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How The Visiting Room Project helps tell the stories of people serving life sentences

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Kathleen Flynn
/
The Guardian
Dr. Marcus Kondkar (left) and Calvin Duncan (right) are helping incarcerated people tell their life stories through interviews, photos and videos.

On today’s episode of Louisiana Considered: a program that helps those sentenced to life in prison tell their stories, the history of the Angola Prison Rodeo, and a comparison between bullfighting and hurricane season from essayist Ed Cullen. This segment of Louisiana Considered aired on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. To listen to the full episode, click the play button above.

Nearly 5,000 Louisianans are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A new multimedia storytelling project highlights the narratives of these inmates with a series of first-person narratives about their experiences. The Visiting Room Project is led by Dr. Marcus Kondkar, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Loyola University New Orleans; along with Calvin Duncan, a formerly wrongly-incarcerated person who is now a third year law student for Lewis & Clark. Kondkar and Duncan spoke with Louisiana Considered managing producer Alana Schreiber about the project.

For over 50 years, the Louisiana State Penitentiary has hosted a prison rodeo — the longest-running event of its kind in the United States. It’s held twice a year: one weekend in April, and every Sunday in October. The rodeo returned this spring for the first time since 2019, and tickets sold out quickly.

Another highlight of the Angola Prison Rodeo is its arts and crafts fair, where attendees can purchase hobby and craft items that are made exclusively by inmates.

Louisiana State Penitentiary Deputy Warden Rochelle Ambeau joined us to discuss more about the Angola Prison Rodeo’s history, and what the event means to inmates and attendees.

To close out the show, essayist Ed Cullen compares aspects of hurricane season to a bullfight.

Today’s episode of Louisiana Considered was hosted by Karen Henderson. Our managing producer is Alana Schreiber and our digital editor is Katelyn Umholtz. Our engineers are Garrett Pittman, Aubry Procell, and Thomas Walsh. 

You can listen to Louisiana Considered Monday through Friday at 12:00 and 7:30 pm. It’s available on Spotify, Google Play, and wherever you get your podcasts. 

Louisiana Considered wants to hear from you! Please fill out our pitch line to let us know what kinds of story ideas you have for our show. And while you’re at it, fill out our listener survey! We want to keep bringing you the kinds of conversations you’d like to listen to.

Louisiana Considered is made possible with support from our listeners. Thank you!

Karen Henderson is an award-winning journalist whose stories have aired nationally on NPR.
Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.