Angola Prison and Prison Museum
Field Report

1110 The Angola Prison, in Louisiana, recently visited by CLUI field researchers Igor Vamos and Melinda Stone (they did not do time there, they spent time there). CLUI photo
THE LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY AT Angola is one of the largest and most notorious prisons in the country, and is perhaps the only prison with a prison museum outside its gates. It is home to around 5,000 inmates, more than 80% of whom will never be discharged, and many of whom will be buried within the confines of the prison's own graveyard.

Informally called "the farm" by wardens and inmates (and the subject of a recent documentary film by that name), the 18,000 acre penitentiary is the largest prison in the United States, by area. The vast holdings are mostly agricultural, as the inmates work the fields around the prison, the same fields that were worked by plantation slaves from Angola, Africa, in 1869 when the prison was founded as a private plantation. The Angola Prison Museum features "Old Sparky," a solid oak electric chair, last used at Angola in 1991 (when the state converted to the lethal injection death method). Arranged to appear as it did in its final electrocution, the chair exhibit includes leather straps used to restrain prisoners' feet and arms, a hood to cover the face, and sponges that, when moistened with a saline solution, help to conduct electricity. Photographs of Old Sparky's victims surround the static display.

Other exhibits include the inmate weapon cabinet, showcasing crude weapons, tattoo machines, and drug paraphernalia clandestinely fashioned by prisoners out of a wide array of unlikely, but available materials, including the carriage return of a typewriter and the metal from the bottom of a boot.

Though there are other prison museums, such as the San Quentin Prison museum, which features a gas chamber, and of course the former prison-turned-tourist attraction of Alcatraz, the Angola Prison Museum is a worthwhile visit. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday 1:00p.m. to 5:00p.m.
Field Report by Melinda Stone