Amid all the self-dealing of the Burl Cain empire at Angola, an inmate appears to have been the ethical conscience of the place.
Now, he’s been transferred to a punishment ward at another facility, transparently for blowing the whistle on the officials who have made the Louisiana State Penitentiary into a prison enterprise for the politically connected.
State corrections officials confirmed that they moved inmate William Kissinger to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in large part because of his correspondence with Advocate investigative reporter Maya Lau, though they say it was not done out of spite. Rather, they say, Kissinger’s writings and other behavior violated correctional policies.
You can believe that if you want to, but this appears to be less of a case of a jailhouse malcontent than a whistleblower who wrote tellingly about the Cain “retinue” who were involved in numerous business dealings with the longtime Angola warden.
Kissinger’s emails are not threatening or profane, nor does he discuss committing any crimes. Mostly, he writes about goings-on at the prison; his descriptions include criticisms of the staff.
He is among the “lifers” at the prison, serving for murder and manslaughter. Thus, he is an insider source into the business of The Farm.
In the 1990s, he raised pointed questions in letters to federal health officials about a can-relabeling operation at Angola that then-Warden Cain had set up with a private company using inmate labor.
Kissinger said at the time the business “stinks of impropriety” and is “shrouded in secrecy.” He was quickly demoted from his position as an inmate legal advocate to farm work, a move Cain admitted in court was retribution for his outspokenness.
A federal judge ordered Cain to back off Kissinger. Meanwhile, the plant was shut down after a federal investigation, and one owner pleaded guilty to a charge of mislabeling a food product.
The current controversy provides an insight into how Angola is operated, and it is not particularly encouraging. After decades under the supervision of Cain and his “retinue,” Angola’s secrets are not so much revealed by Kissinger as simply confirmed. All indications point to questionable business dealings that have taken place all along, in plain sight.
At a prison, the official responses to a whistleblower can be more radical than in private businesses or civil government: Just chuck them into the punishment ward.
Legal authorities question whether a prison staff even has a right to read letters or emails between an inmate and the media. A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal decision states that prisoners have “a right to send media mail unopened and to receive media mail that has been opened only for the inspection of contraband in the inmate’s presence.”
Cain recently resigned. As several internal investigations appear to have whitewashed the current management, Kissinger appears to be paying the price for outspokenness that earlier landed him in trouble but also showed something was wrong in the house Cain built.