Even Medical Care Of Prisoners Run By ‘The Regime’

Prison doctor positions X-ray film on chest of inmate to do tuberculosis testing. Photo courtesy of Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum
Prison doctor positions X-ray film on chest of inmate to do tuberculosis testing. Photo courtesy of Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum

Old General Hospital at Camp-A. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum
Old General Hospital at Camp-A. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum

The Item (July 15, 1943) Part 9

By “Wooden Ear”

John Blue had succeeded from escaping from Angola. He was recaptured in Quincy, Ill., some months later and brought back.

Despite the fact that he was over the 60-mark and enfeebled, he was placed in the “red hat” gang, and to work in the fields.

John lasted two days and died. “Sun stroke” was held the cause.

This writer apprised the then Captain Louis Long, of Camp E, of Blue’s death.

“That’s jist my luck,” moaned the captain. “A allus waz unlucky that way! The old so-and-so ups and dies on me before I git a chance to kill him! An’ I only got to put the bat on him jist once!”

Not even the deposed president of the Louisiana state university was exempt from the wrath of Warden Green.

Contrary to all prison policies—which inclines toward letting a man once convicted, serve out his sentence sans publicity and in penitence, Warden Green permitted a photographer from a national press service to enter Angola to take a photo of an inmate in prison stripes at work in the cane field.

The reaction to this, as expressed by many people, showed Green’s barbarism for what it was—a desire not to run a penitentiary according to accepted principles, but to conduct it according to the wishes of his political co-horts.

Deaths from “sun stroke” became so frequent that the prison physician issued an order that salt was to be placed in all the drinking water for the men out in the fields, and that each foreman (this latter was Green’s innovation) was to carry a thermometer with him—when a man became overheated he was allowed to rest!

Drinking water became brackish and undrinkable! The salt was sketchily dumped in by an inmate who neither knew nor cared about the quantity!

The thermometer became known by the convicts as “blow sticks,” it being thought by the foremen that if a man “blew on them hard enough” the mercury would rise, showing the man to have a fever whether he did or not.

One foreman carried a thermometer from which the mercury had been emptied. It was certain that never any of his men “got sick.”

The venture had to be finally abandoned because so few of the foremen could read or understand the thermometer markings!

Smith, as manager of the penitentiary, had entered into a contract with a dentist in Baton Rouge for the dental care and treatment of convicts at Angola.

The contract, however, specified that the dentist was to extract teeth only, on the state’s bill—that any other work he did on his monthly visits was to be paid for by the convict himself.

The dentist, Dr. Lament, was an adept at extraction—often pulling two or three where one would suffice—he was paid $1 for each extraction!

And he was not above buying, for ten or fifteen cents apiece, the gold crowns off the teeth he had pulled!

His “other work” often amounted to tidy sum, even though his bill for a Sunday’s tooth-pulling often went over $75. He made dentures, did fillings, and other dental work for which a stiff price was charged.

Protested, Got Beating

Alfred Davis was a war veteran. He received a monthly pension of about $40 from the government.

Alfred had all of his teeth pulled at the insistence of Dr. Lament and was fitted with dentures.

When the “store teeth” arrived Davis tried them. They did not fit to his satisfaction. He had paid $45 in advance and was to have paid an additional $45 to Dr. Lament.

He refused to accept the plates despite threats of the dentist.

He was finally punished with the “bat” at Dr. Lament’s behest, and compelled to sign over the $45 balance!

The medical side of Angola had progressed. From the first pseudo-physician, who had resigned, there followed a succession of doctors … most of them humane men, but handicapped in the performance of their duties by Warden Green.

One year the state employed a physician and surgeon by the name of Dr. Dane. Young Dr. Dane quickly demonstrated both his skill and his devotion to the cause of humanity by the way he cared for his patients.

A Negro had been brought to the hospital by Dr. Dane. He had been blasted with buckshot in the chest. It was alleged that he had tried to escape. He was so far gone that none expected him to live.

Dr. Dane immediately rigged up a bed and weights and pulleys to restrict the man’s movements … to hold him rigid and to prevent pulmonary hemmorrhage. He worked unceasingly with his patient and finally, after a week-long battle, the Negro was convalescent.

“You Ask Me First”

The following conversation took place within earshot of this writer:

Warden Green: “Whenever you have a case you think you ought to bring to the hospital, you call me up and ask for my permission. I’ll tell you whether I want the man in the hospital or not.”

Dr. Dane: “Am I to assume, Warden, that if a man is dying in the field, you want me to call you first?”

Warden Green: “That’s absolutely right!”

Dr. Dane: “Then Warden, I do not believe it is the place for any man to dictate to a physician his duty, rather than that I shall resign.”

Warden Green: “You can d— well quit right now and get off the farm!”

Winn “Knuckled Under”

Needless to say, Dr. Dane resigned, and his loss was felt by all the inmates.

His place was taken by a Dr. Winn, who came to the penitentiary from Florida.

Dr. Winn was young, but his medical knowledge proved susceptible to the admonitions of Warden Green. He “knuckled under” right from the start! The following will evidence:

John Frances Catho was committed to the penitentiary from Orleans Parish in 1937 for forgery. Catho was an educated man. The mental aberrance which caused his downfall need not be related here. Suffice to say that he was in very poor physical condition. He had, he told Dr. Winn, stomach ulcers.

Catho quickly failed to do his task in the field. He was lashed unmercifully by foremen.

In a letter to Warden Green, a copy of which is still on file in his dossier, Catho begged his legal guardian for medical treatment, explaining his ailment.

Catho was examined the following day by Dr. Winn. The physician’s report is almost verbatim as follows: “I examined this man. He says he suffers from stomach ulcers and is unable to hold any food on his stomach. I have never observed him in the act. I think he is malingering and is well able to perform the necessary tasks out in the field.”

Two days later Catho died. His wife, who resided in Palestine, Tex., was not notified of his death until after he had been buried in the prison cemetery.

(More details of the shameful conditions which have been allowed to exist at Angola in recent years will be given in subsequent articles in this series, written by a former inmate.)

Next issue: ‘Brutal Bill’ Cures Epilepsy With Beatings

Hell On Angola – The Wooden Ear Series
Ex – Inmate Tells Of Brutalities
Slow workers scream as ‘The Bat’ goes to work
Kicks, Curses Part Of ‘Convict Guards’ Cruelty
Bugs, Heat, Dirt Give Little Chance To Sleep
A New Warden: Prisoners Get Holiday To Mourn For Politico
Reward Guards For Killing
Work Goes On In The Rain
Death For Some: Many Bear Scars On Mind and Body
Even Medical Care Of Prisoners Run By ‘The Regime’
‘Brutal Bill’ Cures Epilepsy With Beatings
New Warden Arrives And Hope For Better Days Lies Ahead
Mess Hall Walkout Brings End Of Starvation Diet Era
Politics Alone Can’t Eliminate All Evils Of ‘The System’
Can Happen Again; Only The Ballot Box Holds Answer