Angola’s Museum: The History of the Largest State Run Prison in America

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LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY– Angola has a long narrative and it’s one that is important to the overall story of justice system in the United States.

Isaac Franklin was one of the largest slave traders in the south.  In 1835 he purchased 18 thousand acres and named the area Angola, after the African country where many of his slaves originated.

In 1880 the property was sold to Samual Lawrence James who used the convict lease system to run the plantation.  In 1901 Angola was purchased by state to become a state-run prison.

“We are a very historic prison.  At one point this was considered to be one of the bloodiest prisons in America.  Now it’s one of the safest prisons in America and our museum is the path you have to walk on, to see that journey.  We’re one of the only active prisons in America that has a museum.  It’s a very unique opportunity to have a glimpse into a maximum security prison,” says Gary Young the Assistant Warden.

In 1998 a museum was opened to present and document the story of America’s largest maximum security prison.

Each exhibit offers a fascinating account.  One exhibit is about Angola’s famous rodeo, which entertains thousands every year.  The rodeo began modestly in 1964 as an in house spectacle.

As you stroll through the rooms, you get a look some of the movies that the prison has been featured in, including Lion Gate’s 2001 Academy Award Winning Monster’s Ball.  Apart from the big screen, the museum holds more riveting tales.

“I think probably one of our most famous escapes was the Charlie Frasier escape.   He masterminded one of the worst escapes we had seen in prison history,” says Assistant Warden Young.

You get to hear about how Billy Graham’s casket was signed and made by inmates and see a replica of a horse drawn hearse used in the 1800’s.

The Warden says the artifact that the patrons are the most interested in was last used in 1991.

“Into the 1940’s, up until 1941, hanging was still used in Louisiana, then legislation switched the method to electrocution.”

The museum also educates the public about the sites rich archeology, musical legacy (which includes blues legend Leadbelly serving time in 1930) and the current 14 certification, re-entry programs of today’s prison.

“We are very proud to be able to be the preserver of our history so that we can know where we have gone in our history and progress forward.”

The museum’s hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 to 4:30pm.  During the Angola Rodeo, the museum is open on those corresponding Saturdays and Sundays as well.




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