Artwork

Контент предоставлен Overton/Chapman. Весь контент подкастов, включая эпизоды, графику и описания подкастов, загружается и предоставляется непосредственно компанией Overton/Chapman или ее партнером по платформе подкастов. Если вы считаете, что кто-то использует вашу работу, защищенную авторским правом, без вашего разрешения, вы можете выполнить процедуру, описанную здесь https://ru.player.fm/legal.
Player FM - приложение для подкастов
Работайте офлайн с приложением Player FM !

Life Means Life

52:38
 
Поделиться
 

Manage episode 382778690 series 3429180
Контент предоставлен Overton/Chapman. Весь контент подкастов, включая эпизоды, графику и описания подкастов, загружается и предоставляется непосредственно компанией Overton/Chapman или ее партнером по платформе подкастов. Если вы считаете, что кто-то использует вашу работу, защищенную авторским правом, без вашего разрешения, вы можете выполнить процедуру, описанную здесь https://ru.player.fm/legal.

In today's podcast episode of Bloody Angola we tell you 3 short stories of Life at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola including the story of Warden John Whitley who started his professional life and ended it at Angola, the story of Billy Blake Johnson who lost his life attempting to escape Angola, and the Prison View Golf Course which makes "Life" better for the Correctional Officers at Angola.

#bloodyangolapodcast #LifemeansLife #JohnWhitley #Podcast #Louisianastatepenitentiary

GET FREE BREAKFAST FOR LIFE AT HELLOFRESH!

HelloFresh delivers step-by-step recipes and fresh, pre-portioned ingredients right to your door. First, you set your meal plan preferences with options for carnivores, vegetarians, calorie-counters, and more. You'll choose from 30+ delicious weekly recipes carefully put together by the amazing chefs!

Click Here to get FREE breakfast FOR LIFE!

www.Hellofresh.com/BloodyAngolafree

TRANSCRIPT

BLOODY ANGOLA PODCAST: LIFE MEANS LIFE

Jim: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Bloody Angola, a podcast, 142 years in the making the complete story of America's bloodiest prison. And I'm Jim Chapman. Woody Overton could not join us today. We're working on some big, big stuff. And Woody's on assignment, that's all I can say. But there's going to be some really big stuff coming around the bend for everybody, so look forward to that. And I thought today, it would be fun to tell you some of the stories of Angola that you may not be familiar with, that aren't necessarily stories that can fill up, like, a whole hour of content, but at the same time, need to be told and are really good stories. So I wanted to share those with you, and we're going to jump right into it.

The first story I'm going to tell you about is actually about a former warden of Angola by the name of John Whitley. And John Whitley was actually the warden of Angola from 1990 until 1995. Look, John Whitley, the prison warden, was probably as prototypical as you can get to a prison warden when you would think of one. Kind of like the opposite of Burl Cain. Burl Cain was someone that, when you saw him, you wouldn't think he was the warden for the largest maximum-security prison in America. Same thing with John Whitley, but on the total opposite end, he is exactly what you would picture. He was a cowboy character. Actually, wore a cowboy hat and dressed with button up shirt. The picture I'm actually looking at now, he has a vest. It's almost like a leather vest over that button up shirt, and wears glasses, mustache, just looks like someone you would picture as a warden. And had a short but storied history at Angola relative to being a warden. Although he started off at the very bottom, and we're going to tell you all about that.

John Whitley attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana, which is actually probably about an hour and 20 minutes from Angola. From where we record, right outside of Baton Rouge, it's actually about a half hour from us. It is I guess the second largest college in Louisiana outside of Louisiana State University. Good college. Whitley attended that college. He was actually born in Hammond, Louisiana as well. So he went to school same place he was born in. Now, after he left college, he ended up graduating in 1968. He enlisted in the United States Army. That's important. That was an important step in his life, because that was kind of in the heyday of Vietnam. People weren't necessarily just enlisting into the army. They were getting drafted. So it shows you John Whitley's courage and his commitment to his country that he would enlist in the United States Army. He actually served during the Vietnam War and was discharged in 1970.

Now, shortly after that, he started his career in corrections. So Whitley started that career at Angola in 1970, and he rose pretty much through those ranks quickly. He eventually became a deputy warden, and then he was promoted to warden of another Louisiana prison. So he was deputy warden at Angola. I know you've heard about us talk about Hunt Correctional Center, which is a prison, it's kind of like the baby brother to Angola, just a smaller, not so violent a prison as Angola. They needed a warden, and he actually got promoted to the warden of Hunt Correctional. From there, he left the state, and he ran a private prison in Texas. I know you've heard us talk about that with the private prisons are actually-- they're not ran by state employees. They're ran privately, and the state pays them for that service, and Texas has several of those, and he ran one of those private prisons in Texas.

Now, in 1990, Louisiana was like, “Man, what's going on here? This guy is in Texas, and he's got all this experience. He's a Louisiana guy, and we need him at Angola.” This was 1990, and Angola was in just a mess at that point, and they needed someone to restore order there, basically. At the time that they were seeking out John Whitley, they were having frequent, very frequent stabbings, suicides. They were dealing with a lot of escapes. And a US federal judge had actually declared, what's known as, a state of emergency at the prison in response to an ACLU lawsuit against the state specifically for the horrendous conditions at Angola. So it was a situation where they needed someone, not only with some Louisiana ties that really cared, but they also needed someone that had the experience to handle such a prison. John Whitley started there, rose all the way up to deputy warden. That was back since 1970. He was the perfect candidate for that. And so he took that job.

Within two years, Whitley had pretty much stemmed all of that violence. He established incentives for good behavior, which is something they did not have in Angola prior to his arrival there as warden. Some of those incentives for good behavior, he'd allow the inmates to have extra visits. He would increase the educational opportunities for the inmates. If you were good, maybe you had the opportunity to learn a trade that you had to have good behavior in order to get to learn, like maybe welding or something. I mean, you don't want someone that's causing a bunch of trouble in Angola getting a halt to a welding machine. So those things, he figured out-- He figured out the important thing-- When you're running a prison, and that is you've got to have incentives for the inmates. If there's no incentive for good behavior, they're not going to be good. That's just the bottom line.

So that was something he really stemmed, education wise for them. Also, literacy tutoring, computer and paralegal courses. He started bringing those into the prison not quite at the level that Warden Cain did later on, but the infancy of that is a credit to John Whitley and the things that he did. So he also enabled some trustworthy and deserving inmates to travel outside of the prison as part of some athletic teams and inmate bands that provided entertainment for-- They would entertain churches, they would entertain nursing homes and other charitable organizations throughout the area. John Whitley was kind of the guy who came up with the idea to start offering these things as a deterrent, if you will, against violence. He knew that these programs were the way to start.

So he also launched an outreach program to all the criminal justice programs in the state of Louisiana. So he would basically send prison officials and inmates, and they would go into these college classrooms, and they would help, both the students and the faculty better understand the realities of not only managing a prison, but life in prison as an inmate. Those things weren't done, at least with Angola inmates, before John Whitley became warden.

Now, one thing that's very important in prison, but is not commonly practiced, I guess you could say, is having an open-door policy with the media. Take it from me, y'all know that I love to research. It's not easy at all to find information about Angola, or probably most of your state prisons, and that is, they keep things that go on inside that prison, and you got to really dig to find information on stuff like that. But he was committed to, what I would call, an open-door policy with the media, and even The Angolite, which-- We've done several episodes about The Angolite and read many, many articles on that.

Well, The Angolite, the biggest concern with that magazine as time went on, and I noticed this as I was reading it was, it got a little farther and farther away from what was actually happening. What they were printing was the truth. But where in the 40s and 50s, when The Angolite was produced, they were talking about all these escapes and stabbings and all the things that happened inside that prison. When it got around to the 80s and 90s, it was a lot softer. There were things going on, but they weren't allowing The Angolite publishers or editors, rather, to print that [chuckles] or talk about it. And so didn't necessarily mean it wasn't going on. It's just the editors weren't putting it in there. But he wanted to have a welcoming nature with the media and try to cooperate with them rather.

And so one of the things that he allowed The Angolite to do was to produce material for radio and television journalism inside the prison, which-- Believe it or not, they have their own radio station there. They have a lot of film equipment there. They can actually film documentaries and stuff. The prisoners actually learn how to do this, and are as good as-- They got some producers in Angola that are as good or better than I am at doing that. Some of them probably better, and just amazing people out inside that prison that produced these things. But he didn't want them censored. The claim is that John Whitley did not censor the radio shows and stuff that were coming out of Angola, which is very interesting.

So he's continuing on and he's starting all these programs. Shortly after his first year at Angola as a warden, it was actually July 1991, some inmate welders were ordered by the corrections department to build a “hospital examining table.” So they soon learned that it was a gurney to enable executions by lethal injection. Now, this took place hours after an execution by electric chair had taken place. One of the welders actually had a brother who had been executed at the prison. And learning of these plans that this “hospital examining table” was actually going to be the table they were going to use for lethal injection, he didn't like that too much. So of course, as we told you, inmates like to gossip, inmates like to talk, and so he goes around and he starts firing up inmates and telling them of this plan. They're not making us build a hospital examining table, they're wanting us to build the table for the lethal injections. He's riling up these inmates, and they're bucking up. So they decide to stage a work strike. This is hundreds of fellow inmates.

Now, when Whitley learned this was happening, what does he do? He locks up all the guys that are striking. He says, “Okay, y'all-- Are all getting locked up in solitary.” He brings in the SWAT teams and he tells them to get prepared for that strike. He also told the media that deceiving the inmate workers was wrong and the work order should have never been issued. He understood that it put the inmates in a bad position and he wasn't going to subject them to building the lethal injection gurney.

When the inmates heard that, they basically ended that strike. There was no violence. And honestly, Whitley gained a lot of respect, not only with the inmate population, but also with his security force over coming out and saying, “Hey, this was a bad call and a major lack of judgment.” And look, regardless of what you may think about inmates inside of Angola, I agree that it's not right to ask inmates to build the lethal injection table for death row. I can see why they'd get pissed off about something like that. And he did too, and he admitted to that that was a little bit too much to ask.

The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, let's talk about them for a second. They're the premier paper I guess in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and are no fans of Angola, to say the least, especially with Burl Cain, The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate and Burl Cain have a long history of hatred, to say the least. So they're a very conservative paper. Even they commended him in two editorials for admitting that the prison had screwed up and made a mistake by asking the convicts to build that table. They went as far to say that was a refreshing thing to have a warden actually come out and admit that mistake. He was nationally even accredited for that with national magazines such as Time magazine, which had a glowing article that they put out on John Whitley. So I'm going to go ahead. I want to read you that article because this is really going to paint a picture of who he was, and then I've got another story I'm going to tell you about the prison view golf course. There's actually a golf course in Angola that we're going to talk about, but I'm going to go ahead and read you this article by Time magazine that was put out Monday, December 14th, 1992, and the headline says, Bringing Decency Into Hell: JOHN WHITLEY.

So it says, When John Whitley wanders into the courtyard of Camp H, he's not just any visitor. He is the warden. The Man. Yet his presence stirs hardly a ripple. He inspects a flower bed, points to some asbestos dangling from a pipe. Mostly he just loiters, signaling that he is open for business. Slowly, as if they have all the time in the world, which, of course, many of them do, half a dozen inmates drift his way. One complains about missing laundry another asks that recreational time be extended. All are polite, but none display the eagerness of someone anxious to please.

Whitley, 48, listens intently, asking occasional questions in a gravelly twang. Nothing in his courteous demeanor suggests, “I am the keeper, you are the kept. You understand that even if it's a small problem, it may be the biggest problem they have,” he says later. You don't just blow anyone off. Conditions were not always so relaxed and congenial at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Just three years ago, the main prison and five outcamps at the 18,000-acre facility were rocking with murders, suicides and escape attempts. The mood was so tense that a federal judge declared a state of emergency, which included a state investigation and tightened federal oversight. Discontent among the 5,186 inmates could be summed up in a word, hopelessness. Prisoners, the vast majority of them lifers in a state where a life term means life, blamed their despair on tough parole laws. At risk was a reprise of the chaos that in the early 70s earned Angola the dubious distinction of being the nation's bloodiest prison.

Enter John Whitley, a quiet-spoken Louisiana native with a lazy smile, whose cowboy hats and elephant-hide boots, hey, y’all, I like that, make more of an impression than his low-key manner. In just 32 months, he has turned Angola around, relying on little more than his sense of decency and fairness. The number of stabbings, hangings, and escape attempts has dropped dramatically. The malfeasance has lifted. Security officers say that Whitley has improved communications between the prisoners and the 1,500 member staff. Inmates credit Whitley with providing new educational and recreational programs. Most important, inmates feel they have an advocate in Whitley at a time when the courts and the Louisiana legislature seem bent on locking up felons. The way inmates and security guards tell it, “Whitley sounds like the hero of a movie. He is open-minded, impartial, considerate.” “Warden's pretty cool people,” says Curtis Kyles, one of 35 inmates on death row. "He sees people as individuals, not throwaways."

To illustrate their point, prisoners start with an incident that occurred on July 22nd, 1991. At 12:10 on that date, Whitley presided over Louisiana's final execution by electric chair. Later the same day, orders reached the prison metal shop to construct the gurney that would henceforth be used for lethal injections. Two inmate welders balked, then 375 convicts joined their work buck. Confronted by every warden's worst nightmare, a prisoner rebellion. Whitley did the unthinkable, he backed down. He publicly called the idea a bad one and said a private contractor would build the table instead. "He admitted he was wrong," says lifer Patrick DeVille. "Wardens just don't do that." So, y’all can see he was earning their respect there.

Initially, some prisoners interpreted Whitley's reversal as a sign of weakness. But many changed their mind. A few months later, after the state legislature imposed a strict October 1991 deadline for inmates to challenge their convictions, Whitley, alone of Louisiana's 12 prison wardens, helped inmates beat the cutoff. He authorized the prison printshop to run off 5,000 appeal applications. He instructed the prison radio station to hold a question-and-answer program, brought in a lawyer to field questions, then ordered all inmates to listen. He also made sure that illiterate inmates which is about 70% of Angola’s population got help filling out the forms.

So you can see there that he was building up this rapport with the inmates. And then the article goes on later. Whitley describes himself as very conservative on crime. He favors the death penalty and believes executions would serve as a deterrent if they were carried out more swiftly. He has presided over two executions. After each, he said, he went home and fell into a deep, undisturbed sleep. Whitley also says that his number one concern is security and that he has no-- his number one concern is security rather and that he has no moral problem locking up an inmate for life as long as citizens understand that it'll cost them. As a starry-eyed corrections rookie, Whitley admits, "I was going to save them all." 22 years later, he thinks it's a complete farce to speak of rehabilitating inmates. They must do that for themselves. "All we can do," he said, "is provide the opportunity. Does he believe a person can really change? Sure, I've seen it. They've aged. They've matured. They've shown they can handle their emotions." Would he give some of them a second chance? "Sure," he said. Coaxed, the warden allows that there are a couple hundred he could set free tomorrow and he would have no reservations.

Now some of those men were inmates back in 1970 when Whitley first started out at Angola as a classification officer. Armed with sociology and zoology degrees from Southeastern Louisiana University, he tried and failed to secure an appointment to the state police. Disappointed, he settled for a corrections job. After nine years at Angola, he moved to Louisiana's Hunt Correctional Center, where in 1983 he became The Man. "I never really had a desire to be a warden," he says. "I just kept being promoted up." Sybil, his wife of 17 years counters that She says, “He says he's not ambitious, but I say he is."

After retiring from the civil service in 1989, he became warden of a privately run prison in Texas. When the call came from Louisiana asking him to return, Whitley's first reaction was to laugh. "I couldn't see coming back to a prison of the size and the problems of Angola.". He set what he believed to be an unreasonably high salary. Get this y’all, $70,000. Then found the joke was on him when his price was met. These days, Whitley's stiffest challenge is finding time to himself. The 28 square mile domain over which he reigns is as demanding as any small town. There are fire and sanitation departments, a civilian population of 300, which is mostly security staff and their families. A cemetery, a community, swimming pool and even a post office with its own zip code.

Although Whitley and his wife and seven-year-old daughter, Susan, live in grand isolation in a spacious brick house atop a hill overlooking Angola, the sense of privacy is just an illusory. He can't even see Susan's swim meet without someone saying, “Hey, boss, I've got a problem. So when you live on Angola, you not only high access to the prisoners that are constantly complaining but you're employees that are constantly complaining.” That was one thing about Burl Cain when he was at Angola. If you remember, he didn’t live on the B-Line. He actually kept his house, which was at Dixon Correctional Center. I would imagine some of that might have been he foresaw these issues. Now the article goes on, it says, when Whitley took the wardenship, he signed on for three years. Extending his stay, he says, it would depend on how much he feels he can accomplish. It is clear he wants more. More medical, culinary and maintenance staff, a bigger hospital, more classroom space like every other warden in America though he runs up against budget limitations.

Let’s talk about that second. That is the biggest issue with any state prison. Nobody, including myself, wants to pay for prisoners. And wardens from every prison in America will tell you they never have enough money. It makes sense in a way. I mean, “I don't want to pay extra tax dollars to lock someone up. I know it needs to be done, but I don't like to have to pay for that." So some of these programs are very expensive. When you have to rehab a prison, it's very expensive. And although I know there's a need there, nobody likes to pay for it. So these state prisons always have budget issues. “It was short sighted,” he said. What you send out of prisons is going to reflect what you had in them, if that includes the warden, Angola’s graduates are now just a little more likely to come out to fair, decent, straight up people just like The Man[?].

That was written by Time magazine, another magazine that you wouldn't expect necessarily to be very complimentary of wardens. But in this case, it was. That should tell you a lot more about who John Whitley was. Just a reminder there. He served right before Burl Cain. So Burl Cain came in and the foundation was built. It wasn't what Burl Cain brought it to while he was there, we all know, and we did a three-part series, so I'm not going to harp on this too much. It wasn't what Burl Cain did after he got there, but it laid the foundation for that. Whitley did a good job of that. So there's a little bit about John Whitley. We're going to try to bring you more information on some of these I guess Angola's wardens from the past every now and then, so you can hear that.

Now, I made mention of telling you a little bit about the golf course at Angola. It may surprise some of you that they actually have one. They do. It was actually built by the prisoners at Angola. It's located on the grounds at Louisiana State Penitentiary, and it's operated by the Louisiana State Penitentiary Employee Recreation Committee. It offers players a challenging round of golf. It's a nine-hole facility. Meaning, most of your golf courses are 18 holes. This is a 9-hole facility, so you would basically play those nine holes twice to get a full round of golf in. It's a really beautiful golf course. The number one tee box is actually elevated 75 yards above the ground. It's set in the Tunica Hills. The entire course, it's a par 72 course. It measures around 6,000 yards in total. There's 37 sand bunkers, and there are some water hazards there as well. It features a restaurant serves po-boys fried seafood, hot dogs, cold drinks, and other assorted snacks.

Now, the course was designed by the prison dentist, which is a guy by the name of Dr. John Ory. It's O-R-Y, y'all, so we'll call him Dr. John. The course was built with prison labor and funds generated from the Angola Annual Prison Radio. No public funds were spent to build that course. It is open to the public, so you can actually go play that course. The course opened for play in 2004. Now, if you're interested in playing the course, you have to present valid state ID, and play may be suspended anytime due to the institutional needs or at the warden's discretion. So if someone escapes, they're going to say, “Yeah, you got to get off the golf course.” Convicted felons and individuals listed on any inmate visiting list are not allowed access. And of course, you can't bring firearms, drugs, alcohol, or contraband items to that golf course either. But a really beautiful golf course. I'll try to put some pictures of it on the Facebook page and maybe some special pictures on the Patreon page.

So I'm going to read you another good article here quickly. This was put out by the New York Times in 2004 when that golf course was built. It's pretty interesting because they actually talk with some inmates who help build that course. And it says, Golf Course Shaped By Prisoners' Hands. Golfers who step onto the new 9-hole course here encounter a rarity. The green felt fairways of Bermuda grass were graded and seeded by hand. The sand pits were actually dug by workers using shovels, not heavy equipment. More striking is the view. The first tee, a perch carved from the Tunica Hills near the Mississippi River, and provides a survey of all 18,000 acres of the prison. And that explains the hard labor. Prisoners built the course, which is on penitentiary property and open to the public. Though they cannot play, a few inmates have earned the privilege of tending the greens for 20 cents an hour at what is officially the Louisiana State Penitentiary but better known as Angola, which is 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.

Lester Wright, who is serving a life sentence says, “Watching golfers on the course as he rides his mower is a bittersweet pleasure. 'When I look at them, I look at all the hard work that we done trying to fix this thing for them.” It's like, “Man, we did all this here and look at them dudes out there playing. Sometimes I do want to play.'' The course, called Prison View, was conceived by the prison's warden, Burl Cain, a man who views incarceration with a sense of humor. Visitors to the prison can buy T-shirts that say ''Angola: A Gated Community,'' along with Guts and Glory hot sauce, named for the prison's famous rodeo, at which inmates play chicken with angry bulls. At the golf course, the tees are marked with handcuffs. I do like that, nice little touch.

Warden Cain brushes off the suggestion that some prisoners might dislike the markers. ''No, they think that's cool,'' he said. ''They wear striped shirts in the rodeo. They like it.'' But Mr. Wright, 49, said he was not amused. ''What are they doing with handcuffs out here?'' he says. ''Everybody knows it's a prison. It really offended me when I first seen it. After that, I just passed by and mowed the grass, it don't matter.'' Well, Mr. Wright, you're in prison, brother. Mr. Wright added, ''They're going to do what they want, we have to accept it, so that's all it is. It's all in trying to stay at peace with them and yourself.''

The course was built primarily for the use of prison employees, many of whom live on the grounds in a little settlement called B-Line. The course lies near Camp J, the 'behavior modification unit. Y’all, Camp J was the-- we did a whole episode on Camp J and how horrible-- how bad the reputation for Camp J was. It's no longer open. From the seventh hole, it is possible to wave to inmates on the Camp J basketball court, where they are permitted to spend three hours a week.

On a sunny Sunday, the course attracted a handful of players, including a pecan sheller, an oil executive, and a telephone network manager, from nearby towns. Players said the charms of the course, its doglegs, short drives, and a lake with an island went beyond novelty. ''I've played a lot of courses, and I've paid more money to play a lot worse,'' said Joseph Lamartiniere, a corrections colonel at the prison, as his 3-year-old son, Peyton, hit a 15-foot drive. The transformation of the property from bull pasture to golf course took two years. Warden Cain said, it was the type of job that gave inmates a sense of accomplishment and taught them useful skills like groundskeeping and horticulture.

Richard Mikkelson, a 47-year-old prisoner from Alexandria, Louisiana, was on the work crew and he said, it is indeed proud sight to see. ''I don't know how they build these things out here on the streets, but we did it with shovels and rakes and hoes.'' James F. Moore, the Director of Construction Education for the United States Golf Association said, he had a hard time envisioning a course built without modern equipment like mechanized levelers, seeders and powered trenching equipment. ''My guess is it's the only golf course built this way in at least the last 50 years. I'd have to see it to believe it.''

Mr. Mikkelson, who like most of the prisoners is serving a life sentence said, if he ever gets out of Angola, which would require an act of clemency, he would know exactly where to go for networking opportunities. ''A golf course is a place to meet people,'' he said. ''I've been told the main two places you go is to a golf course and church. That’s where you can get certain types.” Dr. Ory, who designed the course said, ''We want to go from a fun place to play golf to where people come back and say, that's a first-class deal. The fairways he said are planted with 419 Bermuda, as good as any country club. The whole course was built for $80,000, paid for by the employees' recreation fund and donations. A typical course costs $4 million to $7 million. And course fees are low. A membership is $200 a year, and the greens fee and cart are $20.”

Dr. Ory said, “The hope is for the course to pay for itself, with some money to buy better equipment. The inmates have also learned a gentleman's sport. The par depends on the hazards and the length of the fairway,” he explained. ''From building the course and learning what each particular thing is as we built it, we knew how to play.” They just couldn't swing a club yet, and that's something we're not going to be allowed to do. Warden Cain draws the line at letting inmates caddy. “We're going to avoid the hint of impropriety,” he said. Some of the inmates who work on the course are known as trustys because of their good behavior records. And though Mr. Wright longs to play on a real course, he says he would not choose prison view. “I would like to play as a free man,” he said. “I would want to learn all I can. But once I get out there free to play like I want to, I'll enjoy it more.” So there you go. Look, I'm going to go play that course sometime, hopefully soon, and I'll give you all a report on my personal experience with it.

And lastly, for today, I'm going to give you a quick story. Look, we got to have an actual story for you on Bloody Angola every week, right? So I'm going to give you one that I'm almost sure 99% of the people listening have never heard. Billy Blake Johnson was born on December 3rd, 1933, in Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Johnson. And Emmett and Edna, his mom and dad, divorced when Billy was just a young boy. And by 1940, his father remarried and the family moved to what is known as Kern County, California, where Emmett worked as a truck driver. Nothing further is known about Billy growing up. But in 1951, he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

His military career would be short lived, and in January of 1952, Private First-Class Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery. So he's starting some trouble. Then on July 18th of 1952, Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had acquired, and he then overtook the guard along with his firearm. Now, armed with a weapon, he commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkins and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles. So what do you think they do? They put out an APB, an All-Points Bulletin, and eventually two LAPD officers spot a stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. So he gets ordered out of the car, he comes out, and he's shooting, just like one of these old fashioned shootouts, and he shouts, “This is it.”

Officers return fired, but he's able to escape injury somehow. He jumps several fences before he was taken into custody. And after his capture in LA, he was returned to that brig at Camp Pendleton and was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sits in that cell for several months and likely, what do we always say on this show? You got nothing but time in prison. He's contemplating his next move. And on a Saturday in late June of 1952, he escapes again. This time, he had an accomplice, someone by the name of Bobby Davis who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two make their getaway at 03:30 AM that morning in a green 1952 Chevy convertible with Texas plates. It's reported that the two were armed and known to be dangerous, and no details were really given as to how they managed to escape the brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Arizona.

Guess what happens? There's another escape, a third escape in subsequent. Capture, and Billy Blake Johnson, eventually he serves his time and he gets paroled. But y’all, that did nothing to rehabilitate him. So in January of 1962, Johnson went to a service station in Texas, in a little suburb kind of south of Fort Worth, Texas, he buys $3.43 of gas, which back in 1962 might have filled up your whole car, and then he pulled a gun on the attendant and he says, “Act right or I'll kill you.” Johnson then takes $100 from a cash register and he forces a woman by the name of Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tries to fight him off, and Johnson, in the vehicle, further threatens to kill her with this firearm.

After driving about a mile, he then orders her out of the car and into a ditch, and he tells her, “Lie down,” and he drives away. Beck gets out of the ditch. She goes to a nearby home and calls authorities. So law enforcement, they're in hot pursuit. They're looking for him everywhere. They spot Johnson and they start chasing him. And both parties are like firing at each other, sticking guns out the window. Picture it. They're shooting back and forth at each other. Police set up a barricade to catch him. They set up a perimeter and they know he's heading in a certain direction. Johnson approaches Denton, Texas, and a patrolman by the name of A.C. Ballard leveled down on the hood of his truck with a sawed-off shotgun, and he blows out one of the tires of Johnson's getaway vehicle. The car goes out of control, y'all, it rolls over, it lands upright in a ditch. He somehow manages, again not to get hurt. He escapes serious injury in this.

So he gets out of the car and runs. [chuckles] There's like a major man. This guy is like, impossible to catch. Major manhunt ensues and he eventually gets captured at a ranch in Denton County, Texas. Now, while in custody, he tells the arresting officers he had escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons. He gets treated at the hospital for some very minor injuries, and then he's taken to jail. He goes to trial for all of this. But they find him to be insane, legally insane by a jury. here's not really, in the research I did, there's not really a whole lot of information as to how they came to that conclusion. So his criminal career doesn't end there, y’all. In 1964, Johnson went to Bonham, what's known as the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out an inmate. So it's important to note that a jury actually released-- when you were found to be insane, it's not like nowadays where you still stay in jail or whatever. He actually got released.

But in 1964, he goes to a Bonham, Texas jail, and his whole point of going there was to break out an inmate by the name of Walter Ray Crews. He has a gun, and he literally breaks into the jail, overtakes a guard, and he forces the jailer to release Crews, and the two men haul ass. The pair makes it some 35 miles southeast to a city called Commerce, Texas, where they steal a car, and they drive 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Now, while stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulls over to check on them. He sees them, doesn't realize at the time that they're escaped convicts. He just figured they were broke down, he was going to help them. Johnson, what does he do? He robs the trooper, which is a guy by the name of Jerry Raines at gunpoint and handcuffs him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson then return to the stolen car and speed off. They head north. The trooper is able to eventually free himself with a spare key, and he, of course, radios in. “Hey, I just got handcuffed.” I'm sure that was an embarrassing conversation. But the duo ends up getting caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.

So Johnson gets sentenced to 15 years, and this is when he get sent to Angola, the notorious Angola prison. Bloody Angola, if you will. So he goes to Angola, and they're thinking, “Okay, he's not going to escape Angola.” Well, I wouldn't be so sure about that. On February 22nd of 1969, Johnson and two other inmates, armed with knives and a pistol, overpower guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison. Kester Lee hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture, but they didn't make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamps that surrounded the prison. Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the backed-up Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped the body up of his fellow inmate against a fence and just waited while guards closed in.

Exhausted Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement, and believe it or not, he would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983, he took a butcher knife and slashed the third of his wife and stabbed two others incidentally. Billy Blake Johnson was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating, and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. It's like Woody always says, “There's a mom somewhere and a dad and a sister and stuff that love you no matter what you've done.” His mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epithet “Son.” So there you go. That's a story I bet you're not going to hear anywhere else, the story of Billy Blake Johnson.

Look, I appreciate each and every one of you, Woody as well. We love, y'all. We couldn't do this without our patrons. Thank you so very much. We have a “big” thing coming to you very soon, and that's why Woody's not joining us this week. But he'll be back next week, I promise. I want to bring y'all something a little different. I hope y'all liked it. Just a little bit of everything. Golf courses, Billy Blake Johnson, and even the story of a famous warden at Angola.

And until next time, I'm Jim Chapman. And for Woody Overton, we are your host of Bloody Angola, a podcast 142 years in the making the complete story of America's bloodiest prison. Peace.

[Bloody Angola theme]

Our Sponsors:
* Check out HelloFresh: hellofresh.com/bloodyangolaapps
* Go to badlandsranch.com/BLOODYANGOLA to get up to 50% off your regular-priced dog food order with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Advertising Inquiries: https://redcircle.com/brands
Privacy & Opt-Out: https://redcircle.com/privacy

  continue reading

98 эпизодов

Artwork
iconПоделиться
 
Manage episode 382778690 series 3429180
Контент предоставлен Overton/Chapman. Весь контент подкастов, включая эпизоды, графику и описания подкастов, загружается и предоставляется непосредственно компанией Overton/Chapman или ее партнером по платформе подкастов. Если вы считаете, что кто-то использует вашу работу, защищенную авторским правом, без вашего разрешения, вы можете выполнить процедуру, описанную здесь https://ru.player.fm/legal.

In today's podcast episode of Bloody Angola we tell you 3 short stories of Life at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola including the story of Warden John Whitley who started his professional life and ended it at Angola, the story of Billy Blake Johnson who lost his life attempting to escape Angola, and the Prison View Golf Course which makes "Life" better for the Correctional Officers at Angola.

#bloodyangolapodcast #LifemeansLife #JohnWhitley #Podcast #Louisianastatepenitentiary

GET FREE BREAKFAST FOR LIFE AT HELLOFRESH!

HelloFresh delivers step-by-step recipes and fresh, pre-portioned ingredients right to your door. First, you set your meal plan preferences with options for carnivores, vegetarians, calorie-counters, and more. You'll choose from 30+ delicious weekly recipes carefully put together by the amazing chefs!

Click Here to get FREE breakfast FOR LIFE!

www.Hellofresh.com/BloodyAngolafree

TRANSCRIPT

BLOODY ANGOLA PODCAST: LIFE MEANS LIFE

Jim: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Bloody Angola, a podcast, 142 years in the making the complete story of America's bloodiest prison. And I'm Jim Chapman. Woody Overton could not join us today. We're working on some big, big stuff. And Woody's on assignment, that's all I can say. But there's going to be some really big stuff coming around the bend for everybody, so look forward to that. And I thought today, it would be fun to tell you some of the stories of Angola that you may not be familiar with, that aren't necessarily stories that can fill up, like, a whole hour of content, but at the same time, need to be told and are really good stories. So I wanted to share those with you, and we're going to jump right into it.

The first story I'm going to tell you about is actually about a former warden of Angola by the name of John Whitley. And John Whitley was actually the warden of Angola from 1990 until 1995. Look, John Whitley, the prison warden, was probably as prototypical as you can get to a prison warden when you would think of one. Kind of like the opposite of Burl Cain. Burl Cain was someone that, when you saw him, you wouldn't think he was the warden for the largest maximum-security prison in America. Same thing with John Whitley, but on the total opposite end, he is exactly what you would picture. He was a cowboy character. Actually, wore a cowboy hat and dressed with button up shirt. The picture I'm actually looking at now, he has a vest. It's almost like a leather vest over that button up shirt, and wears glasses, mustache, just looks like someone you would picture as a warden. And had a short but storied history at Angola relative to being a warden. Although he started off at the very bottom, and we're going to tell you all about that.

John Whitley attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana, which is actually probably about an hour and 20 minutes from Angola. From where we record, right outside of Baton Rouge, it's actually about a half hour from us. It is I guess the second largest college in Louisiana outside of Louisiana State University. Good college. Whitley attended that college. He was actually born in Hammond, Louisiana as well. So he went to school same place he was born in. Now, after he left college, he ended up graduating in 1968. He enlisted in the United States Army. That's important. That was an important step in his life, because that was kind of in the heyday of Vietnam. People weren't necessarily just enlisting into the army. They were getting drafted. So it shows you John Whitley's courage and his commitment to his country that he would enlist in the United States Army. He actually served during the Vietnam War and was discharged in 1970.

Now, shortly after that, he started his career in corrections. So Whitley started that career at Angola in 1970, and he rose pretty much through those ranks quickly. He eventually became a deputy warden, and then he was promoted to warden of another Louisiana prison. So he was deputy warden at Angola. I know you've heard about us talk about Hunt Correctional Center, which is a prison, it's kind of like the baby brother to Angola, just a smaller, not so violent a prison as Angola. They needed a warden, and he actually got promoted to the warden of Hunt Correctional. From there, he left the state, and he ran a private prison in Texas. I know you've heard us talk about that with the private prisons are actually-- they're not ran by state employees. They're ran privately, and the state pays them for that service, and Texas has several of those, and he ran one of those private prisons in Texas.

Now, in 1990, Louisiana was like, “Man, what's going on here? This guy is in Texas, and he's got all this experience. He's a Louisiana guy, and we need him at Angola.” This was 1990, and Angola was in just a mess at that point, and they needed someone to restore order there, basically. At the time that they were seeking out John Whitley, they were having frequent, very frequent stabbings, suicides. They were dealing with a lot of escapes. And a US federal judge had actually declared, what's known as, a state of emergency at the prison in response to an ACLU lawsuit against the state specifically for the horrendous conditions at Angola. So it was a situation where they needed someone, not only with some Louisiana ties that really cared, but they also needed someone that had the experience to handle such a prison. John Whitley started there, rose all the way up to deputy warden. That was back since 1970. He was the perfect candidate for that. And so he took that job.

Within two years, Whitley had pretty much stemmed all of that violence. He established incentives for good behavior, which is something they did not have in Angola prior to his arrival there as warden. Some of those incentives for good behavior, he'd allow the inmates to have extra visits. He would increase the educational opportunities for the inmates. If you were good, maybe you had the opportunity to learn a trade that you had to have good behavior in order to get to learn, like maybe welding or something. I mean, you don't want someone that's causing a bunch of trouble in Angola getting a halt to a welding machine. So those things, he figured out-- He figured out the important thing-- When you're running a prison, and that is you've got to have incentives for the inmates. If there's no incentive for good behavior, they're not going to be good. That's just the bottom line.

So that was something he really stemmed, education wise for them. Also, literacy tutoring, computer and paralegal courses. He started bringing those into the prison not quite at the level that Warden Cain did later on, but the infancy of that is a credit to John Whitley and the things that he did. So he also enabled some trustworthy and deserving inmates to travel outside of the prison as part of some athletic teams and inmate bands that provided entertainment for-- They would entertain churches, they would entertain nursing homes and other charitable organizations throughout the area. John Whitley was kind of the guy who came up with the idea to start offering these things as a deterrent, if you will, against violence. He knew that these programs were the way to start.

So he also launched an outreach program to all the criminal justice programs in the state of Louisiana. So he would basically send prison officials and inmates, and they would go into these college classrooms, and they would help, both the students and the faculty better understand the realities of not only managing a prison, but life in prison as an inmate. Those things weren't done, at least with Angola inmates, before John Whitley became warden.

Now, one thing that's very important in prison, but is not commonly practiced, I guess you could say, is having an open-door policy with the media. Take it from me, y'all know that I love to research. It's not easy at all to find information about Angola, or probably most of your state prisons, and that is, they keep things that go on inside that prison, and you got to really dig to find information on stuff like that. But he was committed to, what I would call, an open-door policy with the media, and even The Angolite, which-- We've done several episodes about The Angolite and read many, many articles on that.

Well, The Angolite, the biggest concern with that magazine as time went on, and I noticed this as I was reading it was, it got a little farther and farther away from what was actually happening. What they were printing was the truth. But where in the 40s and 50s, when The Angolite was produced, they were talking about all these escapes and stabbings and all the things that happened inside that prison. When it got around to the 80s and 90s, it was a lot softer. There were things going on, but they weren't allowing The Angolite publishers or editors, rather, to print that [chuckles] or talk about it. And so didn't necessarily mean it wasn't going on. It's just the editors weren't putting it in there. But he wanted to have a welcoming nature with the media and try to cooperate with them rather.

And so one of the things that he allowed The Angolite to do was to produce material for radio and television journalism inside the prison, which-- Believe it or not, they have their own radio station there. They have a lot of film equipment there. They can actually film documentaries and stuff. The prisoners actually learn how to do this, and are as good as-- They got some producers in Angola that are as good or better than I am at doing that. Some of them probably better, and just amazing people out inside that prison that produced these things. But he didn't want them censored. The claim is that John Whitley did not censor the radio shows and stuff that were coming out of Angola, which is very interesting.

So he's continuing on and he's starting all these programs. Shortly after his first year at Angola as a warden, it was actually July 1991, some inmate welders were ordered by the corrections department to build a “hospital examining table.” So they soon learned that it was a gurney to enable executions by lethal injection. Now, this took place hours after an execution by electric chair had taken place. One of the welders actually had a brother who had been executed at the prison. And learning of these plans that this “hospital examining table” was actually going to be the table they were going to use for lethal injection, he didn't like that too much. So of course, as we told you, inmates like to gossip, inmates like to talk, and so he goes around and he starts firing up inmates and telling them of this plan. They're not making us build a hospital examining table, they're wanting us to build the table for the lethal injections. He's riling up these inmates, and they're bucking up. So they decide to stage a work strike. This is hundreds of fellow inmates.

Now, when Whitley learned this was happening, what does he do? He locks up all the guys that are striking. He says, “Okay, y'all-- Are all getting locked up in solitary.” He brings in the SWAT teams and he tells them to get prepared for that strike. He also told the media that deceiving the inmate workers was wrong and the work order should have never been issued. He understood that it put the inmates in a bad position and he wasn't going to subject them to building the lethal injection gurney.

When the inmates heard that, they basically ended that strike. There was no violence. And honestly, Whitley gained a lot of respect, not only with the inmate population, but also with his security force over coming out and saying, “Hey, this was a bad call and a major lack of judgment.” And look, regardless of what you may think about inmates inside of Angola, I agree that it's not right to ask inmates to build the lethal injection table for death row. I can see why they'd get pissed off about something like that. And he did too, and he admitted to that that was a little bit too much to ask.

The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, let's talk about them for a second. They're the premier paper I guess in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and are no fans of Angola, to say the least, especially with Burl Cain, The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate and Burl Cain have a long history of hatred, to say the least. So they're a very conservative paper. Even they commended him in two editorials for admitting that the prison had screwed up and made a mistake by asking the convicts to build that table. They went as far to say that was a refreshing thing to have a warden actually come out and admit that mistake. He was nationally even accredited for that with national magazines such as Time magazine, which had a glowing article that they put out on John Whitley. So I'm going to go ahead. I want to read you that article because this is really going to paint a picture of who he was, and then I've got another story I'm going to tell you about the prison view golf course. There's actually a golf course in Angola that we're going to talk about, but I'm going to go ahead and read you this article by Time magazine that was put out Monday, December 14th, 1992, and the headline says, Bringing Decency Into Hell: JOHN WHITLEY.

So it says, When John Whitley wanders into the courtyard of Camp H, he's not just any visitor. He is the warden. The Man. Yet his presence stirs hardly a ripple. He inspects a flower bed, points to some asbestos dangling from a pipe. Mostly he just loiters, signaling that he is open for business. Slowly, as if they have all the time in the world, which, of course, many of them do, half a dozen inmates drift his way. One complains about missing laundry another asks that recreational time be extended. All are polite, but none display the eagerness of someone anxious to please.

Whitley, 48, listens intently, asking occasional questions in a gravelly twang. Nothing in his courteous demeanor suggests, “I am the keeper, you are the kept. You understand that even if it's a small problem, it may be the biggest problem they have,” he says later. You don't just blow anyone off. Conditions were not always so relaxed and congenial at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Just three years ago, the main prison and five outcamps at the 18,000-acre facility were rocking with murders, suicides and escape attempts. The mood was so tense that a federal judge declared a state of emergency, which included a state investigation and tightened federal oversight. Discontent among the 5,186 inmates could be summed up in a word, hopelessness. Prisoners, the vast majority of them lifers in a state where a life term means life, blamed their despair on tough parole laws. At risk was a reprise of the chaos that in the early 70s earned Angola the dubious distinction of being the nation's bloodiest prison.

Enter John Whitley, a quiet-spoken Louisiana native with a lazy smile, whose cowboy hats and elephant-hide boots, hey, y’all, I like that, make more of an impression than his low-key manner. In just 32 months, he has turned Angola around, relying on little more than his sense of decency and fairness. The number of stabbings, hangings, and escape attempts has dropped dramatically. The malfeasance has lifted. Security officers say that Whitley has improved communications between the prisoners and the 1,500 member staff. Inmates credit Whitley with providing new educational and recreational programs. Most important, inmates feel they have an advocate in Whitley at a time when the courts and the Louisiana legislature seem bent on locking up felons. The way inmates and security guards tell it, “Whitley sounds like the hero of a movie. He is open-minded, impartial, considerate.” “Warden's pretty cool people,” says Curtis Kyles, one of 35 inmates on death row. "He sees people as individuals, not throwaways."

To illustrate their point, prisoners start with an incident that occurred on July 22nd, 1991. At 12:10 on that date, Whitley presided over Louisiana's final execution by electric chair. Later the same day, orders reached the prison metal shop to construct the gurney that would henceforth be used for lethal injections. Two inmate welders balked, then 375 convicts joined their work buck. Confronted by every warden's worst nightmare, a prisoner rebellion. Whitley did the unthinkable, he backed down. He publicly called the idea a bad one and said a private contractor would build the table instead. "He admitted he was wrong," says lifer Patrick DeVille. "Wardens just don't do that." So, y’all can see he was earning their respect there.

Initially, some prisoners interpreted Whitley's reversal as a sign of weakness. But many changed their mind. A few months later, after the state legislature imposed a strict October 1991 deadline for inmates to challenge their convictions, Whitley, alone of Louisiana's 12 prison wardens, helped inmates beat the cutoff. He authorized the prison printshop to run off 5,000 appeal applications. He instructed the prison radio station to hold a question-and-answer program, brought in a lawyer to field questions, then ordered all inmates to listen. He also made sure that illiterate inmates which is about 70% of Angola’s population got help filling out the forms.

So you can see there that he was building up this rapport with the inmates. And then the article goes on later. Whitley describes himself as very conservative on crime. He favors the death penalty and believes executions would serve as a deterrent if they were carried out more swiftly. He has presided over two executions. After each, he said, he went home and fell into a deep, undisturbed sleep. Whitley also says that his number one concern is security and that he has no-- his number one concern is security rather and that he has no moral problem locking up an inmate for life as long as citizens understand that it'll cost them. As a starry-eyed corrections rookie, Whitley admits, "I was going to save them all." 22 years later, he thinks it's a complete farce to speak of rehabilitating inmates. They must do that for themselves. "All we can do," he said, "is provide the opportunity. Does he believe a person can really change? Sure, I've seen it. They've aged. They've matured. They've shown they can handle their emotions." Would he give some of them a second chance? "Sure," he said. Coaxed, the warden allows that there are a couple hundred he could set free tomorrow and he would have no reservations.

Now some of those men were inmates back in 1970 when Whitley first started out at Angola as a classification officer. Armed with sociology and zoology degrees from Southeastern Louisiana University, he tried and failed to secure an appointment to the state police. Disappointed, he settled for a corrections job. After nine years at Angola, he moved to Louisiana's Hunt Correctional Center, where in 1983 he became The Man. "I never really had a desire to be a warden," he says. "I just kept being promoted up." Sybil, his wife of 17 years counters that She says, “He says he's not ambitious, but I say he is."

After retiring from the civil service in 1989, he became warden of a privately run prison in Texas. When the call came from Louisiana asking him to return, Whitley's first reaction was to laugh. "I couldn't see coming back to a prison of the size and the problems of Angola.". He set what he believed to be an unreasonably high salary. Get this y’all, $70,000. Then found the joke was on him when his price was met. These days, Whitley's stiffest challenge is finding time to himself. The 28 square mile domain over which he reigns is as demanding as any small town. There are fire and sanitation departments, a civilian population of 300, which is mostly security staff and their families. A cemetery, a community, swimming pool and even a post office with its own zip code.

Although Whitley and his wife and seven-year-old daughter, Susan, live in grand isolation in a spacious brick house atop a hill overlooking Angola, the sense of privacy is just an illusory. He can't even see Susan's swim meet without someone saying, “Hey, boss, I've got a problem. So when you live on Angola, you not only high access to the prisoners that are constantly complaining but you're employees that are constantly complaining.” That was one thing about Burl Cain when he was at Angola. If you remember, he didn’t live on the B-Line. He actually kept his house, which was at Dixon Correctional Center. I would imagine some of that might have been he foresaw these issues. Now the article goes on, it says, when Whitley took the wardenship, he signed on for three years. Extending his stay, he says, it would depend on how much he feels he can accomplish. It is clear he wants more. More medical, culinary and maintenance staff, a bigger hospital, more classroom space like every other warden in America though he runs up against budget limitations.

Let’s talk about that second. That is the biggest issue with any state prison. Nobody, including myself, wants to pay for prisoners. And wardens from every prison in America will tell you they never have enough money. It makes sense in a way. I mean, “I don't want to pay extra tax dollars to lock someone up. I know it needs to be done, but I don't like to have to pay for that." So some of these programs are very expensive. When you have to rehab a prison, it's very expensive. And although I know there's a need there, nobody likes to pay for it. So these state prisons always have budget issues. “It was short sighted,” he said. What you send out of prisons is going to reflect what you had in them, if that includes the warden, Angola’s graduates are now just a little more likely to come out to fair, decent, straight up people just like The Man[?].

That was written by Time magazine, another magazine that you wouldn't expect necessarily to be very complimentary of wardens. But in this case, it was. That should tell you a lot more about who John Whitley was. Just a reminder there. He served right before Burl Cain. So Burl Cain came in and the foundation was built. It wasn't what Burl Cain brought it to while he was there, we all know, and we did a three-part series, so I'm not going to harp on this too much. It wasn't what Burl Cain did after he got there, but it laid the foundation for that. Whitley did a good job of that. So there's a little bit about John Whitley. We're going to try to bring you more information on some of these I guess Angola's wardens from the past every now and then, so you can hear that.

Now, I made mention of telling you a little bit about the golf course at Angola. It may surprise some of you that they actually have one. They do. It was actually built by the prisoners at Angola. It's located on the grounds at Louisiana State Penitentiary, and it's operated by the Louisiana State Penitentiary Employee Recreation Committee. It offers players a challenging round of golf. It's a nine-hole facility. Meaning, most of your golf courses are 18 holes. This is a 9-hole facility, so you would basically play those nine holes twice to get a full round of golf in. It's a really beautiful golf course. The number one tee box is actually elevated 75 yards above the ground. It's set in the Tunica Hills. The entire course, it's a par 72 course. It measures around 6,000 yards in total. There's 37 sand bunkers, and there are some water hazards there as well. It features a restaurant serves po-boys fried seafood, hot dogs, cold drinks, and other assorted snacks.

Now, the course was designed by the prison dentist, which is a guy by the name of Dr. John Ory. It's O-R-Y, y'all, so we'll call him Dr. John. The course was built with prison labor and funds generated from the Angola Annual Prison Radio. No public funds were spent to build that course. It is open to the public, so you can actually go play that course. The course opened for play in 2004. Now, if you're interested in playing the course, you have to present valid state ID, and play may be suspended anytime due to the institutional needs or at the warden's discretion. So if someone escapes, they're going to say, “Yeah, you got to get off the golf course.” Convicted felons and individuals listed on any inmate visiting list are not allowed access. And of course, you can't bring firearms, drugs, alcohol, or contraband items to that golf course either. But a really beautiful golf course. I'll try to put some pictures of it on the Facebook page and maybe some special pictures on the Patreon page.

So I'm going to read you another good article here quickly. This was put out by the New York Times in 2004 when that golf course was built. It's pretty interesting because they actually talk with some inmates who help build that course. And it says, Golf Course Shaped By Prisoners' Hands. Golfers who step onto the new 9-hole course here encounter a rarity. The green felt fairways of Bermuda grass were graded and seeded by hand. The sand pits were actually dug by workers using shovels, not heavy equipment. More striking is the view. The first tee, a perch carved from the Tunica Hills near the Mississippi River, and provides a survey of all 18,000 acres of the prison. And that explains the hard labor. Prisoners built the course, which is on penitentiary property and open to the public. Though they cannot play, a few inmates have earned the privilege of tending the greens for 20 cents an hour at what is officially the Louisiana State Penitentiary but better known as Angola, which is 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.

Lester Wright, who is serving a life sentence says, “Watching golfers on the course as he rides his mower is a bittersweet pleasure. 'When I look at them, I look at all the hard work that we done trying to fix this thing for them.” It's like, “Man, we did all this here and look at them dudes out there playing. Sometimes I do want to play.'' The course, called Prison View, was conceived by the prison's warden, Burl Cain, a man who views incarceration with a sense of humor. Visitors to the prison can buy T-shirts that say ''Angola: A Gated Community,'' along with Guts and Glory hot sauce, named for the prison's famous rodeo, at which inmates play chicken with angry bulls. At the golf course, the tees are marked with handcuffs. I do like that, nice little touch.

Warden Cain brushes off the suggestion that some prisoners might dislike the markers. ''No, they think that's cool,'' he said. ''They wear striped shirts in the rodeo. They like it.'' But Mr. Wright, 49, said he was not amused. ''What are they doing with handcuffs out here?'' he says. ''Everybody knows it's a prison. It really offended me when I first seen it. After that, I just passed by and mowed the grass, it don't matter.'' Well, Mr. Wright, you're in prison, brother. Mr. Wright added, ''They're going to do what they want, we have to accept it, so that's all it is. It's all in trying to stay at peace with them and yourself.''

The course was built primarily for the use of prison employees, many of whom live on the grounds in a little settlement called B-Line. The course lies near Camp J, the 'behavior modification unit. Y’all, Camp J was the-- we did a whole episode on Camp J and how horrible-- how bad the reputation for Camp J was. It's no longer open. From the seventh hole, it is possible to wave to inmates on the Camp J basketball court, where they are permitted to spend three hours a week.

On a sunny Sunday, the course attracted a handful of players, including a pecan sheller, an oil executive, and a telephone network manager, from nearby towns. Players said the charms of the course, its doglegs, short drives, and a lake with an island went beyond novelty. ''I've played a lot of courses, and I've paid more money to play a lot worse,'' said Joseph Lamartiniere, a corrections colonel at the prison, as his 3-year-old son, Peyton, hit a 15-foot drive. The transformation of the property from bull pasture to golf course took two years. Warden Cain said, it was the type of job that gave inmates a sense of accomplishment and taught them useful skills like groundskeeping and horticulture.

Richard Mikkelson, a 47-year-old prisoner from Alexandria, Louisiana, was on the work crew and he said, it is indeed proud sight to see. ''I don't know how they build these things out here on the streets, but we did it with shovels and rakes and hoes.'' James F. Moore, the Director of Construction Education for the United States Golf Association said, he had a hard time envisioning a course built without modern equipment like mechanized levelers, seeders and powered trenching equipment. ''My guess is it's the only golf course built this way in at least the last 50 years. I'd have to see it to believe it.''

Mr. Mikkelson, who like most of the prisoners is serving a life sentence said, if he ever gets out of Angola, which would require an act of clemency, he would know exactly where to go for networking opportunities. ''A golf course is a place to meet people,'' he said. ''I've been told the main two places you go is to a golf course and church. That’s where you can get certain types.” Dr. Ory, who designed the course said, ''We want to go from a fun place to play golf to where people come back and say, that's a first-class deal. The fairways he said are planted with 419 Bermuda, as good as any country club. The whole course was built for $80,000, paid for by the employees' recreation fund and donations. A typical course costs $4 million to $7 million. And course fees are low. A membership is $200 a year, and the greens fee and cart are $20.”

Dr. Ory said, “The hope is for the course to pay for itself, with some money to buy better equipment. The inmates have also learned a gentleman's sport. The par depends on the hazards and the length of the fairway,” he explained. ''From building the course and learning what each particular thing is as we built it, we knew how to play.” They just couldn't swing a club yet, and that's something we're not going to be allowed to do. Warden Cain draws the line at letting inmates caddy. “We're going to avoid the hint of impropriety,” he said. Some of the inmates who work on the course are known as trustys because of their good behavior records. And though Mr. Wright longs to play on a real course, he says he would not choose prison view. “I would like to play as a free man,” he said. “I would want to learn all I can. But once I get out there free to play like I want to, I'll enjoy it more.” So there you go. Look, I'm going to go play that course sometime, hopefully soon, and I'll give you all a report on my personal experience with it.

And lastly, for today, I'm going to give you a quick story. Look, we got to have an actual story for you on Bloody Angola every week, right? So I'm going to give you one that I'm almost sure 99% of the people listening have never heard. Billy Blake Johnson was born on December 3rd, 1933, in Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Johnson. And Emmett and Edna, his mom and dad, divorced when Billy was just a young boy. And by 1940, his father remarried and the family moved to what is known as Kern County, California, where Emmett worked as a truck driver. Nothing further is known about Billy growing up. But in 1951, he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

His military career would be short lived, and in January of 1952, Private First-Class Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery. So he's starting some trouble. Then on July 18th of 1952, Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had acquired, and he then overtook the guard along with his firearm. Now, armed with a weapon, he commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkins and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles. So what do you think they do? They put out an APB, an All-Points Bulletin, and eventually two LAPD officers spot a stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. So he gets ordered out of the car, he comes out, and he's shooting, just like one of these old fashioned shootouts, and he shouts, “This is it.”

Officers return fired, but he's able to escape injury somehow. He jumps several fences before he was taken into custody. And after his capture in LA, he was returned to that brig at Camp Pendleton and was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sits in that cell for several months and likely, what do we always say on this show? You got nothing but time in prison. He's contemplating his next move. And on a Saturday in late June of 1952, he escapes again. This time, he had an accomplice, someone by the name of Bobby Davis who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two make their getaway at 03:30 AM that morning in a green 1952 Chevy convertible with Texas plates. It's reported that the two were armed and known to be dangerous, and no details were really given as to how they managed to escape the brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Arizona.

Guess what happens? There's another escape, a third escape in subsequent. Capture, and Billy Blake Johnson, eventually he serves his time and he gets paroled. But y’all, that did nothing to rehabilitate him. So in January of 1962, Johnson went to a service station in Texas, in a little suburb kind of south of Fort Worth, Texas, he buys $3.43 of gas, which back in 1962 might have filled up your whole car, and then he pulled a gun on the attendant and he says, “Act right or I'll kill you.” Johnson then takes $100 from a cash register and he forces a woman by the name of Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tries to fight him off, and Johnson, in the vehicle, further threatens to kill her with this firearm.

After driving about a mile, he then orders her out of the car and into a ditch, and he tells her, “Lie down,” and he drives away. Beck gets out of the ditch. She goes to a nearby home and calls authorities. So law enforcement, they're in hot pursuit. They're looking for him everywhere. They spot Johnson and they start chasing him. And both parties are like firing at each other, sticking guns out the window. Picture it. They're shooting back and forth at each other. Police set up a barricade to catch him. They set up a perimeter and they know he's heading in a certain direction. Johnson approaches Denton, Texas, and a patrolman by the name of A.C. Ballard leveled down on the hood of his truck with a sawed-off shotgun, and he blows out one of the tires of Johnson's getaway vehicle. The car goes out of control, y'all, it rolls over, it lands upright in a ditch. He somehow manages, again not to get hurt. He escapes serious injury in this.

So he gets out of the car and runs. [chuckles] There's like a major man. This guy is like, impossible to catch. Major manhunt ensues and he eventually gets captured at a ranch in Denton County, Texas. Now, while in custody, he tells the arresting officers he had escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons. He gets treated at the hospital for some very minor injuries, and then he's taken to jail. He goes to trial for all of this. But they find him to be insane, legally insane by a jury. here's not really, in the research I did, there's not really a whole lot of information as to how they came to that conclusion. So his criminal career doesn't end there, y’all. In 1964, Johnson went to Bonham, what's known as the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out an inmate. So it's important to note that a jury actually released-- when you were found to be insane, it's not like nowadays where you still stay in jail or whatever. He actually got released.

But in 1964, he goes to a Bonham, Texas jail, and his whole point of going there was to break out an inmate by the name of Walter Ray Crews. He has a gun, and he literally breaks into the jail, overtakes a guard, and he forces the jailer to release Crews, and the two men haul ass. The pair makes it some 35 miles southeast to a city called Commerce, Texas, where they steal a car, and they drive 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Now, while stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulls over to check on them. He sees them, doesn't realize at the time that they're escaped convicts. He just figured they were broke down, he was going to help them. Johnson, what does he do? He robs the trooper, which is a guy by the name of Jerry Raines at gunpoint and handcuffs him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson then return to the stolen car and speed off. They head north. The trooper is able to eventually free himself with a spare key, and he, of course, radios in. “Hey, I just got handcuffed.” I'm sure that was an embarrassing conversation. But the duo ends up getting caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.

So Johnson gets sentenced to 15 years, and this is when he get sent to Angola, the notorious Angola prison. Bloody Angola, if you will. So he goes to Angola, and they're thinking, “Okay, he's not going to escape Angola.” Well, I wouldn't be so sure about that. On February 22nd of 1969, Johnson and two other inmates, armed with knives and a pistol, overpower guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison. Kester Lee hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture, but they didn't make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamps that surrounded the prison. Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the backed-up Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped the body up of his fellow inmate against a fence and just waited while guards closed in.

Exhausted Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement, and believe it or not, he would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983, he took a butcher knife and slashed the third of his wife and stabbed two others incidentally. Billy Blake Johnson was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating, and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. It's like Woody always says, “There's a mom somewhere and a dad and a sister and stuff that love you no matter what you've done.” His mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epithet “Son.” So there you go. That's a story I bet you're not going to hear anywhere else, the story of Billy Blake Johnson.

Look, I appreciate each and every one of you, Woody as well. We love, y'all. We couldn't do this without our patrons. Thank you so very much. We have a “big” thing coming to you very soon, and that's why Woody's not joining us this week. But he'll be back next week, I promise. I want to bring y'all something a little different. I hope y'all liked it. Just a little bit of everything. Golf courses, Billy Blake Johnson, and even the story of a famous warden at Angola.

And until next time, I'm Jim Chapman. And for Woody Overton, we are your host of Bloody Angola, a podcast 142 years in the making the complete story of America's bloodiest prison. Peace.

[Bloody Angola theme]

Our Sponsors:
* Check out HelloFresh: hellofresh.com/bloodyangolaapps
* Go to badlandsranch.com/BLOODYANGOLA to get up to 50% off your regular-priced dog food order with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Advertising Inquiries: https://redcircle.com/brands
Privacy & Opt-Out: https://redcircle.com/privacy

  continue reading

98 эпизодов

Все серии

×
 
Loading …

Добро пожаловать в Player FM!

Player FM сканирует Интернет в поисках высококачественных подкастов, чтобы вы могли наслаждаться ими прямо сейчас. Это лучшее приложение для подкастов, которое работает на Android, iPhone и веб-странице. Зарегистрируйтесь, чтобы синхронизировать подписки на разных устройствах.

 

Краткое руководство