i know that this is a true story, and that is the reason that i didn’t read up on it before i read this account. i put it on hold because the folks at the seattle public library hipped me to it via their biblio cafe podcast. i mistakenly thought (and the cover conforms to the notion) that it was a graphic novel, but really, it’s a graphic reality. i have much respect for dave eggers, for his projects from might to mcsweeney’s to the 826, and this one has made me want to try again with his other books.
in case there remain doubters of the evolution from slavery into the prison industrial complex, please allow this passage to “inconvenient truth” the fuck out of that:
“Angola, the country’s largest prison, was built on an eighteen-thousand-acre former plantation once used for the breeding of slaves. Meant to hold those convicted of the most serious crimes, it has long been considered the most dangerous, most hopeless prison in the United States. Among the five thousand men held there, the average sentence is 89.9 years. Historically the inmates were required to do backbreaking labor, including picking cotton, for about four cents an hour. In a mass protest decades ago, thirty-one prisoners cut their Achilles tendons, lest they be sent again to work.
At the time of the hurricane, Marlin Gusman, sheriff of Orleans parish, knew that there was a chance that the Orleans Parish Prison, where most offenders were kept while awaiting trial, would flood. So he called Burl Cain, warden of Angola. An arrangement was made to build an impromptu prison on high ground in New Orleans. Warden Cain rounded up fences and portable toilets, all of which he had available at the Angola campus, and sent the materials on trucks to New Orleans. They arrived two days after the hurricane struck the city.
Cain also sent dozens of prisoners, many of them convicted of murder and rape, and tasked them with building cages for new prisoners and those forced out of Orleans Parish Prison. The Angola prisoners completed the network of outdoor jails in two days, sleeping at night next door to the Greyhound station. Cain also sent guards. When the cages were finished, the Angola prisoners were sent back north, and the guards remained. These were the men who guarded Zeitoun’s cage.” (320-1)