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A Piece of My Mind
June 26, 2002

Dead Man Talking

JAMA. 2002;287(24):3181-3182. doi:10.1001/jama.287.24.3181

For 5 years, I have served as the senior mental health consultant helping to revise policies and improve services at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. During that time, I have met in a collegial role on numerous occasions with Warden Burl Cain. So it was no surprise when a few months ago, over coffee, he told me that he had a request of me. I could not foresee that it would have profound implications for me as a medical professional and as a person. Warden Cain, the man in charge of this 5100-inmate maximum-security prison, is an authoritative figure who is also clearly a religious person. He stresses his belief that while security is paramount, correctional officers must show decency toward the inmates. One of the country's best-known prisons, Angola at one time was referred to as the bloodiest prison in the United States. Under Warden Cain, it has achieved a reputation for reform and progressiveness.