Two prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola committed suicide Saturday morning. Both hanged themselves within Camp J, the prison’s disciplinary unit, where prisoners facing serious charges for offenses at Angola are sent.
At 5:33 a.m., about the time when the prison is serving breakfast, Calvin Craddock, 49, was found dead in his cell, according to a news release from Angola spokesman Gary Young.
Craddock was serving a life sentence for raping a woman at knife point at her uncle’s house in 2004 in St. Tammany Parish. He had been assigned to Angola since 2006.
Several hours later, at 10:20 a.m., Terrance Carter, 36, was found hanging in his cell, in a different part of Camp J.
Carter, a death-row inmate, was sentenced to death in 2006 in Red River Parish after he was found guilty of tying his ex-girlfriend’s 5-year-old son to a chair and setting him on fire after finding out that the woman was dating someone else. He arrived at Angola in 2009.
A complete review is underway by Angola investigators, Young said, adding that the preliminary investigation showed that all protocols were followed and that the suicides seemed to be unrelated.
Prisoners in Camp J’s cell blocks are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day without privileges. They typically are sent there for grave infractions of prison rules, such as fighting with a weapon or being found in possession of contraband. They can work their way out of Camp J after a certain amount of time.
Carter had been temporarily assigned to Camp J for a “serious rule infraction,” according to the news release, which didn’t name the violation that landed Craddock there.
Suicides are rare at Angola. Young said these two deaths were the prison’s first suicides of 2016.
About 30 years ago, a rash of suicides at the prison led to a suicide-prevention program. Wherever an inmate is alone in a cell, the prison assigns “tier walkers” to walk up and down the tier, checking for signs of trouble and acting as first responders if they see anything unusual. Guards also must punch time clocks at the end of a tier to show they made an entire rotation of the cells.
When suicides do happen, it’s almost always in solitary cells such as these.
Keith Nordyke, a lawyer who visits Angola often, said he believed he would have heard if anything bigger was at stake than two prisoners’ individual problems. “I know of no larger context,” he said Saturday.
Carter’s mother, Irma Jean Carter, received the news with a heavy heart Saturday morning.
Carter said she had just received a letter from her son, telling her that he wouldn’t be able to call her for 12 weeks for disciplinary reasons. “But he told me that, after those 12 weeks are up, ‘The first person I will call is you,’ ” said Irma Jean Carter, who had reread the letter several times to see if she could detect any warning signs in it.
“I can’t see anything that sounds like he was depressed,” she said, noting that he had been having health problems for the past year or so, which had worried her enough that she called the prison to ask about them. She’d been assured that his condition was not life-threatening, she said.
His family hopes to hold a funeral and bury him this week, she said.
Carter said she had called the police in 2006 after realizing that her son had committed murder, but she had never thought he was violent or prison-bound before that, though he’d suffered with some mental difficulties and had been in and out of petty trouble since was a teenager.
Yet, she got a sign very early on that life wouldn’t be easy for him, she said, recalling that he was born prematurely. He weighed 4 pounds, 9 ounces at birth, she said, recalling how she went to see him in the intensive-care unit when he was 3 hours old.
“When I laid my eyes on him, God told me, ‘That’s your trouble child,’ ” she said.
Carter said she found it hard to believe as she looked at the tiny newborn. “He hadn’t done no good or evil at that point. So I put my all into him,” she said.
Now, 36 years later, she will lay her troubled child to rest. “He will be in the grave by Saturday,” she said. “I’m praying and hoping that God will grant him some peace.”
Editor's note, April 23, 2016: This story has been corrected to reflect that Terrance Carter's mother's first name is Irma Jean.