Visiting A Modern Day Slave
--An Interview With Nancy A. Heitzeg
Nancy A. Heitzeg, Ph.D is a Professor of Sociology and Program Co-Director, Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity at St Catherine University in
Nancy A. Heitzeg: I was at
I should say that it is surprisingly simple to get a tour at
A3N: What happened during the tour?
NAH: The tour is quite extensive—we were there for 6 hours—and consisted of the following stops/activities:
§ Guard/employee Village: A small “town”—built by inmates of course—house about 200 employees that live and work there with their families. Kids are bused in and out of the prison gates to outside schools. The town sits in the shadow of the Warden’s new mansion atop a high hilltop—built again by inmate labor.
§ The Dog Kennels:
§ Point Look-Out: The inmate cemetery for those whose bodies are not claimed and removed by relatives after death.
§ The Horse Barn:
§ The “Red Hat”: The most chillingly evil place I have ever been. The Red Hat is a
§ The New Death House: Tours do not go in, but the new larger death house is further inside the property. There were complaints that it was too close to the gate and outer perimeter. There was an escape from the old death house in the late 1990s where 3 inmates made it out and off the prison property.
§ The Execution Chamber: Tours go right in and stand by the lethal injection table.
§ Inmate “Dormitory”: Tours walk right into and through a “typical” 90 bed dormitory as if the inmates there were invisible. A bed and a trunk for possessions is what you get. Due to state budget crunches,
§ Lunch: For $3, tours can eat what the entire prison eats. The day I was there it was a grease soaked piece of fish, rice in bacon grease, a biscuit, 2 greasy cookies and some sugar flavored drink. Needless to say, we looked at the trays and went without.
§ Visit with the editor of The Angolite: This takes place in the
§ Radio Station: The “Incarceration Station” broadcasts live to all seven prison complexes at
§ Museum/Gift Shop: Here are many lots of displays of Angola’s history—weapons, a section on the Red Hat, the “heeling” incident, and “Gruesome Gertie,” which is the last electric chair, with photos of all executed inmates since 1981—the most recent in January 2010. There is a rodeo display, a section in
A3N: How much do you think things have changed since
NAH: The tours are apparently part of Warden Burl Cain’s efforts to make
But many questions remain about what is unseen or unspoken unless you directly ask. Inmates still try to escape and as many as 1200 inmates—about 20% of the total population of over 5100—are in administrative segregation/lock-down at the notorious
If allowed to, inmates also offer a critique of The World Famous Angola Rodeo, where inmates participate for cash prizes at great risk. There have been several inmate deaths at the rodeo as well as extreme injuries and on-going chronic conditions. Inmates are allowed to sell crafts at the rodeo but the Warden/prison takes a 20% cut. The rodeo makes approximately $1 million each weekend in October as the new arena (built by inmates in short order under Cain’s directive) seats 10,000. This is just one of several money-making endeavors at
Despite the supposedly benign tour, both students and I were horrified. There is a cavalier attitude, a blasé’ acceptance of capital punishment, mass incarceration and of course little critique of the class and race dynamics of the inmate population—80% of whom are black and nearly all of whom were poor, under-educated and dependent on a public defender at trial. There is passive acceptance and even sometimes celebration of
Those who want to learn more should watch the films --The Farm and The Farm: 10 Years Down. A word of caution though: while much is revealed, they do, in my estimation, especially in the second film, over-estimate an inmate’s chances of leaving Angola and “success” of the moralistic program imposed by Warden Cain. The stories of George Crawford and Vincent Simmons are much more typical than those of Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Tannehill.
A3N: Many people call
My interest in
Slave Codes became Black Codes and criminalized a range of activities if the perpetrator was black. The newly acquired 15th Amendment right to vote was curtailed by tailoring of felony disenfranchisement laws to include crimes that were supposedly more frequently committed by blacks. And, the liberatory promise of the 13th Amendment – “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the
The patterns established in the old south have proliferated and expanded throughout the
--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.