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Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Burl Cain speaks about his career and the prison he runs in Angola, Louisiana Tuesday to a group of criminal justice students at South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette.

Prison Warden Burl Cain on Tuesday told South Louisiana Community College students a tale he’s told to thousands around the world.

Hard-core criminals are immoral; their crimes, often violent and sadistic, are what got them sentenced to prison.

But most are not lost causes, even if they’ve received life sentences, he said. The moral elixir? Religion, no matter the flavor — Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim — can redeem the worst criminals society has produced, even if they’ll never again walk outside prison walls, said Cain, who runs Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

“I don’t care what religion,” Cain said. “A Buddhist is moral. Muslims have morality.”

Cain said that moral instruction, along with giving the 6,000-plus inmate population respect and something useful to do, has transformed their collective attitudes. His prison has plenty of jobs for inmates. And there are programs where children are brought to the prison — with chaperones — to bond with their incarcerated fathers.

They also have access to a four-year ministerial college degree, taught in the prison. And they can bask in the limelight for a few seconds while riding a bull at Angola’s famed rodeo, held each April and October.

Cain said Angola’s programs have transformed behaviors at the largest maximum-security prison in the country.

Cain delivered his presentation Tuesday to about 60 SLCC students, many of them majoring in the school’s two-year associate degree in criminal justice.

Brandon Byrd is one of those students. From Alexandria, the 19-year-old has his eyes set on becoming an agent with the U.S. Marshals Service. To get there, he knows he’ll need prior experience, such as being a corrections officer.

“This really opened my eyes to what goes on inside that prison,” Byrd said.

“They’re all my kids,” said Dale Broussard, director of the criminal justice program and longtime friend of Cain.

Cain has overseen the sprawling 18,000-acre prison, located on the Mississippi River northwest of St. Francisville, since 1995. Living in its cells, working in its vast corn, cotton and cabbage fields, and laboring in the prison’s manufacturing buildings, most of the prisoners will never venture outside prison walls again. Eighty-eight of them are on death row.

A believer in the death penalty, Cain said that even some scheduled to die know they’d commit ghastly crimes again. Cain said at least one told him he wanted to die.

Gerald Bordelon was a convicted pedophile who strangled his 12-year-old stepdaughter in 2002 after kidnapping her at knifepoint from her Livingston Parish home. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection.

In the weeks leading to his 2010 execution, Bordelon had a conversation with Cain.

“He said, ‘Warden Cain, if I get away from you, I’ll do it again,’ ” Cain said, explaining that the admission was redemptive in its way.