Six months later: Phelps, where are they now? - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Six months later: Phelps, where are they now?

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DEQUINCY, LA (KPLC) -

On Nov. 1, 2012, Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy shut it gates for good after a sudden announcement from the Louisiana Department of Corrections just two months earlier.  

The 700-plus inmates were shipped to different prisons around the state and the 200-plus employees were forced to either take early retirement, uproot their families or be out of a job altogether. 

"It was a very scary transition," said former Assistant Warden, Jolene Constance. "It was very heartbreaking because you left everything that was familiar to you and you're starting a whole new world."

Constance was forced to take an earlier retirement. But for her, it wasn't only her job that was slipping away, it was her sense of security and stability as she also lived on prison grounds.

"Then I had to prepare to move because at that time, I was living at the prison so I prepared to move and I had to move by Feb. 1," she explained. 

She agreed to become a contract employee at Angola State Penitentiary, having to commute back and forth every week. But in what she would call a hidden twist of fate, on the day she would start that new job, she received a phone call. 

"On Jan. 31, I got a phone call to not show up, that there was a hold up in the paperwork," she said. "But luckily for me on that same day, I got a call from the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury interested in interviewing me for a position they had." 

She got the job with the Police Jury and while the transition to computer desks and offices from jail cells took some time, she's grateful for the opportunity. 

It wasn't only the employees who were affected by the closure. Phelps inmates, who often served as work crews in local communities, were transported to other facilities around the state. DeQuincy Mayor Lawrence Henagan spoke about the importance of those crews to DeQuincy.

"You tend to depend on them to keep things up," said Henagan. "Otherwise, a city of our size ... you can't afford to hire enough people to replace that number of hands you got working." 

Henagan and the city decided to keep an inmate crew. They're housed in the city jail and continue working around the city with public upkeep and maintaining the grounds at the prison.

"It gives the offenders the opportunities to give back to the communities at working and improving the communities and the public seeing them do positive things," said Col. Marcus Myers with the Louisiana Department of Corrections. 

While the inmates know their work is appreciated, they, too, miss the grounds of Phelps and the opportunities it provided. 

"There was a lot of privilege that we had at the prison that guys don't realize that we don't have now," said inmate Kenneth Taylor. "Like I said, we were able to participate in the programs and so forth and even some of the staff is missed."  

Henagan keeps that in mind as he consistently works with local, state and national officials to keep Phelps on the forefront of agendas, knowing its significance to the City of DeQuincy and to Southwest Louisiana.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. with members from the SWLA Chamber of Economic Development, Henagan met with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to discuss ways to restore Phelps to an entity that will provide jobs in the area.
 
Landrieu tells KPLC she looks forward to continuing her work with local and state leaders on the issue. 

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