National Geographic: A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm

On June 16, National Geographic will present A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm (pdf), a sequel to the 10 year old film “The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison.”

For the last 10 years, filmmaker Jonathan Stack has continued to chronicle life and the surprising changes inside Angola, which is now an increasingly self-sustaining agricultural community that boasts five new churches and its own inmate-run TV and radio station.


The two-hour special captures pivotal moments and personal revelations from those incarcerated and recently freed, their family members, and, in one case, the alleged victims. Of the six inmates portrayed in the first film, only four are still living (one died of lung cancer; the other was executed).

The intimate and candid words and images of the remaining four powerfully reflect the struggle and humanity that these convicted criminals face behind bars and on the streets.

So what is The Farm?

Sprawled over 18,000 acres, The Farm is on the site of a former slave plantation. Over the past decade, Warden Burl Cain has enacted many changes at this notorious prison, where more than one out of every two inmates is a murderer and where 95 percent of the population will live out the rest of their lives.

The Farm is now a vibrant, almost self-sustaining agricultural community raising millions of pounds of vegetables, hundreds of workhorses, and thousands of cattle — even though the grass-fed beef they raise is considered too much of a luxury for the prisoners, and is sold in the marketplace.

There's a lot of religion and morality:

Warden Cain has also infused a very strong religious component, with five new churches on the grounds and an accredited Bible college. He believes long hours of daily work and rigorous faith-based teachings can profoundly transform his inmates. Acts of violence have dropped 74 percent on Warden Cain’s watch. Find a way to remain hopeful and follow the rules, and the prison is a surprisingly peaceful place to spend one’s life.

And a lot of media:

For years, the prison has had a radio station (KLSP) and a magazine (The Angolite), and in 2006, the warden launched LSPTv, a prisoner-run closed-circuit television station. Sean Vaughn, an inmate at Angola since 1998, is now the technical director of the TV station. He wants this to be a full-fledged station that broadcasts to the outside to reflect the real people who live in Angola.

The new film features four violent offenders. So, what happens at the end?

Simmons’ tears after being forgiven by his alleged victims who accuse him of rape; Ashanti’s joy at his release after serving 27 years for armed robbery; Crawford’s shame when his mother sees him in shackles; and Tanniehill’s heartfelt religious rebirth in the midst of incarceration. The distinct portraits spark conflicting emotions and questions about the prisoners, the prison system and our own ability to cope with adversity.

More information is available here.

< Guantanamo Inmate Dead of Apparent Suicide | Patti Blagojevich Defends Her Husband >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I'm interested to see this (none / 0) (#1)
    by nycstray on Tue Jun 02, 2009 at 09:19:37 PM EST
    Thanks for the heads up.

    I obviously don't know a lot about prisons, but I do like seeing programs that benefit the prisoners lives in enrichment and also the opportunity for them to contribute back. When you see stories/reports on them, you can see the impact it has on both. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I like programs like these   ;) Of course, depending on what I see with Farm, you may see that on the top of my list also. It looks like they have the first version available on the site, so I will watch it first.

    This program reminded me (none / 0) (#5)
    by vml68 on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 09:37:15 AM EST
    about Puppies behind bars too. Watching some of the inmates talk about how raising and training the puppies affected them got me a little choked up.

    Great (none / 0) (#2)
    by kaleidescope on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 12:33:43 AM EST
    The original film on The Farm was one of the best documentaries I ever saw.  It humanized prisoners like no film I've seen before or since.  People can be noble and humane under the worst circumstances and The Farm brought that out loud and clear.  

    I highly recommend it.

    Real Sports did another (none / 0) (#3)
    by Slado on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 05:44:56 AM EST
    great spot on this prison.

    Every year they have a rodeo for prisoners only and they charge admission for the general public.

    One of the big acts is 10 or so inmates try to grab something off the head of a bull.   It's pretty crazy but inmates work for years to be considered to participat in the rodeo.  

    This warden is something else.  

    Take it off here boss? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Saul on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 08:54:53 AM EST
    What we got here is a failure to communicate.

    You remember your number and always wear the ones that has your number. Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box.

    Sounds like the warden... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 10:03:50 AM EST
    is making some good improvements to that god awful place...they should let the inmates eat that primo grass-fed beef they raise though, and teach the inmates how hard work can pay off even more.