About 50 cyclists will gather outside Orleans Parish Prison on Friday to bike about 170 miles over three days, making their way from New Orleans to Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola — a journey too many people make in shackles.
In its biggest and fifth year, the NOLA to Angola bike ride raises funds for Cornerstone Builders’ Bus Project, which provides free monthly bus service for New Orleanians who have loved ones in five Louisiana detention facilities: Angola, Dixon Correctional Institute, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (St. Gabriel), Avoyelles Correctional Center and Rayburn Correctional Center.
The service keeps families connected across great distances and through the barriers of incarceration in a state that has the highest rate of incarceration per capita in the world.
In 2013, Louisiana had not only the highest incarceration numbers but was one of only five states that had an imprisonment rate of more than 600 people per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The more we can keep the family intact, the more we can effect positive change. We want to keep lines of communication open between prisoners and their families,” said Minister Leo Jackson, who founded the bus project in 2007. “Without Cornerstone, the expense and distance of monthly trips to Angola or other prisons would be cost-prohibitive for most families.”
The NOLA to Angola bike ride was established in 2011 to raise funds for the Cornerstone Builders’ Bus Project. All riders are sponsored, and all sponsorship funds pay for this bus service.
The visits are crucial for people to maintain their connections and networks of support, Jackson said, but they also ease the re-entry process for the men and women reaching their parole date and integrating back into their communities.
For those who will never be paroled out, in large part due to Louisiana’s harsh sentencing laws, the bus visits are their only lifeline to their families and loved ones, Jackson said.
A staggeringly high number of inmates at Angola, almost 90 percent of the 5,000 imprisoned, will die there.
To date, Cornerstone has brought more than 3,400 individuals to visit a family member imprisoned in Louisiana.
NOLA to Angola riders pay a $50 fee and carry their own basic supplies during the day, such as a bag, saddle or backpack for water, snacks, medication and extra layers of clothing. All other supplies are carried in support vehicles, including tents and sleeping bags for camping, food for all meals, medical supplies and bike repair tools.
With about 50 riders signed on for Oct. 16-18 ride, the largest group to date, organizers expect to reach their highest fundraising mark yet, allowing Cornerstone to further expand its services.
Each 55-passenger bus costs Cornerstone about $1,000, and there’s always a waiting list.
The ride begins at 8 a.m. Friday and ends at Angola on Sunday. Riders and supporters will gather outside of the New Orleans Municipal Court, 727 S. Broad St., for a send-off and brief news conference featuring Councilman at Large Jason Williams; founding members of the Black Youth Project; Jackson, Cornerstone’s founder; Gahiji Barrow, from the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition; and representatives from NOLA to Angola. Other cyclists are welcome to join riders for their first few miles out of the city.
To donate or to learn more, visit nolatoangola.org.