Phelps inmates worry about being farther away from families

By By Johnathan Manning / American Press

DEQUINCY — Among the biggest concerns of many of the inmates being moved from Phelps Correctional Center is that they will

be farther from their families, several prisoners said Friday.

Charles Barzar, a dorm rep at the medium-security facility, said his parents and his children live within 50 miles of the

prison, making visits every two weeks possible.

“Right now it’s a pretty trying time on everybody,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of offenders who live locally, as well as staff.

“It not only affects those who work here, it also affects the offenders.”

The state announced Sept. 14 that it

plans to close the prison by Nov. 1. A large percentage of the prisoners

are expected

to be moved to Angola State Penitentiary, while those with medical

or mental health issues will go to Hunt Correctional Center

in St. Gabriel, Phelps Warden Robert Henderson said.

“I’m from around here. I don’t think they should close,” inmate Jeremiah Spell said.

Fellow prisoner Ryan Rashall shared similar sentiments: “I don’t like the fact that everybody is losing their jobs, and I

don’t like the fact that those who came here as geographical transfers are being moved far away from here.”

Rashall, a Lake Charles native, said he requested a transfer to Phelps to be closer to home.

“I trust God because I just believe it will be all right wherever I go, but do I like it? No,” he said.

Rashall has another reason to want to stay at Phelps: He has a room in the honor cottage, the dorm in which the best-behaved

of Phelps’ prisoners stay.

The rooms don’t have doors, but do offer more privacy.

“No, we’re not going to have an honor cottage at Angola,” Rashall said.

When Phelps was opened in the 1950s, it was done so as a prison “for first-time offenders with potential for rehabilitation,”

Henderson said.

In 1987, the policy was changed to

accept those with 10 years or less left to serve, although there are

those with life sentences

now at Phelps, he said.

Not everyone was upset to be going to Angola.

“I hate people losing their jobs, but it’s also a blessing because we’re going to get to Angola and they’ll have different

programs where you can get diplomas and better yourself,” inmate Clarence Guidry said.

Robert Roussel and Darrell Cook said they were transferred to Phelps in June as missionaries after completing four-year Bible

college degrees at Angola.

“It’s been a blessing to work with the chapel department here, working with these young men,” Cook said. “Helping them keep

their faith and help them be productive. Our journey is about to be over.”

Roussel said other inmates have “ceaseless” questions about Angola ­— asking about visitation, church, the yard, work, the

canteen and the dormitories.

He said Angola has a bad reputation, but “it’s one of the best places to do time. Nobody wants to be incarcerated, but it

is what it is. You hear the old stories, but those are things of the past.”

Angola offers many programs in “Life 101,” he said.

Speaking words similar to many of the other inmates, Roussel acknowledged he has little control of where he is moved.

“From God’s perspective, he’s in charge of everything,” he said. “I believe that. This isn’t happening without God knowing.”