Reward Guards For Killing

Old cannery and guard tower at Camp-E, circa 1940, Angolite file photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune

The Item (July 12, 1943) Part 6

By “Wooden Ear”

(This article is one of a series describing the evils of the “Dixie Devil’s Island” which existed at Angola a few years ago under an administration which permitted and encouraged brutality, “graft” and corruption. The articles are written by a former inmate, now working in a respectable job. Monday he tells of legalized murder of prisoners by convict guards who are rewarded for killing—with official “furloughs.”)

Green brought his wife to the penitentiary in 1936, and had a new house built for her at the main center, Camp E. The house was likewise surrounded by guards, with orders to shoot if anything seemed amiss at any time.

It was Green’s intention to make Angola “the Siberia of the South.” His desire was fulfilled. It became both that and a combination Devil’s Island before he left!

Green also took the inmate stores, one of which was located at each camp, and which sold goods only to inmates, out of the hands of the free-employee proprietors. He magnanimously announced that henceforth the stores were to be operated by the inmates for their own profit.

Lasted One Month

However, the system lasted but a month. Then the order was issued that the penitentiary would thenceforth operate the stores. The profit would go to the inmates.

Prices, however, remained unchanged. A standard brand of sack tobacco, a prison favorite, retailed for 5 cents outside the front gate. It was 7 cents at Green’s store. Other prices remained at their previous high levels.

With the first huge profits (an accounting of which was never made) Green purchased aluminum plates, cups, saucers and bowls for each camp. They were “given,” he said, through his graciousness and desire to live up to the principle of the politician in “sharing the wealth.”

Brutality Increases

Later on, band instruments were purchased from the same funds. Prices, from the invoices seen by this writer, had been “marked up.” The instruments were second-hand; the prices were for new articles.

Green’s orders increased, if anything, the use of corporal punishment. At times, as in the case of Joe “Griggs,” a lad from Allentown, Pa., who had been a clerk in Green’s office, he personally administered a beating with fists and feet for a minor infraction. Green openly condoned the acts of both John and Jim Brown, as well as other sadists employed by the penitentiary including “Brutal Bill” “Morris,” whose story has a place later on.

“Bad-Eye” had been given charge of Camp C, domicile of about 350 Negroes, by Warden Green, despite his unsavory record.

“Bad-Eye” employed a convict chauffeur called “Jack.”

Following an altercation with the captain over some trivial matter one day, Jack was placed in the long line with the other Negro field hands. The story was told this writer as follows:

Jack tried to “escape.” This, despite the fact that it was a thousand times harder to escape from the fields, under the guns of the inmate guards, than it would have been to have run away while a trusty, which status Jack enjoyed as “Bad-Eye’s” chauffeur.

Jack was shot. His jaw was completely evulsed from his face. He died in agony in the field before any kind of medical attention could reach him.

Word circulated that night that “Bad-Eye” had put the Negro on the spot … that he had had him killed.

“Bad-Eye’s” houseboy, a young Negro who had taken care of the house garden and lawns, ran away one early morning. A posse of guards was immediately formed to trail him with bloodhounds.

The Negro was sighted in the Mississippi River with his head and chest showing above the water.

Robert “Byrd,” ex-Shreveport pugilist, pimp and plug-ugly who was then serving his first term (he is back there now), was the guard who first sighted the Negro.

Calling to Captain “Bad-Eye,” Byrd yelled that the Negro was in the water. “Bad-Eye,” Byrd later told the writer, said: Don’t bring him back here … I don’t want him!” Whereupon Byrd fired both barrels, striking the Negro in head and chest, killing him. For this feat Byrd was awarded a “citation,” and was given a big beef steak supper!

Furlough For Murder

(There are numerous cases on record where, after a legalized murder in Angola by a convict guard, the guard has been “furloughed for various periods of time. This “furlough” was a much sought-after reward. There was little or no compunction on the part of many guards to carry out a murder at the behest of the camp captain, or foreman, when a period of freedom was in sight.

(The files of Convict Guard Pete “Gerry” will show at least two murders perpetrated in Angola, plus several “furloughs.” Gerry is serving a term for murder!)

Out To “Hunt Chapman”

Gerald Chapman, nationally notorious bad man, much sought by the FBI, was never an inmate at Angola, although his case brought a peculiar repercussion to Louisiana.

Bill Duke, and Gip Blevins, then inmates at Camp E, were both convict guards. Both told Warden Green they knew the whereabouts of Chapman, then thought to be hiding in Mississippi.

On the recommendation of Green, Governor Leche granted both men “furloughs” without limit, that they might go to Mississippi and spy out the bad man.

Needless to say, neither of them ever came within smelling distance of Chapman, although the terms of both were later commuted by Governor Leche on the representation of Warden Green that they both had performed “meritorious service.”

The truth of the matter was that neither would return to the penitentiary voluntarily. It was a case of adjusting the “count” in the best manner possible!!

The pardon board, during the tenure of Warden Green, was in ways something of a mystery to the uninitiate. The mystery was quickly solved if a prisoner had or could get a substantial fee with which to employ a lawyer!

There are numerous “deals” on the record, all during the Green regime, where men had placed funds—from two thousand dollars on upward—”in escrow” with Warden Green. It was specially noted in the escrow that the lawyer (generally a New Orleans man) was to be given the money only when he successfully obtained the release of the prisoner.

One such a case which will always remain a “mystery” was that of Ebre (Dirge) “Harris,” Arkansas bad-man and one time partner of the still imprisoned prisoned Charley Frost, bank robber and all around former anti-social.

Harris was serving a life sentence. After he had served about eight years of his term, following a lengthy correspondence, plus innumerable secret interviews and conferences with Warden Green held in the Camp G office, Harris was suddenly released.

Three days after the release the notation was made for the record that he had been “furloughed.” It was broadly hinted, at the time, that Harris’ people, who were understood to be wealthy, had deeded over royalty rights in certain Arkansas oil property to Green and a lawyer!

(Next issue: Work Goes on in the Rain. During the mid-1930s Angola prisoners call the sun “Hannah,” the rain “Jake.” New taskmaster Lode B. Green has a theory, that wet prisoners “kept out of mischief.”)

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