Can Happen Again; Only The Ballot Box Holds Answer
Old Receiving Station sat near today’s warden’s house, circa 1940. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum
Famous prisoner: Former LSU president and convicted embezzler, Dr. James M. Smith, sentenced to 8 to 24 years, in prison stripes cutting sugar cane, circa 1939. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum
The Angola Argus of February 15, 1941, Louisiana State Penitentiary’s newspaper. Courtesy of Angolite archives
The Item (July 21, 1943) Part 14
By “Wooden Ear”
On Angola today are still remnants—officials—who were part and parcel of the old regime of terror, murder and brutality. Their hands are red with the blood of inmates who have given their lives to the old system. “Brutal Bill” Morris is one—S.H. Rolley is another—and there are many others.
What reason, logical, political or otherwise, can be given for the continuance of these men in office?
Guard System Exists
The convict guard system still exists, too. This last infamous blotch on an otherwise good record has caused at least wanton death under the “new regime” to this writer’s personal knowledge. Guards are still being carried on the rolls whose chief claim to the status is that they were murderers before being sent to Angola. The system, with all its many ramifications and abuses, should be once and for all abolished.
It may be argued that the penitentiary is motivated by economy in hiring these turncoats at $2 per month. If so, then again the decision is forced; whether human life and limb must be cheapened in favor of profits!
Law With Teeth Is Needed
Corporal punishment? Beatings and maimings? They will NEVER be abolished so long as an edict only is in force. The state legislature MUST pass a law with teeth in it to forever abolish this sadism and brutality from Angola. It has crept back to some extent under the Jones administration; it may be in full force and effect under any other unless laws are so designed which will prevent the practice.
Warden Blaze has not a thousand eyes to see all that goes on at Angola. A flogging at a camp now—the use of a stick or a rope—the “epsom salts” strapping-up methods, all these things are unknown to him.
It Can Happen Again
Even today a prisoner might be murdered in cold blood by a convict guard, in some out-of-the-way spot on Angola. The report, naturally, would show “escape” or some similar white-wash. Three or four convict-guard witnesses, and word of the captain or foreman who had ordered the killing, this would be enough—the burial would be held, and another’s life added to the long list.
(It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this HAS and CAN again happen today on Angola! No thorough investigation of a killing of this nature has ever been made by the parish coroner. His “jury” is always picked from Angola officials!)
And they are unknown because convicts, today, are gradually being brought back to the old status of fear—they will not tell him because they fear the remnants of the old, brutal regime which have been carried over.
Why Must They Pay?
Why must Angola be a political football? Why must the unfortunates sentenced there, year after year, pay the price of politics? Why cannot a well-ordered program of rehabilitation—of humanity—be instituted and maintained? Why are these “old regime” sadists continued in office?
These are questions which must be answered, but they can only be answered by the ballot. It would be well for the progress of Louisiana if every candidate for the office of governor included a plank in his platform to abolish brutality and politics from Angola!
There is a sign over the prison graveyard which consists of a scant acre of ground in an out-of-the-way spot. It reads: “Though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
But to those unfortunates who occupy numbered plots under the cypress trees—those who died that Angola might continue to exist free of cost to the Louisiana taxpayer—the sign is a mockery. They would question whether it was not the sins of the “old regime” referred to in the quotation.
And these pitiful, unattended graves, mutely plead that Angola—once the “Devil’s Island”—the Siberia of Dixie, may not, God willing, slip back into its former days.