Angola inmates sell arts and crafts - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Angola inmates sell arts and crafts

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    It's called the wildest show in the south, but there's more to the Angola Prison Rodeo than inmates riding wild horses and angry bulls.

A big draw is the inmate hobby craft and concessions for sale.

The atmosphere is festive and there's a huge arts and crafts show through which to wander.  But the barbed wire is a reminder it's no typical festival.

Those selling arts and crafts are inmates at Angola State Penitentiary.  Most are lifers, many convicted of murder, like Bill Ollis, in prison for 33 years.

During the rodeo he sells his paintings from birds to Daniel in the lions den.

"I was inspired to do this through the lord and I just taught myself and I started with water color and advanced up to acrylics and I just paint every day as much as I can," said Ollis.

Higher risk inmates sell from behind chain link fences. Miguel Velez of Colombia is one of three convicted in the 1986 murder of Barry Seal, a drug smuggler turned government informer. Velez knows why there's a fence.

"They consider me a security risk because of my past and the crime," said Velez.

He hopes to make several thousand dollars selling paintings.

"I learned how to paint when I came in here about 28 years ago," said Velez. "I taught myself how to paint and I taught myself how to speak and write English."

Janice Molina has written to him for years and loves his work.

I now own 32 paintings by this one artist. He is superbly, terribly gifted.  He's kind hearted, he's a great friend," said Molina.

The inmates sell their craft items for various reasons, including to help replenish their arts and craft supplies.  And making the craft items gives them something to do.

Inmate James Mysinger says carving little wooden ornaments helps him relieve stress. Mysinger is doing life for murder.

"I committed a crime, I received a life sentence, I understand that that's what I have to do with my life.  In the meantime, you just try to make the best of the situation and try to do positive while you're here," said Mysinger.

Many lifers and long term inmates are tutors and help prepare short term offenders for a successful return to society.
Warden Burl Cain believes moral rehabilitation of inmates is the key to public safety and fewer victims.

Tomorrow we wrap up our series with a look at how the prison rodeo & hobby crafts work toward that end.

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