One of the latest ideas that I heard for securing a few more square inches of Christ’s kingdom sounds absolutely crazy. The plan is to take a thousand minimum security prisoners from a prison in Louisiana and move them into Angola Prison, a maximum security prison once known as the bloodiest prison in the South. Once inside Angola, the warden aims to connect these fledgling criminals with seasoned murderers, rapists, and armed robbers for sustained mentoring. After successfully completing the mentoring program, the minimum security prisoners will then return to life outside prison. The warden hopes through this strategy to see significant transformation in the city of New Orleans and other blighted and broken places. Warden Cain is fond of noting that today Angola has as many gangs as any other prison, “but now the gang leaders are all pastors.” He hopes to see these reborn gang members “sent” from the prison, taking their new kingdom affiliation (and habits) with them, transforming the ethos of their neighbourhoods.
This tactic would sound absolutely insane if you didn’t know a little something about what has happened at Angola Prison. Prior to changes there, life in Angola, the home to more than 5000 maximum security inmates—most of whom would die in prison—was nasty, brutish, and violent. One inmate, looking back, told me, “This place was completely hedonistic; it was the survival of the fittest.” In 1971, the American Bar Association described the conditions at Angola as “medieval, squalid and horrifying.” A book recalling the 1960s and 1970s, for example, estimated that twenty-five percent of the population was in some sort of coercive sexual relationship. Angola was hell.