Angola’s Women Keeping the Peace

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When the sun sets at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, the inmates and their guards are sent to the dorms.  Warden Burl Cain says, “You think about it, you put a female in a dormitory and it has 90 inmates and 25% of them are aggravated rapists and one out of two is here for the life and the majority of them are lifers and lock her in, she doesn’t have the key.”  Throughout the night, she keeps order.

Today nearly 50% of corrections officers at Angola are women: in the walk, in the watchtowers and on the worksites.

In warehouse 915, Lieutenant Samantha Angelle guards robbers, rapists and murderers.  She says, “We do have to try harder, but you just have to stand your ground.”  Her advice?  Never show your weakness.  From near gang-rapes to knife attacks and fights, it seems each female officer has her own terrifying tale.  After one such instance Major Deborah Leonard hid inside her car and asked herself, “What are you doing here, what?  Is this really what you want?”

For the 607 women who now work at Angola, the answer is yes.

At the Correctional Officer Training Academy, female cadets learn defense tactics in one class.  Next door, Maj. Leonard discusses manipulation.  It is comprehensive coursework, aimed at helping women handle some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals.  While you may assume weapons and defense training take precedent, in reality the will of these officers is what gets them through.  Many don’t carry a gun, but rely on their inner strength and female intuition to keep the peace inside Angola’s razor wire and prison cells.


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