Posts tagged with: Burl Cain

The Author Interviewing Inmate Pastor Jerome Derricks inside a Church at Angola Prison in 2012.

The author interviewing Inmate Pastor Jerome Derricks inside an Angola Prison Church in 2012.

The New York Times ran a piece over the weekend about the success of the bible college run through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison. Warden Burl Cain calls the college “the game changer,” and he added “It changed the culture of the prison.” Historically, Angola was known as one of the most violent and dangerous prisons in the country. Now Angola’s educational model is being replicated at other state penitentiaries across the nation.

Maybe surprising to some, even the ACLU has conceded the bible college is important to Angola’s inmates:

‘I think that what Burl Cain calls moral rehabilitation is, in his mind, religious doctrine, but a lot of good has come of it,’ Ms. Esman said. ‘I think it’s unfortunate that the only college available is a Christian one, but the fact that a college is there at all is important.’

Higher educational opportunities were pulled years ago from the prison because of budget cuts and as a result the bible college has come in to fill the educational vacuum.

Religion & Liberty interviewed Warden Cain in 2012. I took a tour of Angola Prison too and wrote a commentary about the spiritual transformation and revival among inmates. Recently, I touched on the impact of the inmate led hospice program at Angola.

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.

Blog author: sstanley
posted by on Thursday, May 9, 2013

Yahoo! Sports recently posted this interesting video about the Angola Prison Rodeo. In the Volume 22, Number 3 issue of Religion & Liberty,  Ray Nothstine had a chance to go to Angola and interview Burl Cain, the longest serving warden. During the interview Cain says:

I cannot change our reputation because it still makes people shudder, “Angola.” Life magazine called it the bloodiest prison in America. And we can’t shirk the reputation because the people who come here are so violent. People don’t realize how much they can change.

And that’s why we really built the Rodeo up and have so many tours in this riverboat tour. When they stop here in Baton Rouge or St. Francisville, they get in a bus and they come here, because I’m trying to get people to see that this place is not like they thought, and that people can truly change.

Nothstine also discussed Angola in his commentary, Angola Prison, Moral Rehabilitation, and the Things Ahead.

Angola inmates in the prison auto shop. (Photo by Erin Oswalt for Acton Institute)

In mid-September I ventured down to South Louisiana to visit and tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola Prison. My commentary this week “Angola Prison, Moral Rehabilitation, and the Things Ahead” is based on that visit. Burl Cain, Angola’s warden, will be featured in an upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty. I will be providing more information on Angola and my time down there, but think of this commentary as an introduction of sorts to what I witnessed.

A portion of the upcoming interview with Cain will reflect upon Chuck Colson. That good things are happening at places like Angola are in a large part directly related to Colson and his legacy and work on behalf of Prison Fellowship. I’ll have a lot more to say about Angola, but when you study in-depth the history and mystique of this prison, for it to change like it has, you know God is present.