America imprisons more of its citizens than any other country on earth. In America, Louisiana imprisons more people than any other state. Most of those inmates are black. In an eye-opening video produced by The Atlantic, correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg visits the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he finds African-American prisoners working on the 21st century equivalent of a plantation.
There are over 6,000 inmates in Angola and over 80 percent of them are black. Angola is a huge place, bigger than Manhattan, according to Goldberg. It used to be one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. Twenty years ago, Burl Cain became Angola’s warden, and set about changing the culture of the prison.
It’s an unusual story, filled with good and bad, like most true stories. Cain brought Christianity with him to Angola and the prison grounds are filled with churches and religious symbols. But what may be most striking image of Angola is the sight of a multitude of black men, watched over by armed men on horseback, working in the fields that make up much of the prison grounds. Goldberg says it is like a “trip back in time.” In fact, Angola used to be an 8,000 acre plantation. It was called “Angola” because that was the area of Africa where many of the slaves who worked it were brought from.
Warden Cain comes across as sincere in his convictions and has brought about many changes for the better at Angola. But the visual of hundreds of black men working in the fields at the very spot where slaves also worked is unsettling. And making it more unsettling is the fact that, like those slaves, these men have no choice: they are required to work.
This short documentary focuses a light on America’s prison-industrial complex, where mostly black men are locked up and forced to work at menial labor. Many of the men at Angola will never see the outside of the prison again, just like many of their ancestors who came from Africa died in bondage. Forcing these men to work in the fields makes them exactly what they appear to be — slaves.
What do you think? Has Warden Cain helped Angola, or has he created a modern system of slavery?
Watch the documentary below, via The Atlantic:
Featured image via screen capture from The Atlantic