“ Whispers of Our Ancestors From Resistance to Resilience
The Untold Legacy of Indigenous Peoples " Volume 1 ~ By Ishmael A.Bey
Angola prison in Louisiana is steeped in the history of slavery, racism, and the prison industrial complex. Today, Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, housing over 6,000 incarcerated people. However, the roots of this prison can be traced back to the antebellum era, when the land that now comprises Angola was used as a slave plantation.
In the early 19th century, the land that would eventually become Angola prison was owned by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, two slave traders who specialized in the interstate slave trade^1. They operated a massive slave trading company based in Alexandria, Virginia, and their plantation in Louisiana, called "Angola," served as a holding facility for enslaved people before they were shipped to other parts of the country.
The Angola plantation was notorious for its brutal conditions, with enslaved people forced to work long hours in the fields, subjected to physical and sexual abuse, and often punished severely for even minor infractions^2. Many enslaved people died on the plantation from disease, overwork, or mistreatment.
After the Civil War, the Angola plantation was purchased by the state of Louisiana and converted into a prison^3. At first, the prison housed primarily white inmates, but as the convict lease system^4 took hold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of the prisoners at Angola became Black men, often leased out to private companies to work in dangerous and grueling conditions.
Under the convict lease system, private companies paid the state to lease the labor of incarcerated people, who were forced to work in mines, on railroads, and in other hazardous jobs with little to no pay or protection^5. This system was rife with abuse and corruption, and Angola prison was no exception. Inmates at Angola were subject to forced labor, corporal punishment, and brutal living conditions^6.
In the mid-20th century, a series of lawsuits and political pressure led to the end of the convict lease system, but Angola remained a brutal and violent place^7. In the 1970s, a group of incarcerated people at Angola organized a protest to demand better living conditions and an end to the violence perpetrated by guards^8. The protest was violently suppressed, and many of the organizers were punished severely.
Today, Angola prison remains one of the most notorious prisons in the United States, with a long history of violence, abuse, and neglect^9. Although efforts have been made in recent years to improve conditions at Angola, the legacy of slavery and the convict lease system continues to shape the lives of incarcerated people at the prison.
The story of Angola prison is a stark reminder of the ways in which the legacy of slavery continues to shape the United States criminal justice system. From its roots as a brutal slave plantation to its use as a convict leasing facility and its current incarnation as a maximum-security prison, Angola has been a site of profound violence and oppression. As we grapple with the ongoing injustices of mass incarceration and police brutality, it is important to remember the deep historical roots of these issues and to work towards a more just and equitable future. Footnotes:
Daniel Bergner, "Louisiana's Angola Prison: 'It's Like a Slave Plantation'," The Guardian, 23 August 2014, ww.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/23/louisiana-angola-prison-slave-plantation.Ibid.
Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), 102-104.
statistics related to Angola prison:
Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, with a population of over 6,000 incarcerated people. (Source: The Marshall Project)
In 2020, Angola prison had a staff-to-inmate ratio of 1:3, meaning there were three incarcerated people for every staff member. (Source: The Marshall Project)
Approximately 70% of the people incarcerated at Angola are Black, despite Black people making up only 32% of the Louisiana population. (Source: The Sentencing Project)
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the United States, and the third-highest in the world. (Source: The Prison Policy Initiative)
In 2019, Louisiana spent $625 million on its Department of Corrections, making it the fourth-highest state spender on prisons and jails per capita. (Source: The Marshall Project)
From Colonizer to Chiefs: How White People Became the Minority