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                            Louisiana State University
LSU Digital Commons
	2006
"To Live Outside the Law, You Must Be Honest" -- Words, Walls, and the Rhetorical Practices of the Angolite
	Scott Howard Whiddon
		Recommended Citation
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Louisiana State University
LSU Digital Commons

LSU Doctoral Dissertations Graduate School

2006

"To Live Outside the Law, You Must Be Honest" --
Words, Walls, and the Rhetorical Practices of the
Angolite
Scott Howard Whiddon
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

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Page 154

contact, word choice. He was, for once, the last inmate in the room. To be honest, I had no idea

how to break the silence. I stood by the window, looking out over the flat fields.

You wanna know why I do this? He pointed at a guard tower in the distance, then looked

me square in the eyes. I don’t think they really want us to do this, to read and write, you know?

Maybe some of them. But writing and reading, that’s how I get out. That was the last time I ever

saw him.

But perhaps my strongest memory of these sessions occurred the very next week. While

slowly going through the first chapter of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a text that is

deeply entrenched in the idea of literacy as transformation and the concept of how one sees

himself or herself, Hollywood raised his hand.

Can I ask you a question?

Sure. What’s up?

Are you gonna write a book about us and then leave and then never come see us again?

*

About two months after my initial meeting with Fontenot, I went to her office to make

sure that all was still well with our agreement and simply to try and get to know her better. As

an experienced warden, her ideas were crucial to my study, and I hoped to draw from her

experience. My goals for the meeting felt pretty straight forward: to continue discussing

protocols concerning access and safety; to detail and respond to questions from my case study

participants; and to re-establish my work as an inmate-tutor discussion group leader, as my initial

program with the tutors was a trial run. But as I entered her office, she quickly turned to the

following sentence from my prospectus: “However, while both Louisiana State Penitentiary and

Angolite staff members publicly claim that the magazine is ‘the only uncensored prison

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Page 155

publication in America’…the history of LSP as ‘the bloodiest prison in America’ shadows this

statement.” One sentence in twenty-six pages.

I thought your study was about literacy, she said, dropping the thick folder on her desk

with a slap.

She was angry because I mistakenly did not follow a protocol. A few weeks beforehand,

I sent her a scaled-down version of the research proposal, mostly free of academic references.

When she cleared the study, the version for my dissertation committee – the official prospectus –

was finished and ready for defense. I sent the prospectus straight to Myers and The Angolite so

that they could get a good sense of the project before I met with them again. Weeks had passed

since all this happened, and I hadn’t thought about it at all. Fontenot, after reflecting for a

moment, understood the mix-up, but she reminded me that she needed to see everything that is a

major part of the study – and she needs to see it first, before Angolite staffers or anyone else.

And I agree. I explained to her that I am not accusing anyone of censorship, but readers would

certainly wonder about the role of power relations between The Angolite and LSP administrators.

How could one not wonder?

Fontenot continued, People – researchers, journalists – come to Angola with a pre-

existing notion of how it was before. This is a new Angola. It’s one of the most free prisons in

America. It’s unbelievable what we let the inmates do…Warden Cain believes in creativity. I

don’t tell The Angolite what they can and can’t write. And then she stared at me, dead on center:

Your words make it seem as if you are on ‘The Angolite’s’ side – an us versus them situation.

The word “expose” was used over and over. I listened and took notes while my stomach

crumpled.

145

Page 308

Vita



Scott Whiddon is originally from Simpsonville, South Carolina. He holds a Master of

Fine Arts degree in creative writing from McNeese State University and has published poems in

journals such as 21st: A Journal of Contemporary Photography. In Fall 2006, he will begin a

tenure-track appointment as Associate Director of the Writing Center at Transylvania University

in Lexington, Kentucky. His research interests include composition theory, the literature of

confinement, twentieth-century American literature, creative writing, and writing center

pedagogy. Scott enjoys playing the guitar and collecting rare rock, soul, and country music

records. He is married to the novelist and poet Carrie Green.















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