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A Letter From Angola State Prison

Nathaniel Anderson #130547
Date Published: 
May 15, 2008

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." -F. Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

The leviathan known as the Prison Industrial Complex incarcerates more people than any country in the world. The richest nation on the planet, a fifth of the global population enslaves fully twenty five percent of all the prisoners on earth. Seven million souls are on parole, probation, detained pending trial, or sentenced to confinement, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the US.

At the 2003 American Bar Association function, Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy mentioned the racial inequalities inherent in the system, and its massive, rapidly increasing, cost. He declared, "Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long." African Americans are less than 20% of the US total population, yet make up more than 75% of the prison population. The total cost of local, state and federal criminal justice was over $49 billion in 2003. The budget for the Louisiana Dept. of Corrections was over $800 million a year ago. I'm sure it did not decrease this fiscal year.

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." -Dr. M. L. King, Jr.

Being in prison a number of years one may mature into an appreciation of the difference between machismo and manhood, bravery and courage, liberty and freedom, standard of living, and quality of life. An adult takes responsibility for his crimes, rehabilitates himself, and believes in restorative justice where, however possible, the victim(s) of his crime are removed from the depths of hatred, bitterness, cruel vindictiveness and elevated towards understanding forgiveness and true compassion. Thereby we do not lose focus upon the edifice which produces criminals and victims for this is what also needs restructuring.

A machinery of death needs to be replaced by one of life, not "life sentences," that actually mean one must die in prison. Especially when these sentences are intended to perpetuate slavery - from the time of the ratification of the 13th amendment to the united states constitution, the prison system nationalized slavery thus the cages and plantations began to fill up with former chattel slaves. This occurrence was because the laws were instituted criminalizing the law abiding activities of African Americans, such as standing around "loitering," or walking at night, "breaking curfew." The enforcement of these laws dramatically increased the number of Blacks in Southern prisons.

To this day, the weakest segment of our society are the vast majority of prisoners. America locks down the poor, uneducated, addicted and mentally unstable, when other countries provide gainful employment, proper education, treatment, mental hospitals, and care. With the Los Angeles county jail being the largest mental institution in the world, followed closely by Rikers Island, you have to agree that something is seriously wrong.

I want now to speak for those who cannot properly speak for themselves: the probable 54% of Angola's population who suffer from some sort of mental or emotional imbalance, and the violently insane locked away from your view in cages 23 pus hours a day, where excrement fights continue to this day, and where bedlam and chaos are the norm, not to mention those caged for their political stance, and having to suffer many decades of this insanity. I want to speak for the many "lifers" whose crimes were their addiction to drugs, were minors when convicted, or habitual nonviolent offenders, all the poor and uneducated who are now sentenced to die in prison, slowly, with these death sentences incorrectly called "life." Again, I speak for those who have been held in cages in extended lockdown for 10, 20, 30 and even more years.

"Remember those who are in prison as if you were in prison with them." -Hebrews 3:13.

This communication is intended to express my profound appreciation to you free people who come into Angola to visit with the prisoners in support of the functions of the various clubs such as the lifers association, the Old Timers yearly banquet, etc. Your compassion is what really sustains us who are buried alive! From my heart I want to say thank you for being concerned.

Nathaniel Anderson #130547
Walnut #1, LA State Prison
Angola, LA 70712