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Dr. Lawrence M. Schall Headshot

Redemption and Retribution

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Four years ago, I made my first visit to Angola prison. I was moved to write something then. I think it's still worth a read.

In today's New York Times, Campbell Robinson writes about Angola and Warden Burl Cain. Of the over 5,000 prisoners held at Angola, less than 200 are ever expected to leave. That's not a typo, I promise. Sentencing laws in Louisiana have become more draconian as they have across America. Sixteen years ago, the average sentence length in Angola was half of what it is now.

I am a fan of Warden Cain. Angola has taken some hits over the mixing of church and state and I have no doubt that the line at Angola has been blurred. I am usually a maniac on this very issue, but I have to admit, in this case, my stridency is missing. Cain has accomplished so many amazing and humanizing things at Angola, I find it impossible to be critical. In my mind, he's a hero.

The latest is an inmate play, in the works for two years, featuring men from Angola and women from the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. This past weekend, "The Life of Christ" was performed, a fully staged and costumed theatrical production with a cast of 70. The play was directed by Gary Taylor, who has already served 38 years. He was convicted of murdering a young white boy who had, with a gang of other whites, attacked a bus full of black students. Gary Taylor was 16 at the time. His trial was found by the courts to be "fundamentally unfair," but apparently not unfair enough to void his conviction. They did, however, void his death sentence. He won't discuss his case, but rather relates the theme of the play. "Jesus was executed because of an allegation."

Warden Cain chimes in: "Jesus Christ was innocent. There are innocent people in this prison. Believe me, there are." At least in this play, the disciples forgive and are, in turn, forgiven for their sins.