Isolated at the end of the long and lonely Hwy-60, hemmed in by the Tunica foothills and the Mississippi River sixty miles northwest of Baton Rouge, Angola – or “the farm” as it is commonly known – is the most famous maximum-security prison in the United States. Previously a byword for brutality and desperation, in 1995, the facility was transformed with the inauguration of warden Burl Cain into a model prison known for its strong religious slant. Famous inmates have included blues singer Leadbelly, who, as Huddy Ledbetter, served here in the 1930s; today, it holds about five thousand prisoners. Most of the men are lifers, and around a hundred of them are on Death Row. Outside the main gate, the Angola Museum offers a fascinating, if uncomfortable, insight into this complex place. Fading photos and newspapers reveal appalling prison conditions; the prodding sticks and belts used to beat convicts bring it closer to home. Since 1970, Angola has staged a prisoner rodeo every Sunday in October, a gladiatorial spectacle which draws thousands. These are extraordinary affairs, the crowds baying while lifers are flung, gored or trampled in their struggle for glory or just a simple change of scene.

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