Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bike Trip to Angola Prison Will Raise Funds for Visits by Prisoner Families

From our friends at NOLA to Angola:
Cyclists and prisoner advocates are organizing a bike ride to aid the large incarcerated population of Louisiana. Called “NOLA to Angola,” the bike ride will raise funds for the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project, a Catholic Charities-supported project. The first annual NOLA to Angola ride will take place October 14-16, 2011.

Every month the Cornerstone Builders Bus Project charters a 55-passenger coach-style bus for families of the incarcerated in the New Orleans area to visit five prison facilities around Louisiana, including Angola. Due to the long distance of each trip, the Cornerstone Builders ensure the families will have onboard bathroom facilities and comfortable seats. Each trip costs the church approximately $1,000. Currently, the bus project has no regular source of income, though some trips are underwritten by local sponsors, including church groups and the Jefferson and Orleans Parishes Sherriffs’ Offices. Organizers of the NOLA to Angola Bike Ride hope that their fundraiser will be able to pay for half a year of bus trips.

Leo Jackson, assistant director of Cornerstone Builders, said, “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.”

While the primary purpose of the ride is to raise funds for the monthly bus trips, another goal of the ride is to expose riders to the history and geography of South Louisiana while they travel to the distant prison. Matt Toups, one of four ride organizers, said, “For three days in October, 25 people will ride bicycles over 160 miles across Louisiana -- to raise money, but also to make connections. We're connecting New Orleans to the levee of the Mississippi River, the cypress of Maurepas Swamp, the refineries of Cancer Alley, and the Tunica Hills. We will see, firsthand, many of the places that make Louisiana and its history unique -- and we'll also find out how far prisoners' families have to travel to maintain precious family connections.”

The bicycle ride will end at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. When the ride ends organizers will deliver a letter to the Angolite, an award-winning prisoner-run publication at Angola. Ride organizer Steve Merlan said, ”by working with the Angolite - an extremely unique magazine whose history of journalistic excellence is well established - we hope to engage in a broader dialogue with the Angola inmate community and other readers interested in criminal justice.”

As of September 20th, all 25 rider spots have been filled. However, members of the public who would like to get involved can still sponsor riders or send donations to the project. Donation checks should be made out to: Second Zion Baptist Church Bus Project. Please do not write checks to NOLA to Angola.

Checks can be sent to the below address:
NOLA to Angola
1631 Elysian Fields #117
New Orleans, LA 70117

The Cornerstone Builders Bus Project, run out of the Second Zion Baptist Church in Marrero, Louisiana, provides monthly free transportation for families of the incarcerated to visit their loved ones at five Louisiana detention centers: Louisiana State Penitentiary, Dixon Correctional Institute, Tallulah Transitional Center for Women, Avoyelles Correctional Center, and Rayburn Correctional Center. The Bus Project is part of the larger Cornerstone Builders Program that also includes mentoring for children, working to place ex-offenders in AmeriCorps Vista vocational training, reentry counseling for formerly incarcerated persons, networking between businesses run by or willing to employee the formerly incarcerated, and an annual symposium.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Center on the States, 1 in 55 Louisianans is incarcerated in a prison or jail, and 1 in 26 Louisianans is under correctional supervision (incarceration, probation, or parole).2 According to the same study, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any state (Washington D.C. is ranked higher) in the United States3.

Scott Eustis, Elizabeth Lew, Steve Merlan and Matt Toups are New Orleans residents concerned about Louisiana’s high incarceration rate and about Louisiana’s environment. By organizing this bicycle ride, they hope to address both of these concerns, raising money for a crucial service for prisoners’ families while riding pollution-free bicycles across the beautiful South Louisiana landscape.

For more information on NOLA to Angola, please visit:, or email:

Photo from Angola by Calhoun Photography studio.

No comments: