Acton Institute Powerblog

Redemption and ‘Serving Life’ at Angola Prison

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Steven Garner
Steve Garner
Angola’s Fall rodeo is a well known and popular occurrence at the prison. Perhaps less known on the outside of the prison is the inmate led hospice program. Warden Burl Cain launched the program in 1997 to bring more dignity for the dying process of inmates. Cardboard boxes have been replaced with caskets built by prisoners and handmade quilts drape the caskets of the deceased.

Hospice is also instrumental to the kind of moral rehabilitation that has transformed the culture of violence that once plagued the prison. When I visited Angola Prison to interview Cain and tour the facilities, I also visited the hospice chapel and spoke with hospice inmate volunteers Randolph Matthieu and Steven Garner. Both men are featured in the documentary “Serving Life” narrated by actor Forest Whitaker. Garner, who has volunteered with the hospice program since its inception, plays a prominent role.

Both men, convicted of second degree murder, are serving life sentences at Angola. Matthieu told me in his interview, “If people would just come to Angola and see who we are, perception would change.” Louisiana’s harsh but popular sentencing laws leave them with little hope for release. It was evident that Garner and Matthieu put a lot of pride and dedication into the kind of care they provide to the dying inmates.

If you have a Netflix account, you can now stream “Serving Life” and it’s well worth your time. It gives you a powerful look into a program that is changing the lives of some of the most hardened criminals. Below is an extended trailer of the film.

Ray Nothstine Ray Nothstine is Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Before coming to Acton, Ray worked as a free-lance writer for several organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He gained ministry experience in churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. After college, he also served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of a retired Air Force pilot, Ray has also lived in Okinawa, Philadelphia, New England, Hawaii, and Egypt.

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