Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life at Angola

A story of a third-generation correctional officer living and working at Angola, one of the most notorious prisons in America, as reported by the New Orleans Press.

An excerpt.

“Back in 1996, when his college-bound senior class buddies at West Feliciana High were battling the ACTs and SATs, Trampus Butler merely watched from a distance.

“I told ’em, ‘Man, I’m not taking that. I don’t need those to work in Angola,’” he said. “The week after I graduated from high school I was up here taking my drug test, filling out my paperwork and off to work.”

“Fourteen years later, Butler is a major on the Angola corrections staff, working toward a criminal justice degree at Louisiana Technical College. He is on the prison tactical team and is a member of the chase team, should one of the prison’s 5,000 inmates try to flee into the Tunica Hills, or dare the Mississippi River that wraps the 18,000-acre state prison on three sides.

“But that rarely happens these days.

“Butler lives at Angola. Indeed, he has lived there his entire life.

“Twenty-five years ago, Butler’s grandfather, Hilton Butler, was Angola’s warden. His son, Trampus Butler’s father, also worked there. He reared Butler on the prison grounds and remains today as an assistant warden. Butler’s two brothers work there. So does his wife. And an aunt.

“When StoryCorps, the oral history initiative, came to New Orleans in the spring, staffer Jeremy Helton packed a microphone and drove 135 miles north of the city to Angola to record something of the lives of people such as Butler.

“Butler recalled how, as a boy, his companions were inmates who rode horseback with him. He hung out with the convicts tending the prison bloodhounds.

“If passing time with convicts makes most people nervous, “it comes natural to me because I started doing it ever since I could remember, 4 or 5 years old — since I could walk,” he said.

“Of all the things ever said about the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, still not entirely free of its former reputation as the bloodiest prison in America, Butler, 32, adds something indisputably new and arresting:

“It was a great place to grow up.”