On August 9, 1976—two years to the day that President Richard Nixon resigned from as President of the United States—Charles Colson founded Prison Fellowship. The former Nixon adviser, who spent seven months in a federal correctional facility after pleading guilty to Watergate-related charges, left prison a changed man, committed to “remembering the prisoner” and honoring the God-given value and potential of every person affected by crime and incarceration.
“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.
What does it take to be a prison warden?
The answer to that question is rapidly shifting.
“Corrections has changed,” explains Warden Chris Hendry, Martin Correctional Institution (Indiantown, Florida). “We’re not ‘prison bosses’ anymore. We’re not in the same environment we used to be.”
When someone says “leadership,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? For some, the first image of a leader is a captain of industry—a visionary like Steve Jobs who has changed the world with innovation and an indomitable spirit.
A version of the following post originally aired as a BreakPoint commentary.
The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” He spoke from experience, having spent four years in Siberia after having his death sentence commuted.
Much has been written in this blog about Warden Burl Cain. (See here, here, and here for examples). During his nearly two decades at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the prison has shed its reputation as the “bloodiest prison in America,” and has become a model for other prisons seeking to reduce violent assaults among prisoners.
For the last 20 years, the Willow Creek Association has presented the Global Leadership Summit, a two-day event that brings together leaders from both the business and church spheres. This year the event was broadcast via satellite to over 300 venues around the world – including three locations not often considered for their leadership potential.
A controversial new plan to prepare inmates for reentry into society is being proposed in Louisiana. The idea is to move a thousand prisoners from a minimum-security prison in the state and transfer them to Angola Prison, a maximum-security prison once infamous for violence and decrepit conditions.
Burl Cain, a member of Prison Fellowship’s board of directors and the long-serving warden of Angola Prison, was recently interviewed by the Acton Institute for an article appearing on its website. Since Cain took over Angola in 1995, it’s gone from being “the bloodiest prison in America” to one of the most revolutionary.