Earning Trust at Angola Leads to Challenging, Rewarding Opportunities
By: Betty Chu
What's it take to earn Trustee status at Angola? Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot explains how the program works.
In last week's show, the idea of trust figured heavily - offenders trusted that if they behaved well, they would gain approval; staff trusted in their work experience and knowledge when considering approval of offender's requests. What does being a trustee mean and what is expected with the classification?
Trustee status is obtained after an offender serves at least 10 to 15 years. Chronological age is considered important as younger inmates are thought to be escape risks more so than those who are nearing the age of "criminal menopause" (usually age 35-40). Good conduct records and work skills are also factors in granting trustee status as institutional needs must be supported.
Trustees are trusted to work outside secure perimeters within Angola's natural borders, without armed supervision. They often work 7 days a week and are needed to work more than the normal 8-hour days of general medium population offenders. They work with the prison's animals - horses, mules and K9's; are trained to drive expensive farm machinery; can become inmate ministers and peer mentors after graduating from the on-site college and/or vocational schools; serve to assist fellow offenders as legal aides, health care orderlies and even as reporters for the prison's newsmagazine, The Angolite, the prison's FCC licensed radio, KLSP and cameramen at LSP's closed circuit network, KLSP-TV.
In a prison as vast and complex as Angola, it is important that work be done - fields need to be planted, harvested and maintained; industries need to be managed and criminal behaviors need to corrected. There are a total of 1,404 staff and a little over 5,300 inmates. However, the staff reports to duty in four shifts while the 5,300 maximum-custody inmates remain 24/7. The current trustee count is around 1,600 and their assistance is vital to keeping the smooth operation of the more than a century old penitentiary.
Productive rather than just busy work serves to promote tax payers savings because it results in higher yields in fields and industries which help to feed and otherwise house the state's prison population. Most importantly, we know that lives are saved because offenders who are morally rehabilitated are trustworthy - they refrain from committing murder, rape, and do not plan and participate in escape and hostage situations. In fact, as seen in Episode 1, they can be depended on to assist in emergencies like floods. The obtaining of trustee status and the establishment of a system which allows people to work toward trust are marks of progress in modern corrections work that we support because it improves present and future public safety.
Tune in TONIGHT for an all-new episode of LOUISIANA LOCKDOWN, where Warden Burl Cain’s "Land of New Beginnings" offers inmates "eight seconds of freedom" in a unique Animal Correctional Program.
" Death Ride" premieres at 10 PM ET/PT.