Posts Tagged ‘Angola’
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections has sued every inmate on death row, in an effort to block any one of them from challenging the state’s lethal injection procedures.
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Louisiana State Penitentiary inmate Henry Smith escaped on Thursday. More than 200 law enforcement officials have been searching for Smith, a convicted murderer, since his escape. Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot said Smith escaped a day before the anniversary of his mother’s death and that he may have also been upset over the recent heart attack of his only friend at prison Clifford “Smurf” Bowman.
Being a father behind bars was a challenging experience. It was several years before I saw my daughter in person, and those were often depressing times. I used to write her a letter almost every day. I would write her as if I were writing to a young adult. I knew that she couldn’t read, write or understand, but her mother promised to read the letters to her.
As time passed, we had the opportunity to visit and share in each other’s love. I received a lot of letters and photos, and I wrote her letters and sent photos when I was able to take some. I used to give her advice on everything and I enjoyed every opportunity to answer any questions she presented to me. Over the years we developed a very close relationship. She wasn’t only my daughter, she was my friend and we could talk about anything. It made me feel special. During her teenage years she often called me her hero and although I felt pride in the fact that we were so close, I also felt a pain of not being with her and sometimes I was hard on myself for making the decisions that caused me to be confined and not physically in her life. We would talk about all of the things we were going to do when I got out of prison, and lived as if I was going to be released soon. Neither of us knew that it would take many more years before we had the opportunity to spend time together in society.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN TO PREMIERE AT ANGOLA PRISON ON JUNE 3, 2009
The sequel to “THE FARM: LIFE INSIDE ANGOLA PRISON”, Academy nominated and Emmy winning documentary, will also be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel, Tuesday, June 16th 8:00 p.m. EST under the title, “A DECADE BEHIND BARS: RETURN TO THE FARM”.
Two former inmates featured in THE FARM will return to Angola for this “red carpet premiere” and participate with inmates in a Q&A with two time Academy nominated filmmaker Jonathan Stack and Warden Burl Cain.
NEW YORK, NY (May, 27, 2009) – In 1997, the documentary THE FARM: LIFE INSIDE ANGOLA PRISON reached an enormous and receptive audience and garnered many of cinema’s top awards, including the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, the LA Film Critic’s Award, the New York Film Critic’s Award, an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, 2 Emmys and 4 Emmy nominations.
Now, Jonathan Stack and his company, Highest Common Denominator Media Group, bring us a powerful new documentary that reconnects with the surviving characters to witness first hand the impact of THE FARM and the intervening decade on their spirits and their sense of purpose. The film also chronicles profound changes at Angola Prison, once known as “the bloodiest prison in America”, where violence is down 74% and a philosophy of “Corrections” promotes education, rehabilitation and reconciliation to increase public safety.
In a groundbreaking departure from traditional film openings, THE FARM: TEN DOWN will premiere inside Angola Prison on June 3rd, 2009, before the inmates, wardens and correctional officers who have allowed their stories to be the source of documentary films for over a decade. The premier, like the film, exhibits the transformative power of hope, even behind bars. The film will be shown on the prison’s closed circuit television station, LSPTv, for the 5,100 inmates.
Two of the subjects of THE FARM – Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Tanniehill – will return to Angola Prison for the premier event. Ashanti was granted parole in 1999 after 27 years behind bars and Bishop was pardoned by Governor Kathleen Blanco in 2007 after nearly 50 years at Angola. Their stories help to inspire other inmates. Ashanti and Bishop will participate in a Q&A with inmates following the film’s premiere They will be joined by Q&A with inmates following the film’s premiere They will be joined by Warden Burl Cain, the warden of Angola Prison for the last decade, and by Jonathan Stack, director of the films.
The footage from the Q&A and the screening will be available online for the public and the film team will twitter live from the event updating the public regularly on the HCD Media Group-run website: www.GabrielCity.com, an online community for those affected by incarceration.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN will have its national broadcast premier on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, June 16th at 8pm EST, as A DECADE BEHIND BARS: RETURN TO THE FARM. National Geographic Channel is also hosting free streaming of THE FARM and WILDEST SHOW IN THE SOUTH, Jonathan Stack’s documentary about the Angola Prison Rodeo, online at Natgeotv.com/farm. They are also both available free on HULU.com
For the partners of Highest Common Denominator Media Group – Jonathan Stack, David Deniger, and Mara-Michelle Batlin, – the release of THE FARM: 10 DOWN marks a major milestone in achieving their mission to use the power of story-telling to illustrate the elements of our humanity that unite all of us, the shared values that are our highest common denominator,
HCD Media Group is also launching GabrielCity.com, an online community offering support to those affected by incarceration.
THE FARM: 10 DOWN is directed for Highest Common Denominator Media Group by Jonathan Stack and produced by James McKay. Executive Producers are David Deniger and Mara-Michelle Batlin. Nancy Novack is the editor and co-director.
For more information please visit: http://www.hcdmediagroup.com
Over the years I learned that I could grow in strength if I didn’t blame others for the negative things that had occurred in my life and accepted responsibility for my own actions. I learned that I had a stubborn side of me that really gave me the strength and determination to stay focused on the path that I had choose to travel. I learned how to detach from many of the events that were taking place around me so that I wouldn’t be effected emotionally and if I maintained control of my emotions I was have a clear enough mind to think through each situation I faced. I learned a lot about God and my relationship with God gave me a sense of hope that one day “everything is going to be alright.” I learned that I had the power to reshape the world around me by the words that I speak, the thoughts that I think and the prayers that I prayed. I also learned to love people (it was a gradual process, but I learned that it was really alright to love people as simply being who they were). All of those things gave me a sense of freedom and a different sort of power within me.
The first memory of my father was when my grandmother, uncles, and I went to visit him in Angola. It was my very first visit.
We sat at a table in the lunch room/ visiting room and he drank Root Beer pop, that was his favorite at the time. We talked and talked and talked. He taught me how to spell lots of big words. That has never left my mind. I can still picture that moment.
I knew that my father was in prison, ever since I was about 1 or 2 years old. My grandmother and mother always said that I was a very smart little girl. They were very informative about his situation. He would call me ALL THE TIME.
What it meant for me was that I would not be able to grow up with him in the house, go to the store together, pick me up from school, help me with homework, read to me at night , and meet my first boyfriend, etc., etc. I especially could not call him whenever I wanted to talk to him.
Visiting days were the best! I always got extremely sad when it was time to leave, but the relief of being able to give my father a big hug was always comforting on the ride home.
Bwashena Witherspoon is the daughter of Ashanti Witherspoon who is featured in the documentaries THE FARM and THE FARM: 10 DOWN. Bwashena has spent time touring with her father and speaking about being the child of a former prisoner.
There were different “first days” of my confinement:
- There was the period when I woke up in the hospital and realized that I had been shot in the head.
- There was the day when I was moved from the hospital to the Caddo Parish Prison, and on to the Caddo Correctional Center.
- There was the day when I was transferred back to the Caddo Parish Prison (when the new prison was built).
- There was the day when I was transferred back to the Caddo Correctional Center. 5) There was the day when I first arrived in Angola.
As you can see my first day had different meanings at different points of my “first day,” but for now let’s look at my first day in Angola.
Traveling to Angola was an emotionally moving experience. I was nervous, tense and prepared to kill or die. The horror stories of Angola seemed to find a permanent place in my thoughts and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. I was relieved when I got off of the bus, stepped through the doors of the Reception Center and recognized the face of someone from the city Shreveport. He worked in the area and was assisting the security guards with checking in the new arrivals. He nodded to me, and when we were out of ear shot of the others he told me that he had a knife for me and would get it to me by the time I reached the dorm.
This morning I read that Douglas Dennis, died from a heart attack suffered while serving out his life sentence in Angola for a murder that took place in the 1950’s. I only knew him by his nickname Swede.
Swede was the most intriguing man in that place. Sarcastic, bitter, but funny and brilliant. I used to bring him New Yorker Magazines which he loved and we’d talk about almost any topic imaginable as though he had been everywhere and thought of everything. No doubt about it, Swede was the smartest person in Angola and a good storyteller.
Jazz great Curtis Lundy composed and arranged this amazing piece of music for Highest Common Denominator Media Group’s new documentary THE FARM: 10 Down premiering June 16th at 8PM eastern time on The National Geographic Channel.