Damn, these outlaws make good cowboys.
A few miles from the Myrtles Plantation, “One of America’s Most Haunted Homes,”1 past pecan orchards and groves of old oaks, is another kind of haunted plantation, one that only occasionally opens to visitors. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, was once Angola Plantation, named for the homeland of its first slaves, as if in a mockery of homecoming.2 The slave cabins that were used to house prisoners; the cellblock where men were sometimes packed six to a tiny cell, their journey’s end just down the hall in the electric chair; and the men who have never left the penitentiary, buried in the cemetery called Point Lookout, indicate ongoing links between bodies and things. Angola was the “favorite Louisiana plantation” of Isaac Franklin, one of the most successful speculators in the interstate slave trade, who had six to choose from.3 In 1869 Major Samuel James, a former Confederate officer, purchased the lease for all of Louisiana’s convicts. In 1880 he bought Angola’s 8,000 acres and used some of the convicts he leased to work the land. Today the prison is sometimes referred to as just “The Farm.” Warden Burl Cain commented in a documentary on Angola, “It’s like a big plantation in days gone by. We hate to call it that in a way, but it kinda is, because we have the, you know, the, it’s inmates in prison.”4 Looking out over men working in the fields, Cain stumbles when he gets to what sounds like a reference to slavery, which would inevitably summon comparisons between the plantation and the penitentiary, between the conjoined histories of slavery and black criminality.