Surviving The Last Plantation Essay, Research Paper
Self-preservation, natures first great law,All the creatures, but man, doth awe.-Andrew MarvelleLove, family, and small thrills are but three things to live for. Sometimes they are the only things to live for. Sometimes they are what drive us to survive. For some of the inmates at Angola State Prison, there is little to live for and they still survive. Daniel Bergner once stated, “We live for whatever it is possible to live for?” (168). But what do the inmates of Angola live for? What brings meaning into their lives? Many of the inmates at Angola have been convicted of capital crimes. Many have no chance for parole. They still survive; they still find a reason to live. They find meaning in their lives.Before purpose and survival or redemption and salvation can be discussed, an idea of what Angola is must be produced. The warden of Angola is a large man by the name of Burl Cain. Some believe that he is the reason for Angola being what it is. Bergner believes different:The striking tranquility at Angola?confirmed by the ACLU?s National Prison Project and Louisiana?s own watchdogs?could not be credited to Warden Cain alone. Twenty-one years ago conditions had been so anarchic and murderous a federal judge had ruled that the prison “shocked the conscience” and breached the Eight Amendment?s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Reform had begun then. [?] [Warden Cain] aimed not merely at warehousing inmates safely, but at rebuilding them, at redeeming them, whether in terms of his Southern Baptist belief or in religious terms more broad (”Love thy neighbor?”) or simply in the sense of learning to live in some valuable way, without the impulses that lead to destroying others?. (24-25)Though Bergner only carries this thought through the beginning of his stay at Angola, it is till a viable description of the institution. With this rough idea of Angola in mind, the inmates of Angola can be discussed. Their reasons for living can be shared.Carey “Buckkey” Lasseigne was convicted to live imprisonment at Angola at the age of 22 (Bergner 220). “He was separated from his wife the month after the killing, and they have since divorced. But they had been back together since his first year at Angola” (Bergner 221). That is part of what kept Buckkey going; part of what gave him a reason to live inside Angola. His wife is only part of the reason. The rest of his family completed Buckkey?s reason to live, especially his son, Chris. Buckkey wanted nothing but the best for Chris. Buckkey wanted only to be Chris?s father. He wanted to be there for his son. This want, this need to be part of a family, is what ultimately kept Buckkey going.Freedom is another reason that an inmate has to live for while behind the fences of Angola. Donald Cook used plans for escape as a reason to live, but not for the freedoms that escape would provide. Cook was also in it for the thrill. The thrill is the same reason that Cook continued to sell marijuana even though he did not want to get caught selling anymore (Berger 184). The thrill of getting caught was one thing that gave Cook a reason to live and a reason to continue selling inside Angola.Planning escape was another reason for Cook to live. Cook took advantage of every situation to plot an escape:?[H]e?d done some maintenance work on one of the Main Prison roofs, and he?d had his first look at Angola?s geography. He made it a very long look. Because the landscape was flat, he could take in almost everything, from the river to the front gate. Behind the administration building, the hills rose up and the prison ended. He believed in Angola?s buffer zone, but he, unlike many of the inmates, imagined an area of only a few thousand acres. Angola, to him was not endless. (Bergner 186)This realization of Angola was part of what kept Cook going inside Angola. The whole idea of Angola having a boundary was enough for Cook. Planning on reaching that boundary was enough to give Cook a purpose while behind the fences.In discussing family and freedom as reasons for living inside Angola, inmate Johnny Brooks must be discussed. Brooks was convicted of killing a store clerk during a robbery. His defense was, “?I just found the body.? This, he said, was how the blood had streaked his clothes?” (Bergner 203). “After twenty-three years he still hope the appeals court might overturn his conviction on grounds he could not explain” (Bergner 203). This was one reason for Johnny Brooks to survive the slight chance of freedom.But why did Brooks want freedom? Brooks wanted to get married and married he did behind the fences of Angola. He became a father through that marriage. He gained a purpose. He became a man with a reason to live. Brooks had a wife that he loved, two sons and two daughters that he cared for, and a driving desire to be free so that he could actually be a father to them.To take his mind from thoughts of marriage and family, Brooks would train for the rodeo. “Johnny Brooks had asked? to be transferred from the range crew to the car wash. The shorter hours allowed him time to run and work out, to devote himself to taking the all-around in [the] rodeo” (Bergner 201). “?[H]e was going to give those bulls everything he had. He was going to five an all-around and a bull-riding buckle to Belva?s sons, who would be, officially, his sons?” (Bergner 201). This is what kept Johnny Brooks?s mind occupied while he was waiting for his family to develop. The rodeo was just one more thing for Brooks to live for.The rodeo at Angola was a driving force for more than just one inmate. The rodeo became a purpose for Terry Hawkins. Before the rodeo became Terry’s purpose, his reason for living was to make himself better. He wanted to move up the ranks of Angola, to become the best that he could be. That never happened, so Terry turned to the rodeo. He was encouraged by the guards to use the rodeo as a purpose. So, Terry did. He used the rodeo as a reason to live.For the inmates of Angola, a reason to live was the most important fact of their lives. Without a reason to survive, many inmates probably would not. So long as a reason existed, even the most desperate could dream; dream of all the things that would allow them the slightest comfort. The smallest purpose could give an inmate?s life meaning, and with meaning a reason to continue and survive.Works CitedBergner, Daniel. God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana?s Angola Prison. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.