The Farm: Angola, USA
In heartening news, leaders from all over the political spectrum – from Pat Leahy to Newt Gingrich, from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz – have spoken up about the terrible state of America’s prison system.
There are simply too many people locked up in too many awful cages. It is destroying lives, destroying families, destroying communities, and costing all of us tax money that we don’t really have.
“The Farm: Angola, USA” is—almost unintentionally—a thought-provoking documentary. It shows us a prison that is frighteningly horrible but actually better than modern penitentiaries.
In the Antebellum period, Angola was a plantation named after the country from which most of its workers were imported. Not long after the Civil War, a former Confederate officer came up with a logical and efficient use for the land. “Hey, since we can’t force all black people to work in the fields for free anymore,” Maj. Samuel Lawrence James said, “why don’t we force convicted felons—most of whom are black—to pick the cotton for free! #winning #profit.” (this is not an exact quote).
Today, Angola is Louisiana’s maximum security prison and the largest state penitentiary in the country. The inmates still work the fields and receive about 10 cents an hour for their labor.
The moving film will make you feel for the prisoners; going to Angola is a fate worse than death. However, I sincerely argue that it is better than the average prison.
Firstly, the vast majority of the men there committed violent crimes. They are not there for selling weed or for parole violations; they are actual menaces to society.
Secondly, the majority of the men there are serving life sentences. The current practice of putting moderately unsavory people behind bars for a few years seems to have the effect of turning naughty young men into hardened criminals. If a man is truly dangerous enough to be imprisoned, he darn well should stay there.
Also, having a prison where most men are there for life creates a more wholesome community than one where convicts come and go. The film has a surprisingly heart-warming scene where a racially diverse group of inmates visit a dying man in the infirmary. Ultimately, the deceased chooses to be buried in the prison cemetery with his friends rather than on the outside with his family.
Thirdly, working the fields every day—though hot and unpleasant—is clearly better than 23 hours in a cage. It is a crime (pun intended) that we let prisons waste so much public money when there surely has to be a better way.
By the way, I think I know a better way.
I propose that we carve out a large piece of land – an island of Hawaii perhaps – and send all the violent criminals there. Instead of housing them in expensive and soul-sucking buildings, we’ll let them create their own felon society.
They will be able to build homes, start businesses, pay taxes, and try to make a real life for themselves. If their intrepid wives and girlfriends want to move there, more power to them. The felons will be allowed to do anything but leave and endanger the general public.
This is not a perfect system. But it will probably be more humane and will definitely be cheaper than prisons.
We clearly have to try something new. If Senator Sanders and Senator Cruz agree that the system is broken, then it is darn well broken.