Inmates from across Louisiana's prison system came together Thursday to honor beloved civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the founder of Baton Rouge's African-American history museum who was found suffocated last summer.
Her killing rocked the capital city and ultimately a tenant from one of her properties was charged in her death.
"She lived what she believed, and inspired a lot of people, not only on the outside but on the inside as well," said Hayward Jones, an inmate at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. "She showed us who we should be. She gave us some direction."
Jones and two other state prison inmates — all lifers — presented a donation Thursday to Roberts-Joseph's son and daughter, who have taken over management of the museum since her death. The money was donated from inmate clubs and programs.
Roberts-Joseph has been remembered across Louisiana for her unwavering faith in the power of love to bring people together despite their differences. Hers was a public voice encouraging black residents to embrace their heritage, acknowledge past injustices and work to close racial divides.
The corrections officials and inmates who spoke Thursday said they were honored to present the gift in her name: a check for $11,350 that will help support museum operations.
"We may not be a part of the Baton Rouge community, but what Sadie Roberts-Joseph stood for is a part of us," said Candice Malone, an inmate at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. "Some of us have taken what could never be given back. In lieu of that, we would like to give back what we can, which is only a small portion."
She referenced one of Roberts-Joseph's favorite phrases: "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going."
"This is the statement our prison population wants to make with our contribution, in hopes of creating a better future for the community and ourselves as we reintegrate into society," Malone said.
Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said he's proud to support the prison clubs, which give inmates a chance to pursue personal growth and rehabilitate themselves. He said the groups are invaluable in helping the department achieve its goal of "releasing into the community individuals who are better than when they came."
Roberts-Joseph's son said the family has received an outpouring of support since his mother's death, but he said that "this donation coming from inmates, whom society portrays as heartless or hopeless … holds a special significance."
"Humanity, it appears, extends beyond walls, gates or situation," he said. "I thank you for teaching me this valuable lesson … but most of all, I thank you for your humanity."