1. Liquid Gold
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1 1 Liquid Gold Delano Boudreaux woke to the sound of men cursing and the smell of wet, stale sweat. He didn’t want to open his eyes. Just a few more seconds, he said to himself. A few more seconds and I’ll get up, before the guards come.1 He rolled over on his flimsy mattress, straightening out to flatten his body against the cool concrete wall along his bunk. This will have to last me all day, he thought. Soon I’ll be out in the goddamn sun, boiling my hide, getting bitten by the Louisiana state bird better known as the mosquito . I’ll be bent over, sweat running up my spine, goose-picking grass from around the fences, and weeding around the flowers. As if the damn flowers made the prison look good. Not that Boudreaux, who arrived there in 1979, had it as bad as most of the other inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, America’s largest maximum-security prison. Located northwest of Baton Rouge, at the end of state Highway 66, Angola is a nineteenth-century plantation transformed after the Civil War into an 18,000-acre prison farm. The dormitories, which a map on the prison website says can hold up to 5,295 inmates,2 spread across its rich bottomland and are surrounded on three sides by an alligator-infested stretch of the Mississippi River. The fourth side is swamp, with more gators and the world’s biggest, baddest rattlesnakes. At least that’s what the inmates—most of them violent offenders and lifers—are told. “The Farm,” as it is dubbed, has been used continuously for agriculture for more than two hundred years, and BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS 2 most of the inmates, except for those on Death Row, work the fields, growing cotton, soybeans, corn, and other vegetables. Today, Angola is perhaps best known for its rodeo, an annual extravaganza that every October draws thrill-seeking tourists by the thousands to gawk at inmates clad in black-and-white stripes as they ride bulls and broncos. On the prison’s separate rodeo website, longtime warden Nathan Burl Cain, who resigned in 2016, boasted that it was “the most unique show or performance you’ll see in this country or maybe in the world.” One purpose, Cain said, was to take selfish men and teach them to worry about others.3 But when Boudreaux first got there, the prison had more of a reputation as a corrupt and violent hellhole whose murder rate sometimes challenged that of inmate deaths by natural causes. Angola was a place full of evil men, murderers, rapists, and the worst of the worst. Most would die in that wretched place, one way or another. Boudreaux, of course, was innocent. He insisted so. Convicted of armed robbery—his brother, he said, was the only one with a gun—he drew a sentence of sixty years. Eventually, in 1999, he would be released after serving twenty-one years. But that was years away, little more than a ridiculously distant dream on that clammy, muggy morning, as he reluctantly climbed from his bunk for another day’s work. It would be hot, of course, but worse for those inmates who toiled in Angola’s broad, open fields. Boudreaux would not be among them, for he had a bit of a scam going: he’d conned the prison medical department into believing he had a bad shoulder. That’s how he got assigned to weed-pulling duty, and while he hated it, it was a lot better than the harder labor of the farm. He was almost ready to leave for work when he remembered something that made him smile. He wouldn’t be yanking weeds today after all. No scalding sun, no mosquitoes. No, sir. It was bleeding day. Twice a week, an inmate could get a “call out” from work for the whole day just by spending an hour with a needle in his arm, donating blood plasma that then was sold and used for who-knows-what. Cosmetics for ladies, somebody said. Plasma was the secret ingredient in those fancy brands they sold at department stores, the inmates had heard. LIQUID GOLD 3 The plasma center operated conveniently in a tin and cement-block structure on Angola’s grounds. The center contained a holding cell, restrooms , a bleeding area, and storage freezers. Like others of its kind, it was operated not by...


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