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Angola is the Louisiana State Penitentiary and is estimated to be the largest prison in the U.S. with 5,000 inmates and over 1,000 staff. Located on an 18,000 acre (73 km²) plantation close to the Mississippi border, it is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, making flooding a constant menace.
The land that has become Angola Penitentiary was purchased by Isaac Franklin from Francis Routh during the 1830s with the profits from his slave trading firm, Armfield and Franklin, of Alexandria, Virginia and Natchez, Mississippi as four contiguous plantations. These plantations, Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola, were joined during their sale by Franklin's widow, Adelicia Hayes, to Samuel Lawrence James in 1880. Samuel James ran the plantation using convicts leased from the State of Louisiana. The State of Louisiana only assumed full control in 1901. In 1916 to save money, all the guards were fired, and selected inmates were used as trustees, a system which led to a great deal of abuse.
By the 1950s, Angola had degenerated to become one of the very worst prisons in the U.S. In 1952, 31 inmates cut their Achilles tendons in protest of the hard work and brutality. Conditions improved—only to worsen again in the 1960s as the corrections budget was cut.
In 1972, a reforming director of corrections was appointed by Governor Edwin Edwards, and the U.S. courts ordered Louisiana to clean up Angola once and for all. Successive wardens have continued the improvements, and Angola is now regarded as a showcase among U.S. penal establishments. Current Warden Burl Cain maintains an open-door policy with the media, which led to the production of the award winning documentary The Farm. Films such as Dead Man Walking and Monster's Ball were partly filmed in Angola.
Indeed, Angola is still run as a working farm, and Cain once said that the key to running a peaceful maximum security prison was that "you've got to keep the inmates working all day so they're tired at night."
The prison hosts a rodeo every October, and its inmates produce the award winning magazine The Angolite, available to the general public and free to publish whatever it chooses. There is also a museum which features among its exhibits Louisiana's old electric chair, "Gruesome Gertie", last used for the execution of Andrew Lee Jones on 22 July 1991.
Among the famous inmates in Angola is rapper C-Murder, who was transferred there from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Facility after Hurricane Katrina.
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Angola Prison RodeoIncludes history, tickets, dates, events and information.
Louisiana State Penitentiary MuseumThe gateway to Angola. Includes museum hours and information.