Thomas Beller writes about Angola Prison, forty miles from New Orleans, and Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick’s (Lower Nine) Prison Industrial Complex photo series on life inside.
“Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick’s photographs from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which were taken between 1980 and 2013, are a subset of their work in the same way that the prison is a kind of annex to the world of New Orleans. The prison farm, which is commonly known as Angola, is the country’s largest maximum-security prison, in a state that imprisons more people per capita than any other in the United States. Situated a hundred and forty miles northwest of New Orleans, the prison was taken over by the state in 1901, having been founded, twenty years before, on land consolidated from several cotton and sugarcane plantations, the largest of which was named Angola, after the country its slaves came from.
“From the beginning, it was a brutal, for-profit farming operation, a system in some ways reminiscent of slavery, but with less incentive to keep the workers alive. Since the prison’s current warden, Burl Cain, took over, in 1995, Angola has become a less violent place, with a reputation for reform and a faintly entrepreneurial aura. It is known today for an on-site museum and for a biannual prison rodeo, begun fifty years ago and professionalized in recent decades, which draws thousands of visitors a year. But the prison still draws controversy for its use of solitary confinement, among other things: recent lawsuits filed in Louisiana courts allege that Angola’s inmates receive inadequate medical care and that inmates on death row are subjected to unsafe temperatures…”