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Becoming The Warden | The Legacy and Legend that is Burl Cain

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In this episode of Bloody Angola Woody Overton and Jim Chapman tell the story of legendary Warden Burl Cain. Burl Cain was the longest serving Warden in the history of Louisiana State Penitentiary and his vision and reforms changed this historic prison forever. This docu-series is the most anticipated and sought after we have ever done on Bloody Angola Podcast and it starts now!

#BloodyAngolaPodcast #BurlCain #Becomingthewarden #Louisianastatepenitentiary #PrisonWarden #Podcasts #Dixoncorrectionalinstitute #DCI #MDOC

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FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

BECOMING THE WARDEN: THE LEGACY AND LEGEND THAT IS BURL CAIN PART 1

Jim: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to Bloody-

Woody: -Angola.

Jim: A podcast 142 years in the making.

Woody: The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.

Jim: And I'm Jim Chapman.

Woody: And I'm Woody Overton.

Jim: And we're back, Woody Overton.

Woody: Back in the saddle.

Jim: Back in effect.

Woody: Back in effect.

Jim: And we're bringing y'all a hell of a story today. Highly requested.

Woody: Yes. A legend.

Jim: Legend. Someone you have some experience with.

Woody: I do. I have a lot of years of experience with him. Solid dude. They can say whatever they want to. Everybody's going to have their haters or whatever. And certainly, he marches to the beat of a different drummer, but he's a visionary and has affected so many lives.

Jim: Boy, he sure has. And I'll tell you, as far as research, I've probably enjoyed researching this man more than just about anyone I've researched.

Woody: I've read his book years ago when it came out. Of course, I have the family history at Angola and all that, and of course, my personal history with him. Just super, super intelligent, super unique.

Jim: Yeah, very. I think that's a great word to describe him. And of course, if you're hanging by a thread right now trying to figure out who we're talking about, it is the legendary warden of Angola, Burl Cain. So, we're going to start off and we're just going to take you through a journey of his life.

Woody: Yeah. And I think it's so important, this research that you put together, a lot of it I didn't know, especially about the early years. And I don't know how they haven't made a movie about him yet, honestly.

Jim: It's got to be coming at some point.

Woody: Y'all, we've done a couple of series before, but not real long ones or anything. But it's going to be several parts to this. But you got to stay tuned because every one of them is going to kick you.

Jim: Yeah. So, to start off, he was born in Pitkin, Louisiana, and I was not familiar with Pitkin.

Woody: Small town in Vernon Parish.

Jim: Vernon Parish. And for those of you that are kind of wondering where Vernon Parish is, that's on the Texas line. It's in the center of the state all the way to the westernmost.

Woody: If you're familiar with Toledo Bend, the largest lake and kind of splits Louisiana. Texas too, but fantastic for fishing, all that. It's real close to that. Kind of a piney woods area, but really, really rural. Shit, there's not even any major highways to get over there. From off the Interstate 49, which runs north and south, splits the state. Shit, it's probably hour and a half, two hours from there.

Jim: Yeah. And he actually described it in an interview one time, and he said, "We didn't even have a stoplight."

Woody: Yeah, well, my hometown still doesn't have a stoplight.

Jim: [laughs] So, you think about that, folks. He went from that to warden of the largest maximum-security prison in the United States which, first of all, goes to show you that it doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter, hard work and really destined. I think he was kind of touched by God to do what he does. He's 80 years old as of today.

Woody: So, he is a couple of years younger than my dad. Actually, maybe one year because my dad was born the week before Peral Harbor, and he was born on July 2nd, 1942.

Jim: And still going.

Woody: Still going, very, very healthy.

Jim: We're going to get into that.

Woody: But he grew up on a farm, y'all, that's where he developed his work ethic. And let me tell you something, this dude can work.

Jim: Let me tell you, if you're 80 years old-- look, if I make 80, I'm considering that a success. When you're 80 and you're still working, that tells you who he is as far as his work ethic is concerned. He grew up on a farm that would play a huge role in his future development. And he grew up in a very religious house.

Woody: Right. Back then, not knocking it, but a lot of people, especially ones that were raised on farms, their parents had to raise them as help. I mean, they worked.

Jim: That's right. You needed help, you had another kid.

Woody: Talking about throwing hay, tending animals and cows and everything else and working the gardens. And hey, there wasn't any PlayStations and cable TV or anything. Hell, they're lucky if they had electricity.

Jim: And you woke up 4:30 in the morning to milk them cows and do all those things.

Woody: You didn't have a problem going to bed at dark with your ass tired.

Jim: You were tired. And his household was very religious, y'all, extremely religious. He attended church, as he described it, every time the doors were open since birth. And he didn't even dance. He wasn't allowed to dance or attend dancing--[crosstalk]

Woody: And I had a lot of people that I grew up with that were the same way. That just wasn't acceptable. People talk about Bible Belt, I can't say Vernon is directly, but I know there's some count-- not counties, parishes over there that are actually dry. They don't sell alcohol. They're Bible Belt. So, down here where south Louisiana, where everything goes, and then you hit that area of the state, it was borderline to the west of Alexandria and all that, but they were really, really country, and the farther north you go, the more country getting. There's a couple of dry parishes in the state, and this area would have been one of them.

Jim: No doubt. At his age, being born in '42, he was kind of hitting those late teenage years when Elvis Presley-

Woody: Absolutely.

Jim: -was big. So, I'd love to sit him down and ask him, "How did you avoid dance when Elvis Presley came on the radio?"

Woody: He didn't have a radio.

Jim: [laughs] Yeah, that's it. That's probably exactly what he would say. "I was out there milking cows. I wasn't worried about the King." Also, Burl Cain never dreamed he would be a prison warden growing up. Of course, being from such a small town, that'd be like most people dreaming they were going to be an astronaut. It just didn't seem possible. As a matter of fact, he remembers vividly fearing Angola, as it was common for his mother to tell him, "If you don't straighten up, you're going to end up in Angola." It was a threat, matter of fact.

Woody: And one thing they did even back then, believe it or not, is most schools, once a year, certain age group of kids, they bus them to Angola. And of course, it was educational for them, and they didn't hold back. They took you down the walks and stuff like that, and they fed you the prison food, and they were like, most girls be crying and shit like that, and they're like, "I ain't never coming to this motherfucker."

Jim: Yeah. It was used as a form of threat. And so, he had another dream. And believe it or not, y'all, he wanted to be a veterinarian.

Woody: Yeah, he wanted to be a vet. And when he graduated from high school, he went to LSU Alexandria campus, y'all, that's a satellite campus, and they have one in Alexandria and one in Shreveport to do just that. But he struggled coming from a small town where the chemistry side of school basically was a fight for him. And they just didn't teach a whole lot beyond the basics, like the element charts and stuff like that at his high school. So, he switched to something that was more prevalent in the areas from and that's agriculture, education. Let me tell you something, vet school is tough. You might as well go and become a doctor. Nowadays, you got to have a four point whatever just to get in, and there's no guarantee you're going to make it. And it's heavy, heavy on sciences.

Jim: A lot of people don't realize LSU has probably the best vet school, if not one of the best in the country.

Woody: So, imagine this, coming from probably my hometown, I graduated we had 28 in my graduating class. Still don't have a red light to this day. I submit to you that his town was smaller. And back then, they didn't test for the kids to pass the test. You just got the books, you know Jim, it was a different type of education. And they were just giving your basics.

But the ag part, growing up on a farm, he already knew tons about it. And pretty much everyone in his family were teachers. So, he settled on basically just working towards a life of teaching after college, which I think is very unique now that I know him.

Jim: Right. You look back on that life and you see how those skills benefited him, even though he wasn't in the world of education when he really got going. So, he graduates from LSU in agriculture education. He starts teaching at a high school, and [chuckles] he figures out in about three months' time that teaching is not easy.

Woody: Not at the high school level.

Jim: Yeah, not at the high school level. So, he figured, "This ain't for me." He lasted about three months, and he went to work for the state of Louisiana at what's known as the Louisiana Farm Bureau.

Woody: Yeah, Louisiana, of course, our number one industry is oil and gas. It's kind of a tossup between the two, but then you have seafood, and then it's agriculture. And the seafood and agriculture are kind of on the same level. Like, where I'm from, it's all farms, we raise trees. So, agriculture is beyond just raising cows. It's growing trees. It's everything that you can profit from in the long run by growing it or raising it.

Jim: That's right. And he was a master of that, having grown up in it, and then got official education in it. And in 1976--

Woody: '76, I was six years old.

Jim: I was two. [laughs] In 1976, he finally starts his career in state government, and he started out with the Louisiana Department of Corrections as the Assistant Secretary for Agribusiness.

Woody: And that's huge. Now, I'm going to be honest with you, and this is just a straight-up truth, and it's how I got my state government job, my first one with the Department of Corrections. Actually, when I was in high school, I got a job. One of the local state reps got me a job cutting grass at the state-run old folks' home and the Villa. So, when he gets this job with the state, there's a lot of things that go along with that. One of them is, and I have some personal knowledge of this, I'll tell y'all probably on the next episode, one of them is you're civil service. And there's a lot of protections afforded to you through the civil service. And you get your guaranteed raises. You're never going to get rich, but you have protection. There's a certain comfort level of that.

Jim: Yeah, they can't just fire you.

Woody: Right. Real quick. When I left the university PD, we were civil service, to go to the sheriff's office, and they were like, "Why would you leave a civil service job to go somewhere where you're an at will employee?" I said, "Well, I don't need civil service to save my job." But civil service, and this is the truth, this is how much protection you have, if I was state police and I walked in my captain's office and I got on his desk and I took a shit on his desk, the first time, all they can do is give you a verbal warning. The second time, I go in and take a shit on his desk, then they can write you up for it. And the third time, they can fire you. There's only certain offenses like drugs or whatever that they can fire you for on the spot.

Jim: Did you ever take a shit on his desk? [laughs]

Woody: No, I didn’t. I didn't have a captain either. I answered to the colonel. But just an example. And they say, it's like the Snark missile. For you who don't remember, during the Iraq War, Saddam had these missiles called Snarks. Every time they were developed and every time they fire them, the fuckers blow up. And so, they said, civil service employee is like a Snark missile. You can't fire and you can't make it work. That's not true. A lot of the best people in the world are lifetime state employees, and a lot of my dear friends are.

Jim: Absolutely. And look, y'all, this is 1976, so the economy is down at this point in time. That was a really good job. And of course, look, any sort of state job at that level, sometimes you got to know somebody, Woody Overton.

Woody: Absolutely.

Jim: That ain't changed. That's been that way since the beginning of time.

Woody: [crosstalk] -is and it's Louisiana.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: I got my job at Department of Corrections because my dad pulled some strings with politicians.

Jim: Sure. And that was a good job. And this was a downtime in the economy. So, Burl freely admits, and he said this on many interviews, that his brother was instrumental in getting him that job. His brother, y'all, and whether you're aware of this or not, was a senator from the state of Louisiana.

Woody: They look almost identical. I'm surprised that they're not twins.

Jim: Yeah. So, he starts that job, and he's a rockstar at it. He's doing great, and in 1981, he gets an opportunity.

Woody: 10 years before I went there. In 1981, he became the Warden of Dixon Correctional Institute, known as DCI. And he was only 38.

Jim: Only 38, warden of the prison.

Woody: When I met him, it was in '90 or '91, and of course, he had been the warden for 10 years. DCI, y'all, it's a mixed security prison, and this is kind of a misnomer here too, but mixed security, meaning it has medium, maximum, and some trusty camps. The trusty camps would be like-- Jackson, Louisiana, is full of state-run facilities. Villa, like I was telling you about, geriatric home, state run. The hospital from mentally insane, which is basically on DCI property, right across the street from their Claiborne. And it has the state-run mental hospital. If you don't have healthcare and you legitimately to be, I'd say crazy, what's politically correct term?

Jim: Nuts. [laughs]

Woody: If you're literally nuts, you went there. Look, I had an aunt who spent most of her life in that hospital. Then, you have DCI. It's all these state run-- the war vets home was there. Biggest state war vets home is there. So, you have all these state-run facilities. And I guarantee you, all my people from Jackson, I've got family from there, all of them were state employees, one facility or another. So, DCI is located right outside of Jackson, y'all, which is about 40 minutes north of Baton Rouge. Small town still to this day. One major road running through it. And then, DCI is off of one of those roads.

But the mixed security, the main camp at DCI where I worked, you had two maximum security camps. And then, they had the satellite, the trusty camp at the state mental hospital. And that's because they took everything there. They were orderlies and took care of the grounds and the whole nine yards. And I used to go to little peewee football practice on the state ground. And there, the prisoners would line up on the fence, all the trustys. And years later on extra duty shifts, I would go pick up and I'd go be the guard at the trusty camp there. But they do that for economic reasons, and Burl had them do that for economic reasons because they didn't have to bust them back and forth to work every day.

Jim: Wow.

Woody: And so, they were there around the clock. And they were instrumental in all the state-run facilities, the trustees, the cow barns and everything. I'm talking about, look, DCI wasn't 18,000 acres, but it was a lot, but spread out in different areas. The cow barns and all that, shit, they raised cattle for the state of Louisiana. But anyway, it was there. Burl--

Jim: 38 years old.

Woody: Yeah, I didn't know that--[crosstalk]

Jim: Damn, when I was 38, there's no way I'm running a prison. I'm lucky to stay out of prison.

Woody: You're right. I was in Texas still when I was 38.

Jim: Yeah, really amazing and a huge opportunity. And guess what? It was his first experience as being a warden, what he would become just an absolute legend for it. At that time, DCI had about 1400 inmates. That was its capacity. And it was female and male, which made it different from other prisons. It was also relatively new. It had been built in 1976, so it was only six years old. That's like the state-of-the-art presence, especially compared to Angola at that time, which was hundred years old.

Woody: By the time I got there in '91, there were no females there. It was probably like 2500, they had added on to it.

Jim: So, no females at that time, gotcha.

Woody: And then, the other kicker is, and I forgot to mention this earlier, so I say it's about 40 minutes north of Baton Rouge. Well, guess what? It's only 30 miles from Bloody Angola. It's East and West Louisiana. I was born and raised in Clinton, where my grandfather was a judge, but West Feliciana butts up to it. My mama was from West Feliciana, where her daddy was the DA during this time, actually. But that 30 miles is deceiving because back then, they had the old road to Bloody Angola and that wound up the Tunica Hills and part of it's gravel and shit. And when you turn it off at 61, it took you another 40 minutes to get from there, the last 10 miles to get in.

Jim: It seemed like 300 miles. It was not what you would call picturesque. You're not looking at the Rockies when you're going down the highway. This is where Cain coined what would eventually be one of his most famous phrases. He started at the facility, and as is common, your first day on the job as warden, you're going to have a meeting with all of your people, and you're going to learn the ins and outs of this prison, things that maybe the outgoing warden didn't tell you. And one of the things he found out was that they had no worship services for the inmates. And it was where he kind of coined the phrase, "moral rehabilitation."

Woody: He carried that [crosstalk] to talk about it, but he still carries to this day. And he was serious about it.

Jim: Yeah. It was, as a matter of fact, one of the first things he changed at Dixon, was bringing religion into prisons, something that, look, we're going to talk a lot about. So, he becomes a rockstar again. He's just killing it at Dixon.

Woody: Let me tell you just a couple real quick stories, and I know I'm going off script, but I met him the first time, I think it was 1990 or 1991, and I got hired. So, he had what they call the White House. And the White House was an administrative building. I had to go to the White House, do paperwork and stuff like that, but I hadn't seen him. And then they put me on the largest rec room-- after I got back from Angola, doing my training and all that. They put me on the largest rec room at DCI. And long story short, I ended up getting in a fight with him because the captain told me, you give them direct orders like, "Hey, do this," and if they don't do it, you can arrest them for it. And so, one of them I told to come with me, and he turned around, ran out in the yard, and I had to hit my pager and get the captain to come. And the captain went out there and got him and arrested him. He said, "But next time you do it, you hit your pager, and you use whatever force necessary to bring the situation out of control."

Well, it wasn't two weeks later, Sunday night, they turned off the lights in the dorm, and I told him to clear the rec room, except for the night guys that were up. And one guy was standing on the back wall by the water fountain with his foot up on the wall. And we said, "Get to your house." And I told him, "Get to your house." And he just kind of looked at me. I said, "I'm not going to tell you again. Get to your house." And he didn't move. And so, I hit my pager, and I said, "Well, you're under arrest. You're coming with me?" He said, "Fuck you." And he turned around, walked into the dorm, which was closing down at that time. The lights and the inmates are shuffling back and forth, getting the water, going to the bathroom, and I tackled him, and the fist fight was on.

So, Captain Raymond Newman said, he said, "Man, when I hit that rec room door, and I was long ways away from it," he said, "And I didn't see you." He said, "I knew it sure had turned to shit. I knew shit was going down." And what happened was that there's a couple of fireable offenses. One, if you get caught having sex with an inmate or you get caught bringing in contraband or sleeping on duty, civil service doesn't protect you for that. And the biggest one is if another officer is in a fight and you don't help them, then you can be fired on the spot.

Well, there's two sergeants on the dorm. I'm fighting with this guy. I didn't think I could start a riot. And I'm fighting with this guy, and he's a big dude, and one of the sergeant is trying to help me, the other froze up, didn't want to do anything. Newman came in. Long story short, we get him out. We were punching, we were punching. My eye was swollen and stuff. Long story short, Ray gets me to the office. He said, "You got to go home." I'm like, "Fucking getting fired, man." I said, "Ray, you told me, use whatever force necessary. He wouldn't stop and put my hands on, and he went to fight." And he said, "You could have started a fucking riot, man. You realize that? You got to go home, and we'll call you." I'm like, "Fuck, I'm getting fired." So, they called me on Monday morning, and he said, "You need to report to Warden Cain's office."

Jim: [chuckles] Oh, shit.

Woody: My first time in a life on the carpet, besides the military, being called on the carpet, it means you know you're going to get your ass shoot to get fired or whatever. And he brought me in, and I'll never forget it. He actually got up from behind his desk and he shook my hand. He said, "Sergeant Overton, come on in. Have a seat. Boy, tell me what happened." I said, "Warden Cain, Captain Newman, he was in there." I wasn’t trying to throw him on the bus. I said, "This is what happened before. He told me next time, use whatever force necessary to bring the situation under control. And so, I did. We ended up fighting." He leaned back and steepled his fingers a little bit, kind of like [unintelligible [00:26:36] would. Warden Cain, he's not big in stature, he's not tall, but he's not fat, but he's kind of-- I don't want to say heavy set, he's more of a round of shape. You wouldn't think this guy has such a presence, but he does, but he was just super, super nice.

He said, "All right, son, I get that. I appreciate you taking an initiative. But I'm going to send you somewhere where you could fight every single night." I said, "Well, where is that?" He said, "I'm going to send you to the working cell block. That's where we have our worst of our worst, and somebody's going to be--" You know what, he would curse sometimes. As religious as he was, and he probably did say ass-- when he got mad, he'd curse. But he said, "I'm going to send you back there." And believe me, I passed this down to all the guys I trained over the years. I would tell them, I say, "Look, you don't have to go out of your way put your hands on somebody to look for shit because there's enough assholes out there that are legitimately going to give you a reason to fight them, when you go to arrest them or whatever." He said, "I'm to going put you back there." And I did it, and I rose up as a superstar. And every time he'd see me, he'd say, "How are you doing, Sergeant Overton?"

Jim: Love that story, and I'm sure you've got several. And what we're going to do, folks, is this is going to be a docuseries. So, this is going to be three episodes. In the third episode, we're going to have Kelly Jennings, who also has some experience with Burl Cain on the show. And it's going to be storytelling time with Woody and Kelly. And they're going to tell some stories that are just fire.

Woody: We need to promote that.

Jim: Yeah.

Woody: The last episode is going to be The True Stories.

Jim: The True Stories.

Woody: From Woody-

Jim: From Woody. [chuckles]

Woody: -and female Woody.

[chuckles]

Jim: Yeah. You can't get no better than that. Look, I got the best seat in the house, and I'm going to be kind of the moderator of what will be an amazing episode coming up just in a couple of weeks. We're going to move on. Look, Warden Cain, he became an absolute star. He made a name for himself. And of course, he had a brother that was in politics. And so, they knew the Cain name. And in 1995, the warden of Angola, a guy by the name of John Whitley, who at some point we're going to do a story on, but John Whitley was retiring. And so, secretary at that time was Richard Stalder.

Woody: And he was the head of the Department of Corrections when I was there also.

Jim: That secretary he is kind of like who is the boss of the wardens.

Woody: He's the boss of all the prisons.

Jim: Yeah. Outside of the governor, he is the top person in the prison system. And he announces the new warden will be the warden at that time of DCI, which was Burl Cain. Now, you may be surprised to know something. Burl Cain did not want that job. [laughs]

Woody: Yeah. And that's because he knew that wardens in Angola didn't last long.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: I think they averaged just over five years of service because Angola was so bad, y'all, and somebody had to be the scapegoat for the bad things that happened. But he wasn't left much of a choice. He had the most experience of any warden in the state of Louisiana with his 14 years at DCI. So, he took it.

Jim: Secretary Stalder just basically said, "You're going to be the warden of Angola."

Woody: When he took it, I tell you, it was truly bloody Angola, and they were under all this federal scrutiny and everything else. And he's like, "Mm, don't want to do it." I'm sure it was a challenge to him, but he didn't want to lose what he had going on.

Jim: No. You're 14 years at one place, you have a system, it's working. You're looked at as a rockstar in the system, and now you're being sent another challenge. You're comfortable. You don't want to have to do that. But also, Angola had some issues. There were 300 attacks on the staff and 766 inmate-on-inmate assaults, half of which were--

Woody: That was in one year, the year before he went there. And this was right around when I was getting out of corrections, he left right after I left DCI. And he went up there but, fuck, I knew about it. I mean, you heard about it. It didn't make the news every day, but it made the correctional officer grapevine. It was bad shit.

Jim: Yeah. I remember when he was announced as the warden of Angola, and if you were from the state of Louisiana, I mean, that was big news. Big news. Side note to that, this may or may not seem out of order, but I'm going to mention it now. He was actually still living at DCI throughout-- Wardens typically live at the prison they're at.

Woody: They have very nice homes that are provided to them by the state at no cost. It's part of your salary, and it's maintained by the convicts and all that. He took the job. But shit, nobody wants to move-- especially back then, wants to move to Angola, not even on the B-Line, because it's so fucking far away. I knew his wife at the time, and then he was there, and he's got kids and the whole nine yards.

Jim: Well, and you may wonder who took his place at DCI. Well, Jimmy Le Blanc took his place there. They were good friends.

Woody: Jimmy was an underwarden to Burl at the time. And so basically, Burl Cain tapped him to take it over.

Jim: Right. And he made a deal with him. He said, "Look, take it over. I think you would be a great replacement for me, but I ain't moving out of my house." [laughs] He literally said that. And Jimmy Le Blanc was okay with that. In the state of Louisiana, they gave Jimmy Le Blanc kind of a stipend for the home he was already living in, because that's considered a perk. It's a huge perk.

Woody: It's a big part of your salary. And I'm sure you have it in here, Jim, that when Stalder retired, Jim Le Blanc ultimately became the head of the corrections--[crosstalk]

Jim: Yeah, we'll be getting into that. But just to finish that point up, Cain lived at DCI, y'all until 1999. And what prompted him to actually leave was the murder of Captain David Knapps in Angola. And we'll get into that in the second episode.

Woody: Captain David Knapps was a multi-generational correctional officer, and he lived on the B-Line. And that's all he ever knew. His father done and his grandfather done, his brothers and everybody-- he lived there. And he was brutally murdered in '99 during an attempted prison escape. And we're going to cover that. Ultimately, he's a superhero, but Burl would have been his boss for almost five years at that time.

One thing I'm going to tell you about Burl Cain, is as any good leader in any good spot, if your people take care of you, you damn well going to take care of your people. And you're going to know who they are, and you're going to promote them up and everything because, unfortunately, and I've said this many times, and I felt this, I truly did believe this, some of the people that you worked with in corrections were shittier than the convicts. I think that plays into the whole civil service thing, because you can't fire them, you can't make them work, and they knew the rulebooks and all that, but absolutely 95% of them were the best people in the world. But Burl knew who were his rising stars and who would run whatever, and David Knapps was one of them.

Jim: Look, being a good leader, one of the best attributes you can have is being able to spot other good leaders.

Woody: And I've had so many, and I'm telling you, I think he is probably one of the best leaders I've ever had. And I'm talking about my military career, my police career, my corrections career, whatever.

Jim: Yeah, you've been around a lot of them.

Woody: And I took a lot of his leadership skills from him. Like that day when I was trouble in his office, I mean, if I'd have been a turd, he'd have fired me. But no, he gave me freedom to run. And he knew I was going to handle my business.

Jim: Yeah. So, imagine you're Burl Cain, it's 1995, February, and you're now in charge of the largest maximum-security prison in America. 18,000 acres of sheer intimidation.

Woody: And the worst of the worst.

Jim: And the worst of the worst.

Woody: I would put those guys up there against any convict in the world as far as the horrificness of the crimes, etc.

Jim: So, warden gets there, and one of the first things he did was he outlines his philosophy to the inmates, and I'm going to quote him here. He said, "Your dorm is like a city or a community. The beds and houses along that are the street, with the street being the aisle itself. So, three beds down is like saying three houses down. You should visit your neighbors."

Woody: He'd actually say that, yeah.

Jim: "Counsel your neighbors and be concerned for each other. Keep your city free from drugs and violence. And don't curse. Once you start cursing each other, violence is sure to follow." That was his philosophy.

Woody: Absolute genius. And do you know that to this day that's what they call their bunks and stuff as their houses?

Jim: Yeah. Well, it essentially is.

Woody: And the aisles, because these big long aisles that run in between rows of bunks and they call them their streets.

Jim: That's their streets.

Woody: Isn't that crazy?

Jim: It is.

Woody: I never knew Burl was the one that coined that phrase.

Jim: Yeah. And so, I'm going to tell you a quick story here, Woody and I both, and this is about when he went to Angola, he had to deal with one thing he didn't have to really deal with at DCI, and that was executions. I don't care who you are, I don't care how blessed you are to deal with certain things, that's hard for anybody.

Woody: And keeping in mind that Burl-- when I knew him, as far as I know to this day, he's a very strong Christian man.

Jim: Absolutely. His first experience with that was with an inmate by the name of Thomas Ward. And this would play probably-- I bet, if Burl was sitting across from us, and Warden Cain, if you'd ever like to sit across from us, we'd love to have you. I've tried to reach out to your guy. But if he was sitting across from us, he'd probably say this changed him more than anything else he's ever done.

It was just after midnight, Warden Cain found himself alone. He was in the death chamber with Thomas Ward. And without one word, Woody, he lifts his hand, he gives a thumbs down signal, which he would later say he hated. He hated doing that. It did not feel right to him, but it was a signal that was common to give to the executioner. This was lethal injection. So, when you would issue that lethal dose, he would give that thumbs down signal. The lethal dose gets administered, and six minutes later, Ward was dead. It was Cain's first execution.

Now, immediately, Cain began to regret that signal, as I told you. His uneasiness, it started to grow. He felt guilty because he never found out Ward's spiritual condition that night or before. He just basically ordered the lethal dose to be administered. Warden Cain actually was quoted as saying, "He didn't utter a word as we strapped him to the gurney. When the time came to ask him if he had anything to say, he didn't answer. He just choked up." The execution took place only three months, y'all, after Cain took over as warden and completely spearheaded the change that we're about to tell you in that prison.

Woody: So, real quick, let's go back to that. We've talked about executions before on the show, but now in the execution chamber, the warden is the one that's in there, and they have to read the death warrant. But giving that thumbs down, he didn't know what he was going to feel. It's the first time he ever basically legally murdered someone, and that's it. But I know as a Christian man, he just saw somebody being murdered, even though it's legal murder. He just saw the state of Louisiana take a human being's life, and he knows that he's not in there for being a choir boy, but as a Christian, he's thinking, "Mm, you know what? I should have talked to him. And even if he told me, 'Go to hell, I don't believe in Jesus,' I'd have done my job as a Christian to try to spread the word, to give him a chance to call on Jesus to repent."

Jim: That's right. And he had a conversation with his mother, Woody, after this. It bothered him that much. And his mom said, "You need to do everything you can to get those guys spiritually ready to meet the Lord, because you're going to have to answer for that."

Woody: Because--[crosstalk]

Jim: Yeah, me too.

Woody: When you have that opportunity, and so very few people do, to ever have an opportunity to talk to someone that you know is about to die, and even like I said, even if they reject you, you don't take that opportunity, you have to answer for it.

Jim: You're going to have to answer for it, and it bothered him. Literally, this was the start, y'all, and we can't even dictate into words how huge this is. But this was the start of a change at Angola. Not to sound like Donald Trump, but like nothing you've ever seen. Just unbelievable. He started instituting what he called, and this was another phrase that he coined, "cultural change." The first thing he did, and thank God, Woody was not working there at this time.

Woody: Right. I'd have been damn sure been in trouble for it.

Jim: He banned cursing by guards and inmates. Now, you can only control that so much, but it was definitely frowned upon. I think that's why he banned it.

Woody: Actually, they put it in the rulebook after that that you can't curse.

Jim: Yeah. And he believed that cursing led to other things. It wasn't the curse word itself. Now, as Woody said, he said one every now and then, but it was when it was appropriate.

Woody: I said it, I'm not going to lie.

[laughter]

Woody: What he's talking about-- I got to interject again.

Jim: Sure.

Woody: What he's talking about is, I would carry this later on. When I talk to the younger guys and say, "Listen, most of the time when you're dealing with people, you're dealing with them on their worst day. They're going to be upset, they're going to be screaming, they're going to be cursing. So, you should start out nice as can be." Look, when I was in the street, unless we were fighting or something, we didn't curse people. Will Graves [unintelligible 00:43:37] would have hung your ass or any department I work for. I said, "You always start out low and treat them super kind, even if they're cursing you and berating you, start out low, because then if you need to jump up and escalate, they'll be surprised."

But one person cursing at another one, it's not going to end well usually. Especially between men, and one of them has never had any respect for authority in their entire life, and they hate you as a correctional officer. What is he doing with this just simple thing? By taking out curse words or trying to take out curse words, he is making a mutual level of respect. You take that off, that gasoline that can do no good. Somebody's going to feel degraded, somebody's going to be pissed off, say, "Fuck you, Jim Chapman. You're a dick," where's it going from there?

Jim: That's right. Fisticuff.

Woody: If you give me a direct verbal order, and I'm like, "Yessir." Then, I can go write you up. There's other ways to handle it. So, that was genius on Burl's part.

Jim: It really was. And he also instituted cleanliness, like we told you earlier, he had this conversation with the inmates where he said, "This is your house. Keep your house clean. Encourage your neighbors to keep their house clean. Cut your grass."

Woody: Most of them come from lifestyles that they never had anything clean. They lived in the hoods, they were raised around cursing, they had no respect for anything. And he's just trying to give them the base things. Just because you're in prison, doesn't mean you're not living.

Jim: That's right. And he started inviting kind of the outside world. Look, let me tell y'all real quick. One of the hardest things to do for me in preparation for these shows is research. And why is that? Because we're dealing with a prison where not a lot gets out, for obvious reasons and I get it, but it requires an enormous amount of work to dig up some of this stuff because it just doesn't get out. He, at the beginning, was very open with inviting people into the prison, letting them see-- look, Barbara Walters, which we'll tell you a story on later, came into the prison and actually did I think it was a 2020 special on the executions that take place there. So it was a huge thing on that front. But his message initially was, "We don't have anything to hide, and we want to let people in here, see what we're doing to change what is in a horrible situation."

Woody: Yeah. "Not that we're perfect by far, but we're not hiding anything." The culture in the past was, shit, loose lips sink ships. What happens in Angola, dies in Angola.

Jim: So, I know y'all are ready for something here. And that is what was one of the more historic changes that he made right off the bat, well, we got it for you. One of the first, maybe one of the most controversial changes that he made, but this is Burl Cain genius right here. So, he's sitting there-- I'm assuming he's sitting at his desk one morning, this is how I'm picturing it. And he says, "We got a problem. Our death row inmates, most of them can't read and they can't write." It might surprise y'all to know that they didn't offer any sort of education, even as simple as reading and writing to death row inmates.

Woody: They just locked them up.

Jim: Yeah. So, you might say to yourself, "Well, who cares?" Burl Cain cared. And the reason he cared was not-- these are condemned men, so they're probably not getting out. Although we have done many stories with you guys where people were exonerated and didn't do it. So, there are those situations. But his thing was, if they can't read and they can't write, especially if they can't read, they can't read the Bible. That was a problem for him. He didn't like that.

Woody: That's exactly right.

Jim: And so, it was the first change he made, was he said, "We're going to offer education to our death row inmates." That's huge, Woody Overton.

Woody: That’s huge. Like you said, most of them had never had any kind of education. Right?

Jim: Right.

Woody: Ultimately, y'all, during this time, the death penalty put on hold and stuff like that, years later and stuff. But what do you give somebody who's locked up 23 hours a day and then they're all by themselves? That's where people go crazy and then they got nothing to do, they didn't have TVs, they didn't have all this stuff. So, he gives them, we say the word "hope," not hope that they're going to live, but he gives them something to do besides sit there and rot.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: And if you're going to sit there and rot, if the Bible is the only book you can read, maybe you glean something from it. And it goes back to what his mama said, you got to give them the opportunity.

Jim: You got to give them the opportunity. And that's just what he did. It was controversial. Look, there were people screaming, "Why are we spending money to educate death roommates?" And yes, most of them did horrible things. But his thought process was, the way he felt about it, "I'm not only in charge of their imprisonment, I'm in charge of their soul. And this is between me and God and what I am doing to try to help these men." And that's the way he thought. And the prisoners themselves really started to take note. This guy seems like he cares. I mean, it was probably an absolute shock to them.

Woody: He didn't judge them for what-- And I got this from his time too, and he told me this. He said, "Your job is not to punish them. Your job is to keep them safe and keep the public safe from them escaping. They're doing their time for their crime. Your job is not to punish. You treat them like a human being." And nobody had ever done that.

Jim: Nobody had ever done that. He does another historical thing right after that, and that is, he was the first warden to invite, and in this case, it was the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, to come in. And basically, they had like a satellite seminary right there at Angola. For those of you that don't know what they do, they offer degrees in the field of seminary so you can become an ordained minister.

Woody: Basically, it's like a Bible college.

Jim: Yeah. This was genius. I cannot stress enough how genius this was, because in his long-term vision and if anybody can say anything about Burl Cain, he had vision. In his long-term vision, he saw inmates changing other inmates through God. And that's what was missing in prisons, in his opinion. That was probably, looking back on it, one of the most successful programs he ever had. Those graduates, they would be allowed to travel, not only to other prisons in Louisiana, but eventually all over the country. They were going all over the country speaking at these other prisons, and he called that imposing morality.

Woody: And back to you, now, you get a degree from a college, then you have a little bit more self-worth. And these college studies aren't free. They were funded by outside donations. And Angola offered a four-year college degree in ministry, including instructions in Greek and Hebrew, as well as lessons on how to preach.

Jim: Yeah. And it really changed the lives of not only these inmates themselves and gave them self-worth, but it enabled them to go out and then work to change others.

Woody: And this gives me the bumps again, if you're doing that and you get self-worth for the first time in your life, guess what you're not doing? You're not raping and killing. Inside the prison, there's still raping and killing.

Jim: Mainly hit it right on the head.

Woody: Look, we're going to talk about Christianity and God and all this stuff a lot during this series, but here's the deal. I don't care what you believe in. And there certainly are convicts at Angola that were like, "Fuck you, I don't believe in anything. I'm an atheist," whatever. And that's fine too. But they were given an opportunity because Burl was raised that way.

Jim: That's right. And he knew that the principles in religion were sound things that would keep people out of trouble.

Woody: He also knew Angola was full of the darkness. He was trying to shine a little light and make the darkness back up.

Jim: That's right. So, he started thinking about this and looking at the things that were missing from Angola. This became pretty successful. And he knew that work was or learning to work was critical in rehabilitation. Many of the inmates in Angola, y'all, they had never learned to work. They basically grew up in life, they robbed, they raped, they pillaged, and they murdered to survive. So, he instilled what he called meaningful work.

Woody: Well, yeah, and let me tell you this, another famous Burl Cain saying, when you get to prison, he introduced himself and he said, "Welcome to the Department of Corrections. You're here for however long you've been sentenced. We're not here to punish you. We're here to make you secure. But you're sentenced to hard labor. Religion is an option. You'll have that opportunity while you're here to get religion, but work is not. You're going to work every day, and everybody has a job." And that goes back to him teaching the basics. Like I said, most of them never even knew how to work. They weren't raised like-- my daddy raised me, and your daddy raised you with a good work ethic.

Jim: That's right. And it also gave them that pride that they were seeking, obviously, teaching these inmates to work. And he wasn't done yet. And this is probably-- well, it definitely is another part of his vision in those early days. And that was he founded a program in Angola called Malachi Dads. He did this with some inmates who came to him. Now, Warden Cain, he took note, y'all, of the fact that almost all convicts on Angola grew up in a broken home with the father typically being absent. Look, that's at any prison in the country, overall, it is not even close.

Woody: It's not something we're making of.

Jim: It's an issue.

Woody: We're not people we're picking on or whatever. It's just the way it is.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, you're talking 6000 inmates and most of them were fathers, but they came from broken homes. And so, it didn't take a genius for Warden Cain to figure out maybe that's part of the problem. Now, you can't fix the people that are in there. They can't be at home with their kids, they're in prison. But this program--

Woody: And they're there in prison for the worst. [crosstalk]

Jim: The worst of the worst. So, he knew that there's kids out there and they're now growing up without a father because he's in prison.

Woody: Well, also, I'm going to interrupt you again, there are generational prisoners in there. There are fathers and whose sons, or grandfathers, or dads whose sons murder and grew up because it's the only thing they ever knew, right?

Jim: Absolutely.

Woody: And they got sent to Angola. I'm telling you, there's generational. Their grandson, the oldest one now, who's old, old timer in Angola whose son is down now for life of murder, that guy's son would come in for murder. He's looking this and he's like--

Jim: It's a pattern.

Woody: Oh, yeah. It's proven. And you're right, him being a forward genius thinker, he's like, "Mm, you know what? Why wouldn't I try this? Why wouldn't I try? If I can make a change in one person's life, it'd be something special." And nobody had ever done what you're about to tell about.

Jim: That's right. He gets with about, let's say, these six trusted inmates that he had that they were all graduates of this seminary. And he says, "Do y'all see the same problem I do?" And they said, "Not only do we see the problem, we can institute a program where we teach other inmates how to be fathers behind bars." It's possible. Look, I got chill bumps again. They form what they call Malachi Dads. Basically, this is one of the best programs he ever instituted. And it was a program in which fathers that were incarcerated learned how to parent their kids from inside of prison. We're going to play you a clip real quick. These are the inmate founders of Malachi Dads. And they're discussing a little bit about Warden Cain and a lot about that program. We're going to play that right now.

[video recording of Malachi Dads]

Ron: My name is Ron Hickson. I've been incarcerated for 25 years. I'm serving life sentence for second-degree murder.

Darryl: My name is Darryl Waters. I'm from Gibson, Louisiana, and I was sentenced for second-degree murder in 1992.

George: My name is George Gilliam. I am from New Orleans. I'm currently serving a life sentence for a second-degree murder. We discovered in 2006 that a child of an incarcerated father had a 70% likelihood to come to prison and so we discovered those statistics and God gave us favor and that became Malachi Dads. Just because you're locked up in prison, that does not give you the right to not still be a father. Healthy people, who have a heart that's healed, who have a soul that's whole, they want to help, they want to give back. And that's what we do every day.

Interviewer: Why do you think violence has come down in Angola?

Inmate: When Warden Cain came on the scene, what he did was open up the door of opportunity. He was able to see, "If I can get these guys to start coming out to success because what success do, it change the way you think." If I can achieve something, I feel better about myself.

[clip ends]

Woody: Wow. Super. There's so much to be said, y'all. I'm going to do one more part that is-- maybe I don't want to say shows a harsher side, because it's not a harsher side, but it shows the business side of Burl.

Jim: And a good story.

Woody: He's all about trying to shine the light in the darkness and see what kind of positive things can come about it. But he's also all about, it's his prison and who's going to rule it. But listen to this story. This is crazy. And Jim researched this, and I had never-- believe it or not, I had never even heard of this. But as we told you many times on the show, Angola is huge. It's sprawling over 18,000 acres. And that's mostly-- the camps are spread out. It's mostly agriculture, big fields, Tunica Hills, Mississippi River, shit ton of wildlife. So one day, one of the convicts saw a huge 400-pound black bear on the property, and they freaked out and they're like, "Holy shit." Most of these guys are city boys, etc.

Jim: They don't like the wolfdogs.

Woody: Right. Until two years ago, I had never seen a bear in the state of Louisiana. But in Jackson, where DCI was, the first restaurant I've worked at was called Bear Corners. Back in the day, black bears were preliminary in the area. And now, they're coming back because of strict hunting ban, etc. But you got this mass 18,000 acres, and as rare as they are, there's a bear.

Jim: In the middle of the prison.

Woody: Massive black bear living in the middle of Angola. And you know what Burl thought?

Jim: [laughs] [crosstalk]

Woody: You know what? Kind of scared me, And I know it scared them because they came running to me. And he's like, "That's just extra security."

[laughter]

Jim: That's exactly how he said it.

Woody: And I'll quote him. He said, "I love that bear being right where it is. And I tell you what, none of our inmates are going to try to get out after dark and wander around when they might run into a big old bear. It's like having another guard at no cost to the taxpayer." He was about business. We keep talking about all these good things that he's doing, let me tell you something, and we'll talk about it in later episodes in the series. I've seen it, that's one dude you don't want to see mad. And it's one dude that knows his business, right?

Jim: That's right.

Woody: Anyway, the bear was first seen by an inmate crossing the road in the prison. And it was taking a stroll near the center of prison, where about five and a half square miles were mostly untouched piney woods, y'all. And the prison workers measured the bear's footprints, which were six inches in diameter. Now, every inch that they can measure equals 75 pounds. The biologists have figured this out. So, that made that bear about 450 pounds. And Cain said, the wildlife people told us they think it's a big female they've been tracking for a while. And Warden Cain estimated at the time that 8 to 10 bears lived on that 18,000 acres.

Jim: Holy crap.

Woody: You better believe he promoted the shit out.

Jim: Oh, yeah, I was about to say that. He told every inmate.

Woody: When they come in, "Hey, if you out in the field, you see a bear, you ain't going to be the fast. You just got to be fast from one of the other convicts. We might not shoot you if you're running from the bear, but if you go out there at night, that bear is hungry. Bears got to eat."

Jim: Y'all, we're just getting started.

Woody: Yeah, just getting started.

Jim: But we got to cut this one off. We've gone over an hour.

Woody: Still though, I'm going to say it again, wait until you hear-- we talked a lot about-

Jim: Oh, my God, we ain't scratched the surface.

Woody: -the positive side today, which is something. But I'm going to tell you something, tough dude, bruh. There's a reason he lasted as long as he lasted and is still doing what he does. But it's the totality of circumstances of the man, which to me makes him a legend.

Jim: Just to give you a little sauce for what you can look forward to the next episode, we're going to talk about a little bit about Billy Cannon and how Burl Cain was instrumental in bringing him into Angola. We're going to talk about Hurricane Katrina and the effect that that had on Angola prison. Y'all going to love that story. Look, this is stuff you cannot find anywhere else.

Woody: We're going to talk about some executions.

Jim: Yeah, how about his second execution, different than the first, right?

Woody: And then what happened following after that. Just a whole--

Jim: Captain Knapps.

Woody: Captain David Knapps.

Jim: A bunch more to bring you.

Woody: Can't wait to bring you. And we appreciate and love each and every one of y'all.

Jim: Yeah. Thank y'all for-

Woody: Patreon members-

Jim: -everything.

Woody: -you rock. Our Patreon members, the show couldn't run without you. We appreciate y'all so much. Y'all, look, if you want to be a patron member, go to patreon.com/bloodyangola.

Jim: We've got a bonus episode coming next week. So, what we're going to do next week when we record our second episode of the story of Burl Cain, we're also going to record our bonus episode just for patron members. And what it's going to be on, y'all, is we released the first episode to the general public, it was on executions and we kind of told a little bit of the story and it was great. We've got more for you, but it's only going to be for patrons, that second one, it's a good one.

Woody: Y'all, we have all the different tier levels with all the different benefits. And I'm telling you right now, I've been doing this over five years, podcasting, and Real Life Real Crime original probably doesn't have as many patron episodes locked up as [crosstalk] of Bloody Angola.

Jim: We got a ton of it. That's right.

Woody: If you like Bloody Angola, go subscribe. If you can't be a patron member, we love you just as much.

Jim: And transcripts. People love the transcripts. We've got all of our episodes transcribed on Patreon for some of the tiers, and these are not transcriptions, y'all, that are like the AI versions. This is actually someone sitting down typing because our southern accents don't cross over too well. [laughs]

Woody: [crosstalk]

Jim: Unfortunately, it's horrible.

Woody: Look, we have merchandise. People love the shirts and--

Jim: Hats.

Woody: What about the Bloody Angola wine?

Jim: Oh, yeah. We got limited wine in there for you, ladies.

Woody: And that's good stuff. We sold out of at the live shows. But anyway, y'all, please share us-

Jim: Review us.

Woody: -like us and leave us a review if you're so inclined. And we appreciate you and love you. And wait until you hear what's coming next.

Jim: Oh, yeah. And until next time, I'm Jim Chapman.

Woody: And I'm Woody Overton.

Jim: Your host of Bloody-

Woody: Angola.

Jim: A podcast 142 years in the making.

Woody: The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.

Jim and Woody: Peace.


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In this episode of Bloody Angola Woody Overton and Jim Chapman tell the story of legendary Warden Burl Cain. Burl Cain was the longest serving Warden in the history of Louisiana State Penitentiary and his vision and reforms changed this historic prison forever. This docu-series is the most anticipated and sought after we have ever done on Bloody Angola Podcast and it starts now!

#BloodyAngolaPodcast #BurlCain #Becomingthewarden #Louisianastatepenitentiary #PrisonWarden #Podcasts #Dixoncorrectionalinstitute #DCI #MDOC

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FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

BECOMING THE WARDEN: THE LEGACY AND LEGEND THAT IS BURL CAIN PART 1

Jim: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to Bloody-

Woody: -Angola.

Jim: A podcast 142 years in the making.

Woody: The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.

Jim: And I'm Jim Chapman.

Woody: And I'm Woody Overton.

Jim: And we're back, Woody Overton.

Woody: Back in the saddle.

Jim: Back in effect.

Woody: Back in effect.

Jim: And we're bringing y'all a hell of a story today. Highly requested.

Woody: Yes. A legend.

Jim: Legend. Someone you have some experience with.

Woody: I do. I have a lot of years of experience with him. Solid dude. They can say whatever they want to. Everybody's going to have their haters or whatever. And certainly, he marches to the beat of a different drummer, but he's a visionary and has affected so many lives.

Jim: Boy, he sure has. And I'll tell you, as far as research, I've probably enjoyed researching this man more than just about anyone I've researched.

Woody: I've read his book years ago when it came out. Of course, I have the family history at Angola and all that, and of course, my personal history with him. Just super, super intelligent, super unique.

Jim: Yeah, very. I think that's a great word to describe him. And of course, if you're hanging by a thread right now trying to figure out who we're talking about, it is the legendary warden of Angola, Burl Cain. So, we're going to start off and we're just going to take you through a journey of his life.

Woody: Yeah. And I think it's so important, this research that you put together, a lot of it I didn't know, especially about the early years. And I don't know how they haven't made a movie about him yet, honestly.

Jim: It's got to be coming at some point.

Woody: Y'all, we've done a couple of series before, but not real long ones or anything. But it's going to be several parts to this. But you got to stay tuned because every one of them is going to kick you.

Jim: Yeah. So, to start off, he was born in Pitkin, Louisiana, and I was not familiar with Pitkin.

Woody: Small town in Vernon Parish.

Jim: Vernon Parish. And for those of you that are kind of wondering where Vernon Parish is, that's on the Texas line. It's in the center of the state all the way to the westernmost.

Woody: If you're familiar with Toledo Bend, the largest lake and kind of splits Louisiana. Texas too, but fantastic for fishing, all that. It's real close to that. Kind of a piney woods area, but really, really rural. Shit, there's not even any major highways to get over there. From off the Interstate 49, which runs north and south, splits the state. Shit, it's probably hour and a half, two hours from there.

Jim: Yeah. And he actually described it in an interview one time, and he said, "We didn't even have a stoplight."

Woody: Yeah, well, my hometown still doesn't have a stoplight.

Jim: [laughs] So, you think about that, folks. He went from that to warden of the largest maximum-security prison in the United States which, first of all, goes to show you that it doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter, hard work and really destined. I think he was kind of touched by God to do what he does. He's 80 years old as of today.

Woody: So, he is a couple of years younger than my dad. Actually, maybe one year because my dad was born the week before Peral Harbor, and he was born on July 2nd, 1942.

Jim: And still going.

Woody: Still going, very, very healthy.

Jim: We're going to get into that.

Woody: But he grew up on a farm, y'all, that's where he developed his work ethic. And let me tell you something, this dude can work.

Jim: Let me tell you, if you're 80 years old-- look, if I make 80, I'm considering that a success. When you're 80 and you're still working, that tells you who he is as far as his work ethic is concerned. He grew up on a farm that would play a huge role in his future development. And he grew up in a very religious house.

Woody: Right. Back then, not knocking it, but a lot of people, especially ones that were raised on farms, their parents had to raise them as help. I mean, they worked.

Jim: That's right. You needed help, you had another kid.

Woody: Talking about throwing hay, tending animals and cows and everything else and working the gardens. And hey, there wasn't any PlayStations and cable TV or anything. Hell, they're lucky if they had electricity.

Jim: And you woke up 4:30 in the morning to milk them cows and do all those things.

Woody: You didn't have a problem going to bed at dark with your ass tired.

Jim: You were tired. And his household was very religious, y'all, extremely religious. He attended church, as he described it, every time the doors were open since birth. And he didn't even dance. He wasn't allowed to dance or attend dancing--[crosstalk]

Woody: And I had a lot of people that I grew up with that were the same way. That just wasn't acceptable. People talk about Bible Belt, I can't say Vernon is directly, but I know there's some count-- not counties, parishes over there that are actually dry. They don't sell alcohol. They're Bible Belt. So, down here where south Louisiana, where everything goes, and then you hit that area of the state, it was borderline to the west of Alexandria and all that, but they were really, really country, and the farther north you go, the more country getting. There's a couple of dry parishes in the state, and this area would have been one of them.

Jim: No doubt. At his age, being born in '42, he was kind of hitting those late teenage years when Elvis Presley-

Woody: Absolutely.

Jim: -was big. So, I'd love to sit him down and ask him, "How did you avoid dance when Elvis Presley came on the radio?"

Woody: He didn't have a radio.

Jim: [laughs] Yeah, that's it. That's probably exactly what he would say. "I was out there milking cows. I wasn't worried about the King." Also, Burl Cain never dreamed he would be a prison warden growing up. Of course, being from such a small town, that'd be like most people dreaming they were going to be an astronaut. It just didn't seem possible. As a matter of fact, he remembers vividly fearing Angola, as it was common for his mother to tell him, "If you don't straighten up, you're going to end up in Angola." It was a threat, matter of fact.

Woody: And one thing they did even back then, believe it or not, is most schools, once a year, certain age group of kids, they bus them to Angola. And of course, it was educational for them, and they didn't hold back. They took you down the walks and stuff like that, and they fed you the prison food, and they were like, most girls be crying and shit like that, and they're like, "I ain't never coming to this motherfucker."

Jim: Yeah. It was used as a form of threat. And so, he had another dream. And believe it or not, y'all, he wanted to be a veterinarian.

Woody: Yeah, he wanted to be a vet. And when he graduated from high school, he went to LSU Alexandria campus, y'all, that's a satellite campus, and they have one in Alexandria and one in Shreveport to do just that. But he struggled coming from a small town where the chemistry side of school basically was a fight for him. And they just didn't teach a whole lot beyond the basics, like the element charts and stuff like that at his high school. So, he switched to something that was more prevalent in the areas from and that's agriculture, education. Let me tell you something, vet school is tough. You might as well go and become a doctor. Nowadays, you got to have a four point whatever just to get in, and there's no guarantee you're going to make it. And it's heavy, heavy on sciences.

Jim: A lot of people don't realize LSU has probably the best vet school, if not one of the best in the country.

Woody: So, imagine this, coming from probably my hometown, I graduated we had 28 in my graduating class. Still don't have a red light to this day. I submit to you that his town was smaller. And back then, they didn't test for the kids to pass the test. You just got the books, you know Jim, it was a different type of education. And they were just giving your basics.

But the ag part, growing up on a farm, he already knew tons about it. And pretty much everyone in his family were teachers. So, he settled on basically just working towards a life of teaching after college, which I think is very unique now that I know him.

Jim: Right. You look back on that life and you see how those skills benefited him, even though he wasn't in the world of education when he really got going. So, he graduates from LSU in agriculture education. He starts teaching at a high school, and [chuckles] he figures out in about three months' time that teaching is not easy.

Woody: Not at the high school level.

Jim: Yeah, not at the high school level. So, he figured, "This ain't for me." He lasted about three months, and he went to work for the state of Louisiana at what's known as the Louisiana Farm Bureau.

Woody: Yeah, Louisiana, of course, our number one industry is oil and gas. It's kind of a tossup between the two, but then you have seafood, and then it's agriculture. And the seafood and agriculture are kind of on the same level. Like, where I'm from, it's all farms, we raise trees. So, agriculture is beyond just raising cows. It's growing trees. It's everything that you can profit from in the long run by growing it or raising it.

Jim: That's right. And he was a master of that, having grown up in it, and then got official education in it. And in 1976--

Woody: '76, I was six years old.

Jim: I was two. [laughs] In 1976, he finally starts his career in state government, and he started out with the Louisiana Department of Corrections as the Assistant Secretary for Agribusiness.

Woody: And that's huge. Now, I'm going to be honest with you, and this is just a straight-up truth, and it's how I got my state government job, my first one with the Department of Corrections. Actually, when I was in high school, I got a job. One of the local state reps got me a job cutting grass at the state-run old folks' home and the Villa. So, when he gets this job with the state, there's a lot of things that go along with that. One of them is, and I have some personal knowledge of this, I'll tell y'all probably on the next episode, one of them is you're civil service. And there's a lot of protections afforded to you through the civil service. And you get your guaranteed raises. You're never going to get rich, but you have protection. There's a certain comfort level of that.

Jim: Yeah, they can't just fire you.

Woody: Right. Real quick. When I left the university PD, we were civil service, to go to the sheriff's office, and they were like, "Why would you leave a civil service job to go somewhere where you're an at will employee?" I said, "Well, I don't need civil service to save my job." But civil service, and this is the truth, this is how much protection you have, if I was state police and I walked in my captain's office and I got on his desk and I took a shit on his desk, the first time, all they can do is give you a verbal warning. The second time, I go in and take a shit on his desk, then they can write you up for it. And the third time, they can fire you. There's only certain offenses like drugs or whatever that they can fire you for on the spot.

Jim: Did you ever take a shit on his desk? [laughs]

Woody: No, I didn’t. I didn't have a captain either. I answered to the colonel. But just an example. And they say, it's like the Snark missile. For you who don't remember, during the Iraq War, Saddam had these missiles called Snarks. Every time they were developed and every time they fire them, the fuckers blow up. And so, they said, civil service employee is like a Snark missile. You can't fire and you can't make it work. That's not true. A lot of the best people in the world are lifetime state employees, and a lot of my dear friends are.

Jim: Absolutely. And look, y'all, this is 1976, so the economy is down at this point in time. That was a really good job. And of course, look, any sort of state job at that level, sometimes you got to know somebody, Woody Overton.

Woody: Absolutely.

Jim: That ain't changed. That's been that way since the beginning of time.

Woody: [crosstalk] -is and it's Louisiana.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: I got my job at Department of Corrections because my dad pulled some strings with politicians.

Jim: Sure. And that was a good job. And this was a downtime in the economy. So, Burl freely admits, and he said this on many interviews, that his brother was instrumental in getting him that job. His brother, y'all, and whether you're aware of this or not, was a senator from the state of Louisiana.

Woody: They look almost identical. I'm surprised that they're not twins.

Jim: Yeah. So, he starts that job, and he's a rockstar at it. He's doing great, and in 1981, he gets an opportunity.

Woody: 10 years before I went there. In 1981, he became the Warden of Dixon Correctional Institute, known as DCI. And he was only 38.

Jim: Only 38, warden of the prison.

Woody: When I met him, it was in '90 or '91, and of course, he had been the warden for 10 years. DCI, y'all, it's a mixed security prison, and this is kind of a misnomer here too, but mixed security, meaning it has medium, maximum, and some trusty camps. The trusty camps would be like-- Jackson, Louisiana, is full of state-run facilities. Villa, like I was telling you about, geriatric home, state run. The hospital from mentally insane, which is basically on DCI property, right across the street from their Claiborne. And it has the state-run mental hospital. If you don't have healthcare and you legitimately to be, I'd say crazy, what's politically correct term?

Jim: Nuts. [laughs]

Woody: If you're literally nuts, you went there. Look, I had an aunt who spent most of her life in that hospital. Then, you have DCI. It's all these state run-- the war vets home was there. Biggest state war vets home is there. So, you have all these state-run facilities. And I guarantee you, all my people from Jackson, I've got family from there, all of them were state employees, one facility or another. So, DCI is located right outside of Jackson, y'all, which is about 40 minutes north of Baton Rouge. Small town still to this day. One major road running through it. And then, DCI is off of one of those roads.

But the mixed security, the main camp at DCI where I worked, you had two maximum security camps. And then, they had the satellite, the trusty camp at the state mental hospital. And that's because they took everything there. They were orderlies and took care of the grounds and the whole nine yards. And I used to go to little peewee football practice on the state ground. And there, the prisoners would line up on the fence, all the trustys. And years later on extra duty shifts, I would go pick up and I'd go be the guard at the trusty camp there. But they do that for economic reasons, and Burl had them do that for economic reasons because they didn't have to bust them back and forth to work every day.

Jim: Wow.

Woody: And so, they were there around the clock. And they were instrumental in all the state-run facilities, the trustees, the cow barns and everything. I'm talking about, look, DCI wasn't 18,000 acres, but it was a lot, but spread out in different areas. The cow barns and all that, shit, they raised cattle for the state of Louisiana. But anyway, it was there. Burl--

Jim: 38 years old.

Woody: Yeah, I didn't know that--[crosstalk]

Jim: Damn, when I was 38, there's no way I'm running a prison. I'm lucky to stay out of prison.

Woody: You're right. I was in Texas still when I was 38.

Jim: Yeah, really amazing and a huge opportunity. And guess what? It was his first experience as being a warden, what he would become just an absolute legend for it. At that time, DCI had about 1400 inmates. That was its capacity. And it was female and male, which made it different from other prisons. It was also relatively new. It had been built in 1976, so it was only six years old. That's like the state-of-the-art presence, especially compared to Angola at that time, which was hundred years old.

Woody: By the time I got there in '91, there were no females there. It was probably like 2500, they had added on to it.

Jim: So, no females at that time, gotcha.

Woody: And then, the other kicker is, and I forgot to mention this earlier, so I say it's about 40 minutes north of Baton Rouge. Well, guess what? It's only 30 miles from Bloody Angola. It's East and West Louisiana. I was born and raised in Clinton, where my grandfather was a judge, but West Feliciana butts up to it. My mama was from West Feliciana, where her daddy was the DA during this time, actually. But that 30 miles is deceiving because back then, they had the old road to Bloody Angola and that wound up the Tunica Hills and part of it's gravel and shit. And when you turn it off at 61, it took you another 40 minutes to get from there, the last 10 miles to get in.

Jim: It seemed like 300 miles. It was not what you would call picturesque. You're not looking at the Rockies when you're going down the highway. This is where Cain coined what would eventually be one of his most famous phrases. He started at the facility, and as is common, your first day on the job as warden, you're going to have a meeting with all of your people, and you're going to learn the ins and outs of this prison, things that maybe the outgoing warden didn't tell you. And one of the things he found out was that they had no worship services for the inmates. And it was where he kind of coined the phrase, "moral rehabilitation."

Woody: He carried that [crosstalk] to talk about it, but he still carries to this day. And he was serious about it.

Jim: Yeah. It was, as a matter of fact, one of the first things he changed at Dixon, was bringing religion into prisons, something that, look, we're going to talk a lot about. So, he becomes a rockstar again. He's just killing it at Dixon.

Woody: Let me tell you just a couple real quick stories, and I know I'm going off script, but I met him the first time, I think it was 1990 or 1991, and I got hired. So, he had what they call the White House. And the White House was an administrative building. I had to go to the White House, do paperwork and stuff like that, but I hadn't seen him. And then they put me on the largest rec room-- after I got back from Angola, doing my training and all that. They put me on the largest rec room at DCI. And long story short, I ended up getting in a fight with him because the captain told me, you give them direct orders like, "Hey, do this," and if they don't do it, you can arrest them for it. And so, one of them I told to come with me, and he turned around, ran out in the yard, and I had to hit my pager and get the captain to come. And the captain went out there and got him and arrested him. He said, "But next time you do it, you hit your pager, and you use whatever force necessary to bring the situation out of control."

Well, it wasn't two weeks later, Sunday night, they turned off the lights in the dorm, and I told him to clear the rec room, except for the night guys that were up. And one guy was standing on the back wall by the water fountain with his foot up on the wall. And we said, "Get to your house." And I told him, "Get to your house." And he just kind of looked at me. I said, "I'm not going to tell you again. Get to your house." And he didn't move. And so, I hit my pager, and I said, "Well, you're under arrest. You're coming with me?" He said, "Fuck you." And he turned around, walked into the dorm, which was closing down at that time. The lights and the inmates are shuffling back and forth, getting the water, going to the bathroom, and I tackled him, and the fist fight was on.

So, Captain Raymond Newman said, he said, "Man, when I hit that rec room door, and I was long ways away from it," he said, "And I didn't see you." He said, "I knew it sure had turned to shit. I knew shit was going down." And what happened was that there's a couple of fireable offenses. One, if you get caught having sex with an inmate or you get caught bringing in contraband or sleeping on duty, civil service doesn't protect you for that. And the biggest one is if another officer is in a fight and you don't help them, then you can be fired on the spot.

Well, there's two sergeants on the dorm. I'm fighting with this guy. I didn't think I could start a riot. And I'm fighting with this guy, and he's a big dude, and one of the sergeant is trying to help me, the other froze up, didn't want to do anything. Newman came in. Long story short, we get him out. We were punching, we were punching. My eye was swollen and stuff. Long story short, Ray gets me to the office. He said, "You got to go home." I'm like, "Fucking getting fired, man." I said, "Ray, you told me, use whatever force necessary. He wouldn't stop and put my hands on, and he went to fight." And he said, "You could have started a fucking riot, man. You realize that? You got to go home, and we'll call you." I'm like, "Fuck, I'm getting fired." So, they called me on Monday morning, and he said, "You need to report to Warden Cain's office."

Jim: [chuckles] Oh, shit.

Woody: My first time in a life on the carpet, besides the military, being called on the carpet, it means you know you're going to get your ass shoot to get fired or whatever. And he brought me in, and I'll never forget it. He actually got up from behind his desk and he shook my hand. He said, "Sergeant Overton, come on in. Have a seat. Boy, tell me what happened." I said, "Warden Cain, Captain Newman, he was in there." I wasn’t trying to throw him on the bus. I said, "This is what happened before. He told me next time, use whatever force necessary to bring the situation under control. And so, I did. We ended up fighting." He leaned back and steepled his fingers a little bit, kind of like [unintelligible [00:26:36] would. Warden Cain, he's not big in stature, he's not tall, but he's not fat, but he's kind of-- I don't want to say heavy set, he's more of a round of shape. You wouldn't think this guy has such a presence, but he does, but he was just super, super nice.

He said, "All right, son, I get that. I appreciate you taking an initiative. But I'm going to send you somewhere where you could fight every single night." I said, "Well, where is that?" He said, "I'm going to send you to the working cell block. That's where we have our worst of our worst, and somebody's going to be--" You know what, he would curse sometimes. As religious as he was, and he probably did say ass-- when he got mad, he'd curse. But he said, "I'm going to send you back there." And believe me, I passed this down to all the guys I trained over the years. I would tell them, I say, "Look, you don't have to go out of your way put your hands on somebody to look for shit because there's enough assholes out there that are legitimately going to give you a reason to fight them, when you go to arrest them or whatever." He said, "I'm to going put you back there." And I did it, and I rose up as a superstar. And every time he'd see me, he'd say, "How are you doing, Sergeant Overton?"

Jim: Love that story, and I'm sure you've got several. And what we're going to do, folks, is this is going to be a docuseries. So, this is going to be three episodes. In the third episode, we're going to have Kelly Jennings, who also has some experience with Burl Cain on the show. And it's going to be storytelling time with Woody and Kelly. And they're going to tell some stories that are just fire.

Woody: We need to promote that.

Jim: Yeah.

Woody: The last episode is going to be The True Stories.

Jim: The True Stories.

Woody: From Woody-

Jim: From Woody. [chuckles]

Woody: -and female Woody.

[chuckles]

Jim: Yeah. You can't get no better than that. Look, I got the best seat in the house, and I'm going to be kind of the moderator of what will be an amazing episode coming up just in a couple of weeks. We're going to move on. Look, Warden Cain, he became an absolute star. He made a name for himself. And of course, he had a brother that was in politics. And so, they knew the Cain name. And in 1995, the warden of Angola, a guy by the name of John Whitley, who at some point we're going to do a story on, but John Whitley was retiring. And so, secretary at that time was Richard Stalder.

Woody: And he was the head of the Department of Corrections when I was there also.

Jim: That secretary he is kind of like who is the boss of the wardens.

Woody: He's the boss of all the prisons.

Jim: Yeah. Outside of the governor, he is the top person in the prison system. And he announces the new warden will be the warden at that time of DCI, which was Burl Cain. Now, you may be surprised to know something. Burl Cain did not want that job. [laughs]

Woody: Yeah. And that's because he knew that wardens in Angola didn't last long.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: I think they averaged just over five years of service because Angola was so bad, y'all, and somebody had to be the scapegoat for the bad things that happened. But he wasn't left much of a choice. He had the most experience of any warden in the state of Louisiana with his 14 years at DCI. So, he took it.

Jim: Secretary Stalder just basically said, "You're going to be the warden of Angola."

Woody: When he took it, I tell you, it was truly bloody Angola, and they were under all this federal scrutiny and everything else. And he's like, "Mm, don't want to do it." I'm sure it was a challenge to him, but he didn't want to lose what he had going on.

Jim: No. You're 14 years at one place, you have a system, it's working. You're looked at as a rockstar in the system, and now you're being sent another challenge. You're comfortable. You don't want to have to do that. But also, Angola had some issues. There were 300 attacks on the staff and 766 inmate-on-inmate assaults, half of which were--

Woody: That was in one year, the year before he went there. And this was right around when I was getting out of corrections, he left right after I left DCI. And he went up there but, fuck, I knew about it. I mean, you heard about it. It didn't make the news every day, but it made the correctional officer grapevine. It was bad shit.

Jim: Yeah. I remember when he was announced as the warden of Angola, and if you were from the state of Louisiana, I mean, that was big news. Big news. Side note to that, this may or may not seem out of order, but I'm going to mention it now. He was actually still living at DCI throughout-- Wardens typically live at the prison they're at.

Woody: They have very nice homes that are provided to them by the state at no cost. It's part of your salary, and it's maintained by the convicts and all that. He took the job. But shit, nobody wants to move-- especially back then, wants to move to Angola, not even on the B-Line, because it's so fucking far away. I knew his wife at the time, and then he was there, and he's got kids and the whole nine yards.

Jim: Well, and you may wonder who took his place at DCI. Well, Jimmy Le Blanc took his place there. They were good friends.

Woody: Jimmy was an underwarden to Burl at the time. And so basically, Burl Cain tapped him to take it over.

Jim: Right. And he made a deal with him. He said, "Look, take it over. I think you would be a great replacement for me, but I ain't moving out of my house." [laughs] He literally said that. And Jimmy Le Blanc was okay with that. In the state of Louisiana, they gave Jimmy Le Blanc kind of a stipend for the home he was already living in, because that's considered a perk. It's a huge perk.

Woody: It's a big part of your salary. And I'm sure you have it in here, Jim, that when Stalder retired, Jim Le Blanc ultimately became the head of the corrections--[crosstalk]

Jim: Yeah, we'll be getting into that. But just to finish that point up, Cain lived at DCI, y'all until 1999. And what prompted him to actually leave was the murder of Captain David Knapps in Angola. And we'll get into that in the second episode.

Woody: Captain David Knapps was a multi-generational correctional officer, and he lived on the B-Line. And that's all he ever knew. His father done and his grandfather done, his brothers and everybody-- he lived there. And he was brutally murdered in '99 during an attempted prison escape. And we're going to cover that. Ultimately, he's a superhero, but Burl would have been his boss for almost five years at that time.

One thing I'm going to tell you about Burl Cain, is as any good leader in any good spot, if your people take care of you, you damn well going to take care of your people. And you're going to know who they are, and you're going to promote them up and everything because, unfortunately, and I've said this many times, and I felt this, I truly did believe this, some of the people that you worked with in corrections were shittier than the convicts. I think that plays into the whole civil service thing, because you can't fire them, you can't make them work, and they knew the rulebooks and all that, but absolutely 95% of them were the best people in the world. But Burl knew who were his rising stars and who would run whatever, and David Knapps was one of them.

Jim: Look, being a good leader, one of the best attributes you can have is being able to spot other good leaders.

Woody: And I've had so many, and I'm telling you, I think he is probably one of the best leaders I've ever had. And I'm talking about my military career, my police career, my corrections career, whatever.

Jim: Yeah, you've been around a lot of them.

Woody: And I took a lot of his leadership skills from him. Like that day when I was trouble in his office, I mean, if I'd have been a turd, he'd have fired me. But no, he gave me freedom to run. And he knew I was going to handle my business.

Jim: Yeah. So, imagine you're Burl Cain, it's 1995, February, and you're now in charge of the largest maximum-security prison in America. 18,000 acres of sheer intimidation.

Woody: And the worst of the worst.

Jim: And the worst of the worst.

Woody: I would put those guys up there against any convict in the world as far as the horrificness of the crimes, etc.

Jim: So, warden gets there, and one of the first things he did was he outlines his philosophy to the inmates, and I'm going to quote him here. He said, "Your dorm is like a city or a community. The beds and houses along that are the street, with the street being the aisle itself. So, three beds down is like saying three houses down. You should visit your neighbors."

Woody: He'd actually say that, yeah.

Jim: "Counsel your neighbors and be concerned for each other. Keep your city free from drugs and violence. And don't curse. Once you start cursing each other, violence is sure to follow." That was his philosophy.

Woody: Absolute genius. And do you know that to this day that's what they call their bunks and stuff as their houses?

Jim: Yeah. Well, it essentially is.

Woody: And the aisles, because these big long aisles that run in between rows of bunks and they call them their streets.

Jim: That's their streets.

Woody: Isn't that crazy?

Jim: It is.

Woody: I never knew Burl was the one that coined that phrase.

Jim: Yeah. And so, I'm going to tell you a quick story here, Woody and I both, and this is about when he went to Angola, he had to deal with one thing he didn't have to really deal with at DCI, and that was executions. I don't care who you are, I don't care how blessed you are to deal with certain things, that's hard for anybody.

Woody: And keeping in mind that Burl-- when I knew him, as far as I know to this day, he's a very strong Christian man.

Jim: Absolutely. His first experience with that was with an inmate by the name of Thomas Ward. And this would play probably-- I bet, if Burl was sitting across from us, and Warden Cain, if you'd ever like to sit across from us, we'd love to have you. I've tried to reach out to your guy. But if he was sitting across from us, he'd probably say this changed him more than anything else he's ever done.

It was just after midnight, Warden Cain found himself alone. He was in the death chamber with Thomas Ward. And without one word, Woody, he lifts his hand, he gives a thumbs down signal, which he would later say he hated. He hated doing that. It did not feel right to him, but it was a signal that was common to give to the executioner. This was lethal injection. So, when you would issue that lethal dose, he would give that thumbs down signal. The lethal dose gets administered, and six minutes later, Ward was dead. It was Cain's first execution.

Now, immediately, Cain began to regret that signal, as I told you. His uneasiness, it started to grow. He felt guilty because he never found out Ward's spiritual condition that night or before. He just basically ordered the lethal dose to be administered. Warden Cain actually was quoted as saying, "He didn't utter a word as we strapped him to the gurney. When the time came to ask him if he had anything to say, he didn't answer. He just choked up." The execution took place only three months, y'all, after Cain took over as warden and completely spearheaded the change that we're about to tell you in that prison.

Woody: So, real quick, let's go back to that. We've talked about executions before on the show, but now in the execution chamber, the warden is the one that's in there, and they have to read the death warrant. But giving that thumbs down, he didn't know what he was going to feel. It's the first time he ever basically legally murdered someone, and that's it. But I know as a Christian man, he just saw somebody being murdered, even though it's legal murder. He just saw the state of Louisiana take a human being's life, and he knows that he's not in there for being a choir boy, but as a Christian, he's thinking, "Mm, you know what? I should have talked to him. And even if he told me, 'Go to hell, I don't believe in Jesus,' I'd have done my job as a Christian to try to spread the word, to give him a chance to call on Jesus to repent."

Jim: That's right. And he had a conversation with his mother, Woody, after this. It bothered him that much. And his mom said, "You need to do everything you can to get those guys spiritually ready to meet the Lord, because you're going to have to answer for that."

Woody: Because--[crosstalk]

Jim: Yeah, me too.

Woody: When you have that opportunity, and so very few people do, to ever have an opportunity to talk to someone that you know is about to die, and even like I said, even if they reject you, you don't take that opportunity, you have to answer for it.

Jim: You're going to have to answer for it, and it bothered him. Literally, this was the start, y'all, and we can't even dictate into words how huge this is. But this was the start of a change at Angola. Not to sound like Donald Trump, but like nothing you've ever seen. Just unbelievable. He started instituting what he called, and this was another phrase that he coined, "cultural change." The first thing he did, and thank God, Woody was not working there at this time.

Woody: Right. I'd have been damn sure been in trouble for it.

Jim: He banned cursing by guards and inmates. Now, you can only control that so much, but it was definitely frowned upon. I think that's why he banned it.

Woody: Actually, they put it in the rulebook after that that you can't curse.

Jim: Yeah. And he believed that cursing led to other things. It wasn't the curse word itself. Now, as Woody said, he said one every now and then, but it was when it was appropriate.

Woody: I said it, I'm not going to lie.

[laughter]

Woody: What he's talking about-- I got to interject again.

Jim: Sure.

Woody: What he's talking about is, I would carry this later on. When I talk to the younger guys and say, "Listen, most of the time when you're dealing with people, you're dealing with them on their worst day. They're going to be upset, they're going to be screaming, they're going to be cursing. So, you should start out nice as can be." Look, when I was in the street, unless we were fighting or something, we didn't curse people. Will Graves [unintelligible 00:43:37] would have hung your ass or any department I work for. I said, "You always start out low and treat them super kind, even if they're cursing you and berating you, start out low, because then if you need to jump up and escalate, they'll be surprised."

But one person cursing at another one, it's not going to end well usually. Especially between men, and one of them has never had any respect for authority in their entire life, and they hate you as a correctional officer. What is he doing with this just simple thing? By taking out curse words or trying to take out curse words, he is making a mutual level of respect. You take that off, that gasoline that can do no good. Somebody's going to feel degraded, somebody's going to be pissed off, say, "Fuck you, Jim Chapman. You're a dick," where's it going from there?

Jim: That's right. Fisticuff.

Woody: If you give me a direct verbal order, and I'm like, "Yessir." Then, I can go write you up. There's other ways to handle it. So, that was genius on Burl's part.

Jim: It really was. And he also instituted cleanliness, like we told you earlier, he had this conversation with the inmates where he said, "This is your house. Keep your house clean. Encourage your neighbors to keep their house clean. Cut your grass."

Woody: Most of them come from lifestyles that they never had anything clean. They lived in the hoods, they were raised around cursing, they had no respect for anything. And he's just trying to give them the base things. Just because you're in prison, doesn't mean you're not living.

Jim: That's right. And he started inviting kind of the outside world. Look, let me tell y'all real quick. One of the hardest things to do for me in preparation for these shows is research. And why is that? Because we're dealing with a prison where not a lot gets out, for obvious reasons and I get it, but it requires an enormous amount of work to dig up some of this stuff because it just doesn't get out. He, at the beginning, was very open with inviting people into the prison, letting them see-- look, Barbara Walters, which we'll tell you a story on later, came into the prison and actually did I think it was a 2020 special on the executions that take place there. So it was a huge thing on that front. But his message initially was, "We don't have anything to hide, and we want to let people in here, see what we're doing to change what is in a horrible situation."

Woody: Yeah. "Not that we're perfect by far, but we're not hiding anything." The culture in the past was, shit, loose lips sink ships. What happens in Angola, dies in Angola.

Jim: So, I know y'all are ready for something here. And that is what was one of the more historic changes that he made right off the bat, well, we got it for you. One of the first, maybe one of the most controversial changes that he made, but this is Burl Cain genius right here. So, he's sitting there-- I'm assuming he's sitting at his desk one morning, this is how I'm picturing it. And he says, "We got a problem. Our death row inmates, most of them can't read and they can't write." It might surprise y'all to know that they didn't offer any sort of education, even as simple as reading and writing to death row inmates.

Woody: They just locked them up.

Jim: Yeah. So, you might say to yourself, "Well, who cares?" Burl Cain cared. And the reason he cared was not-- these are condemned men, so they're probably not getting out. Although we have done many stories with you guys where people were exonerated and didn't do it. So, there are those situations. But his thing was, if they can't read and they can't write, especially if they can't read, they can't read the Bible. That was a problem for him. He didn't like that.

Woody: That's exactly right.

Jim: And so, it was the first change he made, was he said, "We're going to offer education to our death row inmates." That's huge, Woody Overton.

Woody: That’s huge. Like you said, most of them had never had any kind of education. Right?

Jim: Right.

Woody: Ultimately, y'all, during this time, the death penalty put on hold and stuff like that, years later and stuff. But what do you give somebody who's locked up 23 hours a day and then they're all by themselves? That's where people go crazy and then they got nothing to do, they didn't have TVs, they didn't have all this stuff. So, he gives them, we say the word "hope," not hope that they're going to live, but he gives them something to do besides sit there and rot.

Jim: That's right.

Woody: And if you're going to sit there and rot, if the Bible is the only book you can read, maybe you glean something from it. And it goes back to what his mama said, you got to give them the opportunity.

Jim: You got to give them the opportunity. And that's just what he did. It was controversial. Look, there were people screaming, "Why are we spending money to educate death roommates?" And yes, most of them did horrible things. But his thought process was, the way he felt about it, "I'm not only in charge of their imprisonment, I'm in charge of their soul. And this is between me and God and what I am doing to try to help these men." And that's the way he thought. And the prisoners themselves really started to take note. This guy seems like he cares. I mean, it was probably an absolute shock to them.

Woody: He didn't judge them for what-- And I got this from his time too, and he told me this. He said, "Your job is not to punish them. Your job is to keep them safe and keep the public safe from them escaping. They're doing their time for their crime. Your job is not to punish. You treat them like a human being." And nobody had ever done that.

Jim: Nobody had ever done that. He does another historical thing right after that, and that is, he was the first warden to invite, and in this case, it was the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, to come in. And basically, they had like a satellite seminary right there at Angola. For those of you that don't know what they do, they offer degrees in the field of seminary so you can become an ordained minister.

Woody: Basically, it's like a Bible college.

Jim: Yeah. This was genius. I cannot stress enough how genius this was, because in his long-term vision and if anybody can say anything about Burl Cain, he had vision. In his long-term vision, he saw inmates changing other inmates through God. And that's what was missing in prisons, in his opinion. That was probably, looking back on it, one of the most successful programs he ever had. Those graduates, they would be allowed to travel, not only to other prisons in Louisiana, but eventually all over the country. They were going all over the country speaking at these other prisons, and he called that imposing morality.

Woody: And back to you, now, you get a degree from a college, then you have a little bit more self-worth. And these college studies aren't free. They were funded by outside donations. And Angola offered a four-year college degree in ministry, including instructions in Greek and Hebrew, as well as lessons on how to preach.

Jim: Yeah. And it really changed the lives of not only these inmates themselves and gave them self-worth, but it enabled them to go out and then work to change others.

Woody: And this gives me the bumps again, if you're doing that and you get self-worth for the first time in your life, guess what you're not doing? You're not raping and killing. Inside the prison, there's still raping and killing.

Jim: Mainly hit it right on the head.

Woody: Look, we're going to talk about Christianity and God and all this stuff a lot during this series, but here's the deal. I don't care what you believe in. And there certainly are convicts at Angola that were like, "Fuck you, I don't believe in anything. I'm an atheist," whatever. And that's fine too. But they were given an opportunity because Burl was raised that way.

Jim: That's right. And he knew that the principles in religion were sound things that would keep people out of trouble.

Woody: He also knew Angola was full of the darkness. He was trying to shine a little light and make the darkness back up.

Jim: That's right. So, he started thinking about this and looking at the things that were missing from Angola. This became pretty successful. And he knew that work was or learning to work was critical in rehabilitation. Many of the inmates in Angola, y'all, they had never learned to work. They basically grew up in life, they robbed, they raped, they pillaged, and they murdered to survive. So, he instilled what he called meaningful work.

Woody: Well, yeah, and let me tell you this, another famous Burl Cain saying, when you get to prison, he introduced himself and he said, "Welcome to the Department of Corrections. You're here for however long you've been sentenced. We're not here to punish you. We're here to make you secure. But you're sentenced to hard labor. Religion is an option. You'll have that opportunity while you're here to get religion, but work is not. You're going to work every day, and everybody has a job." And that goes back to him teaching the basics. Like I said, most of them never even knew how to work. They weren't raised like-- my daddy raised me, and your daddy raised you with a good work ethic.

Jim: That's right. And it also gave them that pride that they were seeking, obviously, teaching these inmates to work. And he wasn't done yet. And this is probably-- well, it definitely is another part of his vision in those early days. And that was he founded a program in Angola called Malachi Dads. He did this with some inmates who came to him. Now, Warden Cain, he took note, y'all, of the fact that almost all convicts on Angola grew up in a broken home with the father typically being absent. Look, that's at any prison in the country, overall, it is not even close.

Woody: It's not something we're making of.

Jim: It's an issue.

Woody: We're not people we're picking on or whatever. It's just the way it is.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, you're talking 6000 inmates and most of them were fathers, but they came from broken homes. And so, it didn't take a genius for Warden Cain to figure out maybe that's part of the problem. Now, you can't fix the people that are in there. They can't be at home with their kids, they're in prison. But this program--

Woody: And they're there in prison for the worst. [crosstalk]

Jim: The worst of the worst. So, he knew that there's kids out there and they're now growing up without a father because he's in prison.

Woody: Well, also, I'm going to interrupt you again, there are generational prisoners in there. There are fathers and whose sons, or grandfathers, or dads whose sons murder and grew up because it's the only thing they ever knew, right?

Jim: Absolutely.

Woody: And they got sent to Angola. I'm telling you, there's generational. Their grandson, the oldest one now, who's old, old timer in Angola whose son is down now for life of murder, that guy's son would come in for murder. He's looking this and he's like--

Jim: It's a pattern.

Woody: Oh, yeah. It's proven. And you're right, him being a forward genius thinker, he's like, "Mm, you know what? Why wouldn't I try this? Why wouldn't I try? If I can make a change in one person's life, it'd be something special." And nobody had ever done what you're about to tell about.

Jim: That's right. He gets with about, let's say, these six trusted inmates that he had that they were all graduates of this seminary. And he says, "Do y'all see the same problem I do?" And they said, "Not only do we see the problem, we can institute a program where we teach other inmates how to be fathers behind bars." It's possible. Look, I got chill bumps again. They form what they call Malachi Dads. Basically, this is one of the best programs he ever instituted. And it was a program in which fathers that were incarcerated learned how to parent their kids from inside of prison. We're going to play you a clip real quick. These are the inmate founders of Malachi Dads. And they're discussing a little bit about Warden Cain and a lot about that program. We're going to play that right now.

[video recording of Malachi Dads]

Ron: My name is Ron Hickson. I've been incarcerated for 25 years. I'm serving life sentence for second-degree murder.

Darryl: My name is Darryl Waters. I'm from Gibson, Louisiana, and I was sentenced for second-degree murder in 1992.

George: My name is George Gilliam. I am from New Orleans. I'm currently serving a life sentence for a second-degree murder. We discovered in 2006 that a child of an incarcerated father had a 70% likelihood to come to prison and so we discovered those statistics and God gave us favor and that became Malachi Dads. Just because you're locked up in prison, that does not give you the right to not still be a father. Healthy people, who have a heart that's healed, who have a soul that's whole, they want to help, they want to give back. And that's what we do every day.

Interviewer: Why do you think violence has come down in Angola?

Inmate: When Warden Cain came on the scene, what he did was open up the door of opportunity. He was able to see, "If I can get these guys to start coming out to success because what success do, it change the way you think." If I can achieve something, I feel better about myself.

[clip ends]

Woody: Wow. Super. There's so much to be said, y'all. I'm going to do one more part that is-- maybe I don't want to say shows a harsher side, because it's not a harsher side, but it shows the business side of Burl.

Jim: And a good story.

Woody: He's all about trying to shine the light in the darkness and see what kind of positive things can come about it. But he's also all about, it's his prison and who's going to rule it. But listen to this story. This is crazy. And Jim researched this, and I had never-- believe it or not, I had never even heard of this. But as we told you many times on the show, Angola is huge. It's sprawling over 18,000 acres. And that's mostly-- the camps are spread out. It's mostly agriculture, big fields, Tunica Hills, Mississippi River, shit ton of wildlife. So one day, one of the convicts saw a huge 400-pound black bear on the property, and they freaked out and they're like, "Holy shit." Most of these guys are city boys, etc.

Jim: They don't like the wolfdogs.

Woody: Right. Until two years ago, I had never seen a bear in the state of Louisiana. But in Jackson, where DCI was, the first restaurant I've worked at was called Bear Corners. Back in the day, black bears were preliminary in the area. And now, they're coming back because of strict hunting ban, etc. But you got this mass 18,000 acres, and as rare as they are, there's a bear.

Jim: In the middle of the prison.

Woody: Massive black bear living in the middle of Angola. And you know what Burl thought?

Jim: [laughs] [crosstalk]

Woody: You know what? Kind of scared me, And I know it scared them because they came running to me. And he's like, "That's just extra security."

[laughter]

Jim: That's exactly how he said it.

Woody: And I'll quote him. He said, "I love that bear being right where it is. And I tell you what, none of our inmates are going to try to get out after dark and wander around when they might run into a big old bear. It's like having another guard at no cost to the taxpayer." He was about business. We keep talking about all these good things that he's doing, let me tell you something, and we'll talk about it in later episodes in the series. I've seen it, that's one dude you don't want to see mad. And it's one dude that knows his business, right?

Jim: That's right.

Woody: Anyway, the bear was first seen by an inmate crossing the road in the prison. And it was taking a stroll near the center of prison, where about five and a half square miles were mostly untouched piney woods, y'all. And the prison workers measured the bear's footprints, which were six inches in diameter. Now, every inch that they can measure equals 75 pounds. The biologists have figured this out. So, that made that bear about 450 pounds. And Cain said, the wildlife people told us they think it's a big female they've been tracking for a while. And Warden Cain estimated at the time that 8 to 10 bears lived on that 18,000 acres.

Jim: Holy crap.

Woody: You better believe he promoted the shit out.

Jim: Oh, yeah, I was about to say that. He told every inmate.

Woody: When they come in, "Hey, if you out in the field, you see a bear, you ain't going to be the fast. You just got to be fast from one of the other convicts. We might not shoot you if you're running from the bear, but if you go out there at night, that bear is hungry. Bears got to eat."

Jim: Y'all, we're just getting started.

Woody: Yeah, just getting started.

Jim: But we got to cut this one off. We've gone over an hour.

Woody: Still though, I'm going to say it again, wait until you hear-- we talked a lot about-

Jim: Oh, my God, we ain't scratched the surface.

Woody: -the positive side today, which is something. But I'm going to tell you something, tough dude, bruh. There's a reason he lasted as long as he lasted and is still doing what he does. But it's the totality of circumstances of the man, which to me makes him a legend.

Jim: Just to give you a little sauce for what you can look forward to the next episode, we're going to talk about a little bit about Billy Cannon and how Burl Cain was instrumental in bringing him into Angola. We're going to talk about Hurricane Katrina and the effect that that had on Angola prison. Y'all going to love that story. Look, this is stuff you cannot find anywhere else.

Woody: We're going to talk about some executions.

Jim: Yeah, how about his second execution, different than the first, right?

Woody: And then what happened following after that. Just a whole--

Jim: Captain Knapps.

Woody: Captain David Knapps.

Jim: A bunch more to bring you.

Woody: Can't wait to bring you. And we appreciate and love each and every one of y'all.

Jim: Yeah. Thank y'all for-

Woody: Patreon members-

Jim: -everything.

Woody: -you rock. Our Patreon members, the show couldn't run without you. We appreciate y'all so much. Y'all, look, if you want to be a patron member, go to patreon.com/bloodyangola.

Jim: We've got a bonus episode coming next week. So, what we're going to do next week when we record our second episode of the story of Burl Cain, we're also going to record our bonus episode just for patron members. And what it's going to be on, y'all, is we released the first episode to the general public, it was on executions and we kind of told a little bit of the story and it was great. We've got more for you, but it's only going to be for patrons, that second one, it's a good one.

Woody: Y'all, we have all the different tier levels with all the different benefits. And I'm telling you right now, I've been doing this over five years, podcasting, and Real Life Real Crime original probably doesn't have as many patron episodes locked up as [crosstalk] of Bloody Angola.

Jim: We got a ton of it. That's right.

Woody: If you like Bloody Angola, go subscribe. If you can't be a patron member, we love you just as much.

Jim: And transcripts. People love the transcripts. We've got all of our episodes transcribed on Patreon for some of the tiers, and these are not transcriptions, y'all, that are like the AI versions. This is actually someone sitting down typing because our southern accents don't cross over too well. [laughs]

Woody: [crosstalk]

Jim: Unfortunately, it's horrible.

Woody: Look, we have merchandise. People love the shirts and--

Jim: Hats.

Woody: What about the Bloody Angola wine?

Jim: Oh, yeah. We got limited wine in there for you, ladies.

Woody: And that's good stuff. We sold out of at the live shows. But anyway, y'all, please share us-

Jim: Review us.

Woody: -like us and leave us a review if you're so inclined. And we appreciate you and love you. And wait until you hear what's coming next.

Jim: Oh, yeah. And until next time, I'm Jim Chapman.

Woody: And I'm Woody Overton.

Jim: Your host of Bloody-

Woody: Angola.

Jim: A podcast 142 years in the making.

Woody: The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.

Jim and Woody: Peace.


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