New Warden Arrives And Hope For Better Days Lies Ahead

View from prison front gate, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum.
View from prison front gate, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of LSP Museum.

The Item (July 17, 1943) Part 11

By “Wooden Ear”

There is a silver lining to the dark clouds of the dark days which needs telling, and which, in itself, is a refutation of the thought that humanness has no place—had no place—on Angola.

It concerns an official who came to Angola in 1930, as he told it, to “stay a few weeks.”

He installed and put into operation the automobile license plate plant which has, since that year manufactured millions of tags of all descriptions for Louisiana and for other states.

During the years of “hell,” when the life of an Angola inmate was reckoned in terms of so many pounds of potatoes or sugar cane, this official’s plant where license plates were made was a haven of peace and security.

It was the most sought after place of employment for a white man on the farm.

One Quiet Haven

This official, whose name may be written here without fiction, was James W. Redpath.

When men were being killed by overwork, sun stroke and brutality out in the fields, the work at the license plate plant progressed from day to day, week to week, without ever a harsh word being spoken.

When the tables were so scant of their fare that the men were literally starving to death, Redpath many times went down into his own pocket and bought foodstuff and fed his workers.

Weep at His Funeral

His record, for an Angola official, stands out sharp and clear. During all the years, and with from 50 to 100 men working for him every day, Redpath had no man punished. It was unnecessary. His workers, from the illiterate porter to the die-maker, all realized that Redpath was fair and square; they treated him in that manner.

Redpath died in 1941—quietly in his sleep—and a host of inmates filed past his bier and shed unashamed tears at his passing. Their floral tribute was an expression of love and reverance for a man who had been their friend.

Redpath’s method was no secret. He once told this writer: “All they need to think of—these officials—is the saying, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.'”

The political upset experienced by the state of Louisiana reverberated to the nethermost corners of Angola. Following the undreamed of shakeup of governors, the question on the lips of all Angola officials was: “How long are we going to stay?”

Political fences, which had long gone neglected, began to be patched. Long service to the “old regime” began to be hastily buried. Despite the fact that but three votes had been cast at the Angola voting booth for the new governor, there was scarcely an official but claimed to not alone voted, but to have campaigned for him!

And the charge began even before the present administration took office.

Warden Green, because of a political defection—a last minute attempt to switch affiliations—was ousted from his guardianship. A state senator, who was a “lame duck” was installed.

Whereupon Warden Green was immediately appointed to the post of “farm superintendent” and continued at his old salary, $500 per month, plus his same emoluments.

It was known that the state senator would only hold office for two months—until Governor Jones took over—so his tenure at Angola was more or less laughable.

His almost daily edicts, issued in the form of letters to the heads of the various Angola camps, went unheeded by the order of former Warden Green!

When he approached a group of free employees they would either turn their backs on him or cut him short with a few words. It was accepted that Warden Green would be back in the saddle as soon as Governor Jones took office—that the old Angola regime would be continued in full force and effect.

Green, himself, fostered this impression. His word was handed around to all: “just bide your time—everything will be smoothed out—Green will be back as warden and all our jobs will be safe.”

So far as any benefit either Angola or the state may have received from the tenure of the state senator as warden, the $1000 he was paid for his two months in office may well have been saved. Toward the last, realizing that he was not being obeyed, the man gave up and “sat out” the balance of his term—content to draw salary for doing nothing!

The “old regime” employees were glad for one thing, at least: While they had fought the election of Governor Jones tooth and nail, the “deduct” system was to be abolished. These employees who had virtually sold their souls for the almighty dollar with their killings and brutality, were glad because the monthly 10 to 20 percent would not be clipped from their stipends henceforth!

The Angola “Deduct”

A word on the Angola “deduct” system would be enlightening to many, now that the nefarious practice has gone:

Nelson Bones, then warehouse superintendent, was placed in charge of the “deduct” collections. Each month the word was telephoned to the different units that the organization would require 10, 15, 20 and sometimes as high as 25 percent of the monthly pay check.

Thereupon, after the salary checks arrived, a reasonable time was allowed for the checks to be cashed, following which the money was handed to Bones in person.

Other shakedowns included presents for Warden Green, and special deductions for special political purposes including the subscription to a weekly political paper then published by the clique.

To have failed to pay the shakedown was tantamount to dismal. Only one man refused; he was summarily fired!

Angola inmates were very much alive to the political issues of the day. Not a few were of continuance of the old regime because their cushion jobs depended upon Warden Green. Others, like Joe Smart, wrote their parents—or told them during visits—that the only hope for Angola was a clean sweep.

Smart was another New Orleans boy. He wrote his mother to vote for Governor Jones, that if Jones was elected “probably we will get better conditions here.”

The letter was intercepted by the camp censor and sent to Warden Green. Smart was beaten and thrown into the “red hat” group for incorrigibles. He was still there when the new regime took over at Angola.

Turn the page to a day in May. A bright sunny day, and full of portent for Angola as it was bright.

The “Jones special” trains, filled with citizens who attended the inauguration in Baton Rouge, passed over Angola property from the northern parts of the state via the Louisiana and Arkansas railway lines which then traversed the farm.

Angola inmates were glad. The “old” regime would go. Maybe the new would be better. Certainly it could not be as bad as it had been.

And in the fields that day convicts slackened their pace unheeded, watching the trainloads of merrymakers pass unheeded by the foremen who, too, were watching and wondering how much longer their sinecures were going to last.

On that day D. D. Blaze arrived with his commission as warden of Angola fresh from the pen of the new governor.

But an insidious rumor quickly followed Blaze’s arrival: He had been appointed only temporarily. Green was to become Warden again, after all! The “old regime” rejoiced.

Blaze’s instructions went unheeded as did those of the state senator warden. Camp officials were told by Green that Blaze was not going to stay—that they didn’t have to pay any attention to him.

The result was chaos. Brutality continued unabated.

A particular vicious beating inflicted upon a 120-pound man at Camp E resulted in the individual being taken to Baton Rouge by Warden Blaze, where his wounds were shown to officials of the Jones administration.

The foreman who inflicted the beating was discharged. (To take up his residence two miles from the front gate of Angola, as others of his ilk have done, there to wait like buzzards for the political scene to shift again so they could come back and continue their sadistic practices!)

Throw Sticks Away

Sticks carried by all foremen, including whips made of rope and leather, products of Warden Green’s administration for punishing men out in the fields, were ordered abolished by Blaze.

And grateful convicts, for the first time on Angola, stopped their hoes and cheered whenever Blazer went by in his car.

Those religiously inclined, for the first time, included their legal guardian in their petitions.

 

Next issue: Mess Hall Walkout Brings End Of Starvation Diet Era

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