White City to Natchez via the Louisiana State Penitentiary
The great joy of travelling is that you never quite know what the day has in store for you. The Louisiana State Penitentiary was not on our list of Depp South USA Road Trip “Must Dos”, but we stumbled across it when we got lost en route from White City to Natchez – and it certainly was a very illuminating visit. If you are travelling this way, I can highly recommend making stopping here.
The river road from White City to Natchez crossing the mighty Mississippi at Baton Rouge cannot be described as a scenic highway. The sugar cane plantations and cotton farms that used to flank the banks of the snaking river river were gradually replaced by petro chemical plants – this has always been a working river.
What’s on my playlist – it has to be Lucinda Williams – all the way. She was born around here, in Lake Charles and the drive brings her songs to life. I’d always wanted to see the Baton Rouge she sings about – it was something of a disappointment when I got there, although not really a surprise.
A few more twists and turns in the road and an unintentional detour brought us to a dead end in Angola – slap bang at the entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
Well this wasn’t part of the plan! “Tim’s Tours” saved the day by discovering a little museum at the entrance which actually proved to be quite fascinating. This place had the unenviable reputation of being THE worst prison in the US. I suppose the middle of an alligator infested swamp is the perfect place for a high security prison.
In 1951, conditions were so bad that 8 inmates participated in what became known as the heel stringing incident – they cut their achilles tendons as a protest against the squalor and brutality in the prison. Thankfully, prison reform gradually improved conditions here from then on.
Louisiana State Penitentiary - Best Exhibits
- An electric chair – the death sentence is still applicable in Louisiana State. It was reintroduced in 1979.
- An elaborate coffin and hearse – made by inmates for inmates. Many prisoners were here for life their crimes were so serious.
- Lots of photos of the inmates participating in an annual rodeo show – it became known as the Wildest Show in the South.
We stopped for a bite to eat in downtown Woodville. It didn’t look like it had much to offer at first sight, but calling in at the antique shop on the corner yielded a great jug of freshly brewed coffee, the discovery of Gator Tators, a recipe for pecan brittle and a new book for my reading list. Not bad for a quick pit stop!
The café in Woodville was all out of Ooey Gooey, so I never got to see or taste it – it’s still on my wish list though.
Gator Tator chips – finger licking’ good!
Pretty Natchez was quite a contrast to the scenery we had seen en route. If you fancied a place here, you could by a 4 bed mansion house in the middle of town for $299,000. Fancy something a tad larger? You could have bought the whole of Nottoway Plantation for $3.1 million last year. Compare that to the cost of a shoebox flat in London! The hotel we are staying in here was bought from a bank as a result of a bankruptcy – times are getting tight around here.
What I'm Reading
Thanks to the pit stop: Coming of Age in Mississippi – Ann Moody
A deeply personal story but also a portrait of a turning point in history, this autobiography lets us see history in the making, through the eyes of one of the foot soldiers in the civil rights movement.
Wish I had seen
Missing out on seeing Whitney Plantation is still bugging me as it might have helped answer some of the question I still have about slavery. I have a real need to establish the accurate historical facts here without any form of sugar coating – some research needed when I have time back home …