confined, a cell block or dormitory at Camp F (still in use to house inmates), lunch at Camp F (where you can eat what the prisoners eat), and the lethal injection table. Additionally, offender speakers are also available for a question and answer session with approved groups. They do offer tours to school groups, as well as churches and criminal justice professionals, according to the prison’s official website. Granted, it’s probably not the type of tour suitable for kindergarteners, though, with that stop by the lethal injection table and all.


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