ANGOLA, LA (WAFB) - Highway 66 dead ends at a prison, and some folks don’t get to turn around.
“It hardens you and it softens you, as a man,” said Dewitt Eames, one of the people who didn’t get to U-turn. Eames is a convicted murderer, sentenced to life.
But in the last 15 years at Angola, he’s become more than that. Now, he’s a teacher.
“It helped me, being able to teach these guys, knowing that I can give back to society,” Eames said. “When they go out, they’ll reflect me. I took away from society.”
The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is piloting a mentorship program, where 80 of its lifers teach 160 non-violent offenders social and vocational skills that can help them get jobs after their sentences are served.
Friday, the prison hosted a symposium about re-entry that showed off Angola’s unique rehabilitation programs.
Assistant Warden Gary Young took a group of more than 50 interested Louisianans on a bus tour around the massive prison.
“If we don’t do everything in our power to give these guys an honest, good shot to be successful back in society, then we’re not doing our job,” he said.
The bus made its lone stop at the auto shop, one of a handful of learning facilities where prisoners get an education with the same tools and equipment they might use outside the barbed wire.
“Our goal is public safety,” Assistant Secretary of Corrections Rhett Covington said. “The best way to do that is to prepare the inmates for a life after incarceration. It has to go beyond lock and feed, just warehousing people. We have to actually train them.”
Covington says the corrections department is looking at ways to implement the program at other prisons. He says Louisiana prisons were designed to be dormitories instead of learning facilities, which means the state would have to invest in its prisons in order for the program to work on a larger scale.
“We hope people will see the success of this program and want to scale it up,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding. Recidivism rates are down.”
If re-arrest rates continue to drop for former Angolites, he hopes the state will buy in, making sure that the people who do get to leave are not simply leaving, they’re turning around.