Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola

By Matt Williams - bio | email

They called her "Gruesome Gertie." It was an inmate-given nickname for the electric chair that once sat at the end of a long hallway at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. It served as the end of the road for some of our state's most violent offenders over the decades. And to be sure, Angola has seen its share of violence.

"It was very violent and a bloody prison, horrible place to be in," said Burden Cain, warden at Angola.

You can see a lot of that history in the prison museum. It was crafted out of an old bank building and expanded into the most visited museum in the state. The inmate weapons display is certainly an attention grabber. Then, of course, there are the tours inside.

"We tour about a thousand people a month. Bring through at-risk kids, school kids, two busses a day," Cain said.

The prison is filled with stories of what was. There are lessons for the generations to come, including the red hat, an old cell block built in 1932 for the worst of the worst.

"We want all these tours to see where we've been," said Gary Young. "This is a very visual effect of that, so we don't go back down that same road again."

Times have changed at Angola. It is the largest prison in the country. It expands over 18,000 acres and contains plenty of resources to transform inmates and benefit the community the prison sits right in the heart of.

"We all work together. We're all one. Our resources are their resources. Theirs are ours," Cain said.

Angola is an agricultural prison. It has 2,000 head of cattle. Inmates raise corn, cotton, wheat and soybeans. About 4 million lbs. of vegetable crops are grown every year.

"They're all utilized in our daily culinary operations and now, we supply other state prisons with farm fresh vegetables," Young said.

This is the only prison in the country with a fire department that has its own fire house number and it's not just the prison the firefighters watch over.

"We respond to fires in the north end of the parish. Our ambulances also respond to people in the north end if they have problems," Cain said.

The prison is filled with all the sights you'd expect to see like watch towers, razor wire, guns and inmates. However, it's the differences here that make it unique. From the big river and those that patrol the smaller waters to the opportunities inside for not just for the offenders, but the community as well.

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