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Prisoners Contribute to Flood Control Efforts in Louisiana

In May 2011, as the rising Mississippi River threatened to flood vast stretches of riverfront territory, Louisiana prisoners from a number of parishes, including East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Pointe Coupee and Concordia, filled sandbags in an effort to save lives, buildings and property.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed. “They’re working their hearts out,” said Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell. “In all honesty, without them we couldn’t do all this.”

Echoing those sentiments, East Carroll Parish Sheriff Mark Shumate stated, “Without them it would be impossible to conduct this kind of flood fight.”

The prisoners, all deemed non-violent offenders, filled tens of thousands of sandbags. Those from East Carroll Parish worked 12-hour shifts. Sheriff Shumate credited one of the prisoners with designing and building a machine that automatically fills sandbags – an invention which, he suggested, merited a patent.

Employing language that could be construed as either condescending or insightful, Sheriff Maxwell and Sheriff Shumate both remarked that the flood-fighting work gave the prisoners purpose.

“They enjoy it,” said Maxwell. “It makes them feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.”

Similarly, Shumate said, “It gives them a chance to give something back, a chance at some redemption.” He added, “They appreciate that chance, and it shows.”

According to news report, Sheriff Shumate intended to expand the 12-hour work shifts to 24-hour work shifts (one hopes he considered that prisoners, no matter how apparently enthusiastic about filling sandbags, still need to sleep).

State prisoners at Angola also helped in flood-control efforts, mainly to protect the prison grounds from flooding.

“It’s prison for those on the outside, but it’s home for those who stuck here this all we got, I got a life sentence I’m never leaving I’m gonna be here for the duration, why not try and make it better,” said Angola prisoner Darren Jarvis.

Two thousand prisoners at Angola were evacuated after a levee was breached, but thousands more remained. The prison is bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River, and the May 2011 flood was the worst to hit the area in over 70 years.

Sources:,, CNN

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