Angola Inmates Halt Farmwork, Demand ‘Slavery’ Investigation of U.S. Prisons

Louisiana Department of Corrections Communications Director Ken Pastorick told Newsweek the agency considers the incident a done deal and that "work continued [Wednesday] morning as usual" after the brief Tuesday fight between the two inmates and two guards. Pastorick noted that the initial altercation started when the two inmates became "disruptive and broke from the line" before getting "combative" with the guards. He confirmed that the 27 inmates who peacefully stood back yesterday returned to work later in the afternoon.

Update| This story has been updated to reflect the timeline of the brief fight between the inmates and guards as well as a copy of the Department of Corrections statement of events and a statement from Decarcerated Louisiana. It also reflects more information regarding the background of three inmates involved in the incident.

A fight between two inmates and two Louisiana State Penitentiary guards spilled over into a brief Tuesday prison work stoppage this week, with inmates later demanding an investigation into "slavery" at the state prison farm.

The inmates at the infamous Angola prison, named for the former slave plantation on which it sits and from which many of the slaves came in Central Africa, issued a list of demands through an inmate union Tuesday to news media, state government officials and all “supporters of the freedom movement to end legalized slavery.” The inmates behind the “Decarcerate Movement” asked that the government prevent “the circumstances and conditions that have been allowed to fester in the oppressive environment, do not allow for rehabilitation, but make sinking further into oppression” following the Tuesday scuffle that sparked the protest.  

The Louisiana Department of Corrections insists the Tuesday incident was minor and only the three inmates who instigated the fight with the officers caused problems among the nearly 100 total working inmates. The 27 inmates who initially stopped working were back to work as usual by the afternoon.

GettyImages-57406417 Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. Bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River, the prison work farm is nicknamed the Alcatraz of the South.  Getty Images

Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River, the prison work farm is nicknamed the Alcatraz of the South. 

A press release issued by Louisiana Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick alleged that Emanuel Williams, 51, and Earl Harris, 44, became disruptive and broke from their security line around 8 a.m. Tuesday. The two then refused to obey orders and struck two guards in the face and head, leaving them with minor injuries. After the scuffle, a third inmate, 40-year-old Roy Walker, laid down on the ground and refused to go to work. He was soon joined by 27 other inmates who refused to comply with orders to continue working the farm.

Pastorick said the officers quickly gained control of the situation and separated Williams, Harris and Walker into disciplinary segregation after the incident. The other 27 inmates returned to the main prison cellblock before later coming back to work Tuesday afternoon, Pastorick added.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a union that facilitates communication between prisoners across the country, issued the work stoppage demands Tuesday following the incident. The demands from the C-block prisoners included their push for a national conversation about "how state prison farms across the country came to hold hundreds of thousands of people of African descent against their will." IWOC did not respond for comment from Newsweek. But in a separate statement provided to Newsweek Thursday, Decarcerate Louisiana said sources within the prison claim "at least 50 prisoners have been refusing to go to work for about a month on that cellblock."

"We are urging that local, state and federal governments who currently hold hundreds of thousands of African Americans on prison farms across the country be investigated for antebellum criminality, involuntary servitude and slavery," their release provided online said.

The Department of Corrections statement said all three men involved in the initial incident were expected to face charges over the Tuesday incident. Pastorick reiterated Thursday to Newsweek that the incident was primarily just the result of the three insubordinate inmates. Williams, Harris and Walker all have a long list of previous misconduct issues, including hundreds of prison disciplinary reprimands. Williams, who has nearly 300 disciplinary reports throughout his time in prison, struck a female offier in the face during a June 2015 Williams has been at Angola prison for 37 years of his 55-year sentence for a 1991 armed robbery in Orleans Parish, online prison records show. Harris, who has also been written up for past violent incidents, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension for an aggravated second-degree battery conviction in Jefferson Parish. Walker is serving a 50-year sentence for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and an attempted manslaughter conviction also in Jefferson Parish.

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12 The Department of Corrections statement said all three men involved in the initial incident were expected to face charges over the Tuesday incident. Louisiana Department of Corrections

The Tuesday work stoppage at the prison holding 6,300 prisoners and 1,800 staff members is not the first incident in Angola in recent weeks.

Last Wednesday, a 24-year-old inmate working in a field attempted to escape amid two warning gunshots fired by prison guards, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Inmate Kristopher Schoeing, who is serving a life sentence for an aggravated rape conviction, was then tackled by guards during his 2:15 p.m. run from the farm line. The attempted escape remained under investigation, and Schoeing was taken by the prison’s EMT service to Angola’s mental health evaluation center.