“The Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola is one of America’s most unusual prisons.”
Thus begins Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg’s report on the facility once referred to as “the bloodiest prison in America.” The comment initially refers to the 18,000 acre property’s previous existence as a southern plantation purchased with slave trade proceeds, but as the video makes clear, the uniqueness of Angola goes well beyond it’s history.
“For most of its history, Angola has been a fearsome place,” Goldberg says. “But in recent years, it has become relatively docile.”
The main reason for the change, according to Goldberg, is the man who has served as warden for 20 years, and his commitment to establishing a moral code behind bars.
“I realized pretty quick in my career that moral people don’t rape, pilfer, and steal,” says Warden Burl Cain. “Moral people aren’t criminals. The best thing I could do was get this place as moral as I could, and it would curb the violence.”
Most of the men in Angola have no chance of ever leaving the facility, which can foster a sense of hopelessness. By encouraging participation in religious programming and worship, as well as an emphasis on labor that benefits those outside, Cain has found that prisoners who have only known hopelessness now have new hope and purpose.
“The moral rehabilitation caused the hope,” says Cain.
The video features three prisoners who participate in the “Malachi Dads” program. The program, based on Malachi 4:6, (“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers …”), uses Scripture to encourage men to become better fathers to their children.
“Just because you’re locked up in prison doesn’t give you the right to not still be a father,” says George Gillam, who is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. “Healthy people … want to give back, and that’s what we do every day.”
John Sheehan, another prisoner serving a life sentence for second-degree murder, is an instructor of an auto repair class for men who will eventually leave the prison. Despite the fact that he will never leave Angola, Sheehan believes he is making a difference by teaching others who will
“These men that are sitting here at this table and working on this car—they are going home,” Sheehan says. “And if I can help change their lives so that they are going to be a father, they are going to be a husband, they are going to be a better son to their mother, then I am giving back to society. And I feel good about that.”
“Changing my life to the better is to help these young men to change their lives,” says Sheehan.
Prison Fellowship believes that all human beings have inherent value, even those behind bars. Through Christ, there is the promise of true transformation, and the renewal of hope. To learn more about the work of Prison Fellowship inside prisons across America, click here.