In June 2016, Andrew Hundley became the FIRST juvenile lifer in Louisiana to be paroled following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller and Montgomery decisions that prohibited the mandatory sentencing of children to life without parole.
Part 2 of this amazing story is here!
In June 2016, Andrew Hundley became the FIRST juvenile lifer in Louisiana to be paroled following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller and Montgomery decisions that prohibited the mandatory sentencing of children to life without parole. It was clear that he was not the same 15-year-old who went to prison in 1997 to the parole board who approved his release.
Since his release from Angola, Andrew has earned a Masters degree in Criminology, is founder of the Louisiana Parole Project and is known in all circles of justice as the real life Andy Dufrane.
Whatever side of this issue you sit, you will not want to miss this episode.
In this episode Woody and Jim sit down with him for an in depth interview you are not going to believe on Bloody Angola Podcast.
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SECOND CHANCES PART 2
Jim:Hey, everyone, and welcome back to another edition of Bloody-
Jim:A podcast 142 years in the making.
Woody:The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.
Jim:I'm Jim Chapman.
Woody:I'm Woody Overton.
Jim:And we're back for Part 2, Woody Overton.
Woody:Part 2, Second Chances with our main man.
Jim:Andrew Hundley. How are you?
Jim:I feel like we just talked to you. [laughs]
Andrew:Thanks for having me back.
Woody:Yeah, [crosstalk] right. Andrew, I just want to say that it's an amazing story, y'all. You've got to go listen to Part 1. I don't think we've maybe done one or two series on Bloody Angola that-- actually series, one or two episodes that went past episode 1.
Jim:The only one that we did was Archie Williams.
Woody:No. Brent Miller.
Woody:So, two, you'll be the third. Thank you for being here, I really appreciate it. Y'all go back and listen to the first one if you haven't.
Jim:Yes, please do.
Woody:When we left off last, you were at state police barracks out at JESTC, and you got to finish telling me how you got swung.
Andrew:Yeah, I had unauthorized female visitor, to keep it PG.
Andrew:I had a female friend who visited me at the office I worked at one evening. I knew that wasn't supposed to happen. It happened. And I understand that you keep visitors off of the premises because you never know who's going to be coming out there, what they're going to be bringing out there.
Jim:I ain't hating on it. I don't blame you. [laughs]
Andrew:[crosstalk] -I'm not the first guy to get in trouble and probably not going to be the last guy that got into that kind of trouble.
Jim:Some things are just worth it. [laughs]
Woody:Everybody you see today and the rest of your life got there because two people had sex.
Andrew:But it was against the rules. They actually didn't move me immediately because my job that I had--
Woody:They didn’t want to release you.
Andrew:I had to finish some job responsibilities. But they said, "Hey, you're going to have to go." I said, "I want to go to Angola."
Jim:And wow. Before you say anything else, that's just like--
Woody:You're one of the only people ever said that--[crosstalk]
Jim:Yeah, you might be the only one to utter that sentence.
Andrew:Well, and I recognize and I had done enough time and met enough people who had been to Angola and who, in prison speak, were successful at Angola. They had done well. And I wanted to be a trustee. At state police barracks, I was a trustee but the only place as a lifer going if we say back into DOC, I couldn't go to DCI or Wade or Hunt or any of these other prisons [crosstalk] have to go to Angola.
Jim:What year was this?
Andrew:Oh, that was in 2012, 2013.
Jim:So, it was post Burl Cain?
Andrew:No, Burl was still there.
Woody:Burl was still there.
Andrew:When I first get there, I actually go to Bass. For my first couple of months, I was a cell block orderly at Bass, paying my penance. As soon as I got there, they told me, "Look, keep your nose clean, out of sight, out of mind for a couple of months, and we've got a job for you." They told me this as soon as I got there.
Woody:That's really cool.
Jim:Your reputation preceded you some way probably.
Woody:Another unique thing about what you're saying is, I don't think people understand-- I would say you might have a better number on than me. Most people at Angola are never getting out, like 80% or something like that. But to go in and have to do 10 years to make trustee without a low court or high court writeup, holy shit, bro, that's almost impossible. So basically, they're telling you, "Keep your nose clean, lay low for a couple of months and you shake it out, we got a job for you," basically, you almost were like getting credit for time served already.
Andrew:Right. They gave me credit. Look, I had a unique experience.
Woody:Meaning, credit under the trustee program.
Andrew:I used to tell people I did my time like Benjamin Button.
Andrew:Yeah, I did my time in reverse. Most people start at Angola and they're either going to die there or there are some old timers who after they've been there for a few decades, they'll allow a transfer to a prison closer to their home if they request it, if they have space. For me, I ended at Angola and did my last few years there.
Woody:I got to interrupt because I'm visual. You ask to go to Angola, and had you ever been to Angola before?
Andrew:I'd been only for boxing matches. I had been there for those kind of trips.
Woody:So, you're taking that ride up, or they giving you the ride up and you hit the gates and you go inside the wire the first time. Do you have any different impression? What was your impression?
Andrew:I was thinking, "Oh, man, I hope I made the right decision."
Woody:Right, because this is like the Harvard of convicts.
Andrew:Yeah, because I'm starting to second guess because it's like, well, if I would have gone back to the smaller prison, I was big fish in a small pond. And now, I was telling myself, "You're just another lifer here. You're going to be lost in the shuffle." But thankfully, I wasn't lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, my reputation did-- I did have a good reputation.
Woody:I'm sure somebody called and gave them a heads-up and say that, "You better get your hands on this dude because he's the bomb."
Andrew:I got there. You go on this review board as soon as you get there, and it's medical, mental health, security, classification, and they're trying to figure out where they're going to send you. A lot of guys will start off in a cell block, or some guys will go into medical facilities. Some guys will be under mental health observation. And never having lived at Angola but new Camp J is not the place to be.
Jim:Don't send me to Camp J.
Andrew:The major who was on the review board is like, "Hey, I got a call about you. Let me see what they want--" He's telling pretty much everyone on the review board like, "Someone's about to make a decision where this guy's going to go. We're not going to make the decision." He gets off the phone and says, "We're sending him to Bass." And I was like, "Okay. Where is that?" He's like, "You're going to Camp J." And I'm like, "Oh, my God. I thought I'm coming here to be a trustee."
Jim:You're sending me to lockdown.
Andrew:And I'm going to lockdown because you go to J when guys on death row screw up. They get sent to J, to the cell blocks at J because people would rather be in their cell on death row-
Andrew:-than be at J because J is wild. Now look, today J has been shut down for a few years because of talk about--
Jim:[crosstalk] -reason for that.
Andrew:Look, Camp J is four cell blocks and one dorm. They have a few guys in a dorm that are cooking for the guys there. They're taking care of the place, taking care of the yard. You hear J, you assume the cell block. Just having worked in the cell blocks, these are guys with significant mental health issues.
Woody:Most of them, yeah.
Andrew:They're throwing feces on each other. They're throwing stuff on the guards. They're guys who've been back there so long and there's this mentality in prison, bar fighting. And you make enemies in a cell and you throw stuff on so many people. You've seen this guy, he comes out on the tier for his shower. Y'all stay up all night cursing at each other because that's just how time is done. And then, you get into it with so many people, you're back there a couple of years and they say, "Okay, it's your time to come out." Like, "Oh, no, I can't go into population because I've threw crap on so many people."
What these guys don't realize is, look, all y'all have thrown crap on each other. Y'all cursed each other out, talked about threatened to kill each other. You get out, chances are, "All right, man. We're in population now, we're going to put that stuff behind us." But so many of those guys, they've developed these enemies, and then they just dig their hole deeper and deeper. There are guys who've been back there decades and refuse to come out of their cells.
Woody:The listeners know, like you're talking about, to get sent to Camp J, not the dormitory, but to get housing and cell on Camp J, you had to break a rule in prison. Not just regular fist fighting. It's fighting with weapons or attacking an officer or raping someone or whatever it may be, it's a serious infraction. You don't get classified and sent to Camp J immediately, most people. You get sent to wherever, and then if you're so bad that you can't follow the major rules inside-- those rule infractions, they could be a street charge too. But if you're so bad that you can't live in the general population with the worst of the worst, or what's considered to be the worst of the worst in America, you got to send to Camp J. It's a huge mental issue. I agree with you, like 90% of that shit is mental.
Andrew:They call it the Behavioral Management Unit.
Jim:[chuckles] That’s one way to put it.
Woody:You lock them up and throw away the key.
Andrew:The reason that they had to shut it down was it's an old cell block, and they couldn't repair the cells. Guys would open up cells, jump on guards.
Jim:Oh, my God.
Andrew:[crosstalk] So, whenever they sent me, they said Bass, which is the name of the dormitory, the general population dorm for the guys that work and serve. Luckily, it was like, "No, we're sending you back here," they did me a favor because it's like, hey, they recognize, "This is a guy that's done a lot of time. We have something in mind for you. So, we're going to put you on timeout."
Woody:And show you what the worst could be if you want to fuck up.
Andrew:They told me, "Give us a couple of months." Those couple of months, it's like no one else talks to me after that. I remember day 30, day 45, I'm thinking to myself, "These people told me-- they've forgotten all about me." I remember seeing the assistant warden over the camp after I'd been there about two months, said, "Hey, I don't know if you remember me," he's like, "Yeah, I remember you." "You haven't looked at me. You haven't acknowledged me. Just want to make sure." He said, "Have you hit your two months yet?" "I'll hit my two months at the end of this week." He said, "Okay, we'll see what happens." Two days after I hit my two months there, they came to me and said, "Hey, we're moving you to Camp F, and you're going to be working out on the range crew. We're going to make you the clerk on the range crew."
Andrew:What it ended up being, obviously Camp F is the old timer camp, class A trustee. I was in my 30s, I was the youngest guy at Camp F.
Andrew:By like 20 years.
Andrew:The youngest guy. There may have been guys that weren't quite that much older than me. But I go back there, and I have this job and I didn't realize how great of a job they were giving me. 18,000 acres, the thing that's awesome about the range crew is you have trustees that get to leave whatever camp, leave the main prison, get outside the fence, be on the property. But the thing that's awesome about the range crew is cattle there-- on just one little spot of the prison, there's cattle from the front to the back of the prison. So, when you're on the range crew, you have access to the entire prison. When I say the entire prison, I mean the property.
Jim:So, you were a cowboy?
Andrew:I was a cowboy. I wasn't born a cowboy.
Andrew:I learned how to ride a horse. Learned how to take care of cattle. The cows at Angola are 2000 head of cattle, not counting the bulls and not counting, given time of the year, when mamas are dropping calves. There are actually a lot more cattle there but every cow is on state property control. They're branded, they're tagged.
Woody:Oh, my God. I remember-- [crosstalk]
Andrew:When John Kennedy was State Treasurer, he used to give DOC hell, "How the heck do you lose a cow?" I was a guy that if I read that in the paper, I would think the same thing, "Well, how the heck do you lose a cow?" And I learned on 18,000 acres, it's really easy to lose a cow because if a cow goes in a drainage canal and dies--
Woody:Or a gator gets--[crosstalk]
Andrew:You're hoping that the buzzards are going to tell you where they are. So, part of my job was to keep up with the cattle that were on state property control and to do continuing inventories, order the meds, order the vaccines, along with just general clerical responsibilities around the range.
Woody:You have a brain that I don't because my entire state career every fucking year when I had to fill out these property forms and serial numbers and I hated that shit. I'd rather be kicked in the nuts than have to fill out one of those. You were doing it every day all across the whole scale.
Andrew:And then, another job responsibility I had once I got the job was assisting with the management of the rodeo as it relates to the rides. In my job, I was responsible for the fall and spring rodeos, to get the riders signed up and to assign the rides. There are people who-- the stock contractor comes in. There's, obviously, Alan Barton and his crew are managing what's going on inside the arena. There are acts coming in. Security is getting the public in. There's the hobby craft. There's the concessions.
But the guys that are participating, someone has to organize them, someone has to decide who's getting what ride. It's sort of interesting because that's really a high-pressure thing because everyone wants a ride and everyone wants to be on this shoot. My responsibility was being the guy that fairly distributed rides for people who signed up. In the middle of the rodeo, you'll have guys who are on a horse and then they hurt themselves, but later in the day they were supposed to be on the poker table. So, I have to keep track of that and replace them in real time.
Jim:Wow. Did you have anybody helping you?
Andrew:I had people that would help me, but I'm the kind of guy that-
Woody:Nobody is going to do it--[crosstalk]
Andrew:-nobody's going to do it as good as you.
Jim:Struggle with delegation. [laughs]
Woody:You were the CEO of everything that state workers--
Jim:Well, if you do it, it's done right. [laughs] Or if it's wrong, it's your fault. And that's important.
Andrew:But I can remember people ask me often about what I'm missing. I think there'll come a point in my career where I'll move out in the country, get a piece of property and have cow because there are days when you work around cattle, you just get this gunk in your nose at the end of the day, especially when we're pushing cows, got them in a catch pen, working them, and you just get all this muck in your sinuses, I miss that. I had to be in prison to really feel this sense of purpose and enjoying-- there were times I forget I was in prison. I forget I have my-- [crosstalk]
Jim:Wow. It's almost like [crosstalk] you're so involved.
Andrew:-sentence because I was in nature. I was working around these animals, got run [unintelligible [00:19:15] people. I think people have this idea that brahma bulls, the meanest thing that you could come across and know a mama cow that you're pulling the baby from will run your ass over. Well, I've been run over quite a few times and been kicked by cows. So, it was a great experience for me.
The other thing I should say about my experience at Angola that was totally different from everywhere else I had been. Obviously, I was an outlier everywhere else I was having a life sentence. I would see people come and go. There were a handful of lifers at Wade, a handful of lifers at DCI. But when you get to Angola, everyone has life or everyone has 50, 100 years. They're not going to do that sentence. You every once in a while got a guy that somehow ended up at Angola that's going to be going home, but that's the outlier.
And I got to meet so many older guys who had been there for decades. Some of the best people I ever met with in my life, I met in prison, and they were in prison for murder. I know that the general public can't get that, or they think I must be twisted to see that. But you see who a person becomes. I'm not meeting people in their worst moment. I'm meeting people years later after they've developed, they've taken responsibility for whatever brought them to prison and they've changed their lives. So, I think that had a big impact. Frankly, seeing a lot of death at Angola, going to funerals at Angola and seeing people buried and their headstone being on the penitentiary property, it's life changing.
Woody:We did an episode on the Lookout Point and the call for making-- and all that stuff, that Burl really stepped up the game on.
Jim:That's exactly right.
Woody:[crosstalk] -we missed an episode. My mama sent me the article afterwards. Governor Edwards, when he passed, they had them make his coffin and he was buried. But then, his wife or some family member had him dug up and cremated. But so, we did Billy Cannon's. [crosstalk]
Jim:Yeah. We definitely talked about that. It'd be a good point to bring up Burl Cain brought two very, very important things to Angola, in my opinion. He brought religion and he brought education at a level no prison had ever seen in the country. Everybody makes mistakes, Burl became very powerful, and with that, there became maybe some problems. But probably the most well-known warden in the history of the country, I would say. Would you agree? Did you ever have any dealings with him?
Andrew:Oh, certainly. My favorite story about Burl, and he would do this to a lot of people, you always knew Burl was the boss and Burl had the vision. If you were going to work for Burl, you were going to carry things out the way Burl wanted it done. Burl had a whiteboard in the ranch house where he would often hold court around lunch. If there was an assistant warden, staff member who had to see Burl, Burl had a convict he wanted to come see him, you'd get called up to the ranch house and he had a whiteboard. Burl used to draw a circle on the whiteboard and then put a dot in the middle of it. He'd hand you the marker and say, "That's where I am. I'm the dot. Show me where you are. Are you in the circle? Are you outside the circle?"
Jim:[chuckles] That’s pretty awesome.
Andrew:And he would tell you, "Draw it. I want to see. Where are you?" If you'd put that dot inside the circle next to him, "So, well, let me know if you're with me, because if you're not with me, we'll draw your dot outside of the circle." I think that's a perfect encapsulation of who he is. He had a vision. He knew how he wanted to do it. Obviously, it's hard to stay in one place. He was at Angola over 20 years. That's unheard of. No one will ever be warden of the penitentiary--
Woody:I know this off the record that numerous times, and actually tapped Jimmy Le Blanc to be head of the Department of Corrections, he turned it down. He believed in so much in what he was doing in Angola. When he was warden at DCI, when I started-- I trained at Angola, I think it was Camp F is where the--
Woody:Yes, I slept in a dormitory there and everything, but my mom was raised on the [unintelligible [00:24:08]. So, we say Bloody Angola, the Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison. That's more of a catch-all. Certainly, it's not a nice place to be, but it's certainly not to 19--[crosstalk]
Woody:-when they had [crosstalk] yards and shit like that. I forget the name of certification program, it's a national thing run by the government.
Woody:Yeah, that certifies prison. You got to really--
Woody:American Correctional Accreditation, something like that. But Angola was nowhere near that when Burl got there, and he did all that too.
Jim:Right. Leader of men, there's no doubt about it. Now, I believe the head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Woody:Most listeners don't know the Montgomery case comes out, how did you learn about it? How did you hear about it? And what happens next?
Andrew:US Supreme Court actually has made a series of decisions that affected how we sentenced juveniles. I mean, it's not that long ago the first decision where they looked at adolescent brain science was Roper, and it was new science. It's sort of what everyone who was a kid or had kids, knew kids or immature kids are impulsive. And the Roper decision, that's when they said, "You can't execute a juvenile anymore." I mean, that's just in the last couple of decades that we haven't been able to execute-- The Supreme Court said, "Stop executing juveniles."
Woody:I was a police officer when that came out.
Andrew:And they said, "Hey, kids are different from adults, and we have to treat them different than adults." Eventually, there was the Miller decision. And all these decisions, we're in prison, we're watching the news, we're reading the newspaper, we're keeping up with it. The guys who are going down the rabbit hole, staying in the law library are telling everyone what's happening. So, we're just watching it. The Miller decision came out in 2012, and that decision said that you can't give a juvenile a mandatory life without parole sentence. Well, if you remember in the first episode, I said when my judge sentenced me, there was only one sentence.
Andrew:If my judge would have had an option and gave me life anyway, the Supreme Court decision wouldn't have affected me because the Supreme Court didn't say you can't give a juvenile a life without parole sentence. It said it couldn't be mandatory. The judge has to have leeway. But Louisiana and some other Southern states--
Woody:They still followed it.
Andrew:We're fighting it, the retroactivity, because they said, "Okay, well, this only affects new cases. It can't affect all these old cases." I actually went back to Acadia Parish in 2013 after Miller. I was fortunate my family could afford to hire an attorney for me. The judge who was there for my trial was still on the bench.
Andrew:He agreed for me to come back in. He said, "Now, I have an opportunity to give you a different sentence. I'm going to sentence you to life with parole, and I'm going to let the Department of Corrections figure out what that means," because there wasn't a law in the book that said what does-- life is still life in Louisiana, whether you're a juvenile or not. The parole board wouldn't schedule a parole hearing for me, obviously, because there's nothing that says that.
Woody:To set the precedent.
Andrew:Yeah. We're hearing from all of our attorneys that this isn't going to affect old cases. So, in January of 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled in a case called Henry Montgomery, Baton Rouge case. A black guy, he was 17 years old, when he shot an East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputy. Not to argue that case, Henry, he shot someone who happened to be a sheriff's officer. He didn't know it was a sheriff's officer, but still, he shot a sheriff's deputy, and he was held accountable and was initially given the death penalty, ended up with a life sentence. His case made it to the Supreme Court. I remember we initially thought, "Man, that's such a bad case to make it to the Supreme Court," because everyone in prison knows you don’t--
Jim:When it involves a police officer--
Andrew:You don't commit a crime against a police officer because you're not going to get any mercy.
Woody:So the listeners know, when they submit to Supreme Court, Supreme Court has a right to turn down the hearing of the case. They don't have to hear it.
Andrew:Right. So, they agreed to hear it. In January of 2016, they reviewed it favorably. Henry Montgomery, what his attorneys were arguing was that Miller's retroactive, and it affects Henry and people who've already been in prison, not just new cases. The Supreme Court agreed, and it put me at the front of the line.
Jim:When he says the front, the very front.
Andrew:The very front. It's not because I obviously wasn't the person who served the most time. I wasn't the person who had the most certificates. I was at the front of the line because most other guys in my position, they couldn't afford to hire attorneys, and other courts didn't want to fool with it. There weren't any local judges that were looking to start resentencing people. Everyone's like, "Oh, let's wait and see what the Supreme Court does." Well, my judge looked for the-- was happy to hear when my attorney went and said, "We were going to file for a hearing for a change in sentencing." He says, "Let's set a date."
Woody:I'm sure also, I know what he told you originally, but I guarantee that the judge looked at-- that you did your time, you didn't let your time do you. You totally turned your life around, or you've been on a straight and narrow other than the one time at JESTC. [chuckles]
Andrew:That's true. He put all that stuff into the record, and that obviously helped me. So, when the Montgomery decision came down, my attorney petitioned the parole board and said, "You owe him a parole hearing." At that point, the state of Louisiana had not issued-- the legislature hadn't changed any laws. So, he was arguing because of what the Supreme Court said, "Because his district court already sentenced him, you have to give him a parole hearing. You can't hold the legislature's inaction against him." The parole board agreed and actually got an opinion from the attorney general's office that said I was parole eligible.
I go before the parole board in June of 2016, I'll be honest with you, even though I knew I was rehabilitated, knew if I get out, I'm going to do well, I still know I committed a horrible crime. I was in my 30s. I was 34. I'm telling myself, "I'm going to be denied," and I'm preparing my family, I'm going to be denied. This is the sort of a process and every couple of years I'll be able to reapply. And in 10, 15 years, they're going to get tired of telling me no, and I'm going to come home one day. And I'm going to tell y'all, my biggest fear, I didn't say this in the first episode. My biggest fear while I was incarcerated wasn't about someone hurting me, wasn't about being raped or being stabbed or even not getting out of prison. That wasn't my biggest fear. My biggest fear and what would keep me up at night was the fear that my parents would die while I was incarcerated.
Woody:Yeah, I get it.
Andrew:Because I've seen men whose parents died. Mom's the last person with you. And when mom goes, everyone else goes.
Jim:And they had your back the whole time you were in prison.
Andrew:They didn't make excuses for me, but they showed me love. They visited me.
Woody:Shoutout to your folks, man.
Andrew:They answered my phone calls, and my mom and dad just sustained me. I went to prison as a 15-year-old, and even although my body matured, there was part of my-- I never went off to college. I never got that first job.
Woody:The growth experience.
Andrew:I was emotionally dependent on my parents' love and affirmation. So much of me furthering my education and doing good things in prison was so when my parents would come and visit me, I could say, "Guess what I'm doing?"
Woody:They could be proud.
Andrew:I say all that to say that whenever I had the parole hearing, I prayed, and I just prayed. "I know I'm not going to make it this time, but please, God, just let me come home while my parents are still alive so then I can be there for them as they've been for me for my whole life." Luckily, that day, I have a parole hearing. Generally, they tell you after the hearing, you've been granted or you've been denied. They threw a curveball, and they said, "We want to take this under advisement. We want to think about it." I understand I was the first juvenile lifer after Montgomery with a parole hearing. The parole board generally doesn't hear at that point, murderers going up for parole.
I go back to my life in prison. I tell myself, "You're going to be denied. You're going to get a letter in the mail in 30 days that said, 'You've been denied. Apply again in two years.'" I'm back on the range crew. I'm back doing my job. I'm worrying about cattle. I'm worrying about inventories. I remember it was 10:30 on Thursday, June 9th. My supervisor is a guy named Alan Barton, June 9th, 2016, his phone rings, and he answers it, and he looks at me, and I could tell whatever that the call was about, it was about me. And so, I'm wondering, "What's this about?" Nowhere did it come into my mind this has something to do with parole. And he's like, "Okay, okay, okay." He hangs up the phone, and he looks at me, and he says, "Pack your shit." In prison, when you hear, "Pack your shit," it's usually one of a couple of things, but it could also mean you're going to the cell block.
Woody:Right. It could mean you're getting swung. The other one is you're going home.
Andrew:You're going home. This is how much I didn't allow myself to believe I was going home. I was prepared to go home. [crosstalk] Immediately, in that split second, "What are the things--? Do they know I brought a brick of community coffee back to the dorm to get to this old timer. What do they know? I got some extra chicken out the kitchen." And he says, "You're making parole." And I was just like, "Wait. What?" He's like, "The parole board granted you, and you're releasing now." I lived at the office of the range crew at the lake house, at the hog lot, this is prison jargon. Like, 80% of my properties out there because I go back to the dorm to sleep and then come back to work and work all day. He says, "Pack your stuff," and I was like, "Man, if this is a bad message, I don't want to pack all my stuff. So, let me go to the camp and see." He's like, "I'm not bringing you back. You're going home."
So, it took me going to the camp and then giving me my release papers to sign before I believed it. They said, "Do you want to call anyone?" I said, "Yeah, I want to call my mom." So, they give me the phone, I call my mom. She answers, and I said, "Hey, do you know anything about me?" She says, "Yeah, we're coming to get you." I said, "How long have you--" My mom knew one hour before I did.
Andrew:My attorney called her from the parole board to say, "Hey, the parole board just called me in to say that they're granting Andrew's parole." It was great that my mom knew for an hour before I called her. She knew she was waiting on that call. My sister had just graduated medical school. My parents were packing her up, getting ready to send her off for her residency. So, just thinking, my younger sister finished medical school, they're packing her up, and at the same time, their son's releasing from prison.
Jim:What a day.
Andrew:I was told at 10:30. I got up that morning thinking, "I may die here. I may get out in a few years." At 10:30, they said, "You're going home today." At 04:00, I was walking out the front gate with my family.
Woody:Wow. One of the few people--
Jim:For the first time outside since you were 15.
Woody:Outside of the gates of Angola.
Andrew:Right. Packing, getting all my stuff gathered, and all these old timers and these juvenile lifers who've been there all this time are coming up to me, "We're so happy for you, man. This is awesome." I remember thinking to myself, "Man, how much grace that they have," because if I was in their shoes, I would be saying, "Why this guy?"
Jim:Yeah. People try to sabotage people getting out sometimes in prison.
Andrew:"This guy's only been here 19 years. Why is he getting out?"
Jim:You would almost think there'd be jealousy there.
Andrew:Yeah, and I'm sure there was but guys were just showing me so much love. The last two guys I talked to before I get out were two juvenile lifers. One had been in for 40 years. One had been in for 50 years.
Andrew:They say, "You're going to be the guy that helps the rest of us get out." I don't think they meant literally, but like, "You're going to get out, and you're going to show that people can get second chances. Man, you could do well." I was like, "Man, I'm sorry that it's me." They're like, "No, no, man, get the hell out of here. You're going to do well." We're driving down that road that I didn't know if I'd ever leave. My sister asks me, "Well, now what?" I had all these plans on paper, but now it's like, "Oh,-
Jim:Now, it's real.
Andrew:-it's real." I told myself what came to me is, "I've got to find a way to help people. I've got to find a way to help these people that I've left behind." So, through that guilt of leaving my friends behind was born Louisiana Parole Project.
Jim:And what a beautiful project, and we're going to get into that. I do want to say, because I sense you had a little bit of guilt with you that you were the first, and there were these people that in your mind are more deserving because they had spent longer time and all of that. For me, looking from the outside, I think you had a lot of-- and I don't even know if you felt this pressure, but I would have thought you would have had a lot of pressure on you because anybody who was against that ruling is watching you to wait for you to fail. "Y'all going to see. Y'all going to see, they let these guys out and watch what happens. They're going to screw up again." Wow, were you the total opposite of that, number one. Probably far exceeded even people with the best of intentions, expectations, and that's what we want to get into. But you did. You were the first, and that was great.
You also were carrying a heavy burden, just like these guys told you, you're going to be the one that they use as the example. So, I'm sure in the back of the mind, they were thinking, "Be a good example because you can screw it up for all of us." [chuckles] So, you were just that. Now, I want you to tell us about your Louisiana Parole Project and what it does and the value of that for these released convicts, inmates, people.
Andrew:I come home in June of 2016, I recognize-- my dad gives me a truck. I knew I couldn't go back to Eunice, Louisiana. Everyone knew me for the worst thing I did. They either loved me or hated me but there weren't opportunities there. And I wanted to go to college. Heck, I was 34 years old, getting out of prison from this life sentence, smart guy. I've already earned these credits. Testament to the prison system, I felt getting out, like, "Man, I've earned all these credits. I have to go to college." Whereas if I wouldn't have had those opportunities, I might look and go, "Damn, I'm not ready to invest four years of my life. I got to go into the job market right away." So, I enrolled for college right away. But then, I started telling people, "Man, I want to find a way to help these guys. I realize I'm coming out and with this ruling, I'm just the first. There are going to be other people coming home. How do we create opportunities for people when they come home?"
I'm going to be okay because my family is going to make sure that I have opportunities to be successful. I had built a network for myself in prison that I know, "Hey, I'm going to take advantage of this network to find a good job and to hang around good people and have volunteer opportunities." The guys coming home and I had enough common sense to know that, "Hey, the first few people who come home are going to affect it for everybody. So, we need to make sure the first guys who come home are successful so that stakeholders, namely parole board, governor, judges, keep giving people chances." This was an abstract idea and literally just starting, building it out from my experience, from the experience of the first few people that came home, what did they struggle with when they first come home. And we've built a program. We're a nonprofit organization, so I had to figure out how to build a nonprofit organization, how to set it up.
Andrew:My first job was actually someone clued me into working at Pointe Coupee Detention Center. I taught pre-release at the detention center for a short time. There's a curriculum, and it's actually this curriculum I taught in the inside at Angola, at Camp F in my spare time. So, I have a job. My first paycheck goes to chartering the organization with the Secretary of State's office and the local clerk at court's office. And then, applying to the IRS for the 501(c)(3) status. All that costs money. So, I'm just figuring out the administrative part of building the organization, asking funders for money. It's the chicken before the egg. I'd say, "Hey, this is what we're going to do." Well, funders would say, "Well, what have you done?" "Well, I haven't done anything."
Jim:"That’s what we need you for."
Andrew:"We need the funds." "Well, come back to us whenever you've done something." A lot of volunteer work, part time, going to college. And then finally, we had a couple of funders that took a chance on us. I mean, fast forward from 2016 to today, we operate a residential reentry program in Baton Rouge. We work with people who've been convicted all over the state that are coming home, and we work with people who've done 20 years or more, because we recognize these are guys who are more likely to listen to their peers. And it's a pure mentorship program. Same concept with AA. If you're an alcoholic who's going to AA, your sponsor is going to be another alcoholic.
Woody:Somebody's who been through it.
Andrew:Who's been through it and so we had the same mindset. We're going to have people who've come out of prison, who've been successful mentoring other people who come out of prison. Initially, that was an odd mindset for law enforcement, for probation and parole for DOC, because their job is usually keeping ex-cons away from each other. But today, we own and operate nine transitional houses in Baton Rouge. We own these homes outright. Seven houses for men, two houses for women. When they come home from prison, we're giving them a safe, stable place to stay. We have rules, we have expectations, but some of the things, our clients have served 20, 30, 40, 50 years in prison. So, it started out with these juvenile lifers coming home. And the legislature passed a bill in 2017 that also allowed something-- some people call it 40-Year Lifers, some people call it Disco Lifers. There's a group of about 120 lifers during the 70s that had parole eligibility before the legislature in '79 made life, life without parole. There was a bill that restored parole eligibility to some of those guys.
Woody:I didn't know about that.
Andrew:We helped some of them get back out.
Andrew:And the governor has been signing commutations. And a big part of why he's signing commutations is because we say, "Hey, if you give this person a second chance, our program is going to help them rebuild their life." He took a couple of chances on people, and he's been signing more and more commutations. He's in the last year he's in office. Last week, he signed commutations for 12 lifers. These people are going to come through our program. To date, since 2016, we've had over 370 men and women who were once serving life or de facto life sentences have gotten out of prison. I know people hearing this go, "Wait a minute, 370 lifers?" Yeah, 370 lifers and de facto lifers, people sentenced to 50 years, 99 years, 200 years have come home. The reason you haven't heard about it is because they're not going back to prison.
Woody:Because they had made-- [crosstalk]
Andrew:Our recidivism rate is 1%.
Jim:1%, y'all. Let that sink in.
Woody:But you got to give them the other side of the scale. The average just on general recidivism rate is in the 40% range.
Woody:Which means almost one out of two that get out without Andrew's program are going to offend again.
Jim:I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Andrew:I said this to y'all before we went on air. I have a unique perspective where I did time, I'm a criminal justice practitioner, and I got my master's degree in criminology. So, one thing I learned actually getting the book education is when we hear like, "Almost one out of two people return to prison," the problem is it's the same couple of guys that go back and forth, back and forth. And they actually--[crosstalk]
Jim:Yeah. Quadruples the number.
Woody:Regardless, take those guys out of the equation, 1% is a stupid, crazy number in a good way.
Andrew:We start working with our clients before they're released.
Woody:Let's do it like this. You showed a picture of two people that you picked up yesterday, tell us what the process is going to be for them, from where you start until hopefully where it is.
Andrew:Sure. So, two lifers came home yesterday. One served 41 years, one served 38 years. We started meeting with them months ago when we knew they had opportunities to come home. One was given a commutation by the governor, went through the pardon process successfully. The other guy was actually resentenced by the Orleans District Attorney because it was determined that he was overincarcerated. He was someone, after reviewing his case, they decided that he was less culpable than his co-defendants and he shouldn't have got a life sentence. So, they made a deal with him. He pled guilty to time served, came home. Anyway, we started working with him and it's just how much what our organization's reputation is. We go in, ex-cons--
Woody:I was going to say, you go to Angola.
Andrew:Go to Angola and the warden lets us in to go and see guys and prepare because they know we're not going in to bring in contraband. We're not trying to get anyone to escape. We're trying to get people out the right way, but we've got to go and prepare them for what to expect. To be frank, I've got to go in and determine, is this someone I want to help? Not everyone who applies to be our client, we accept. We turn down a lot of people. We look at the prison record and we also read between the lines. Having done time, someone who's done time or worked at Angola--[crosstalk]
Jim:Real knows real.
Andrew:Real knows real.
Jim:[chuckles] As they say.
Andrew:We want to make sure that it's someone who's taken responsibility for their actions and addressed the things that brought them to prison and bettered themselves and they're ready to come home. People, you're different at 25 than you were at 15. You're a different person at 35. You're a different person at 45.
Andrew:A lot of my clients are 60- and 70-year-old men who are taking up unnecessary space at Angola.
Jim:If you're judged by your worst mistake you ever made, everybody would hate everybody. Everybody, stop for a second, think about the worst mistake you've ever made, and then think about if everybody knew about that if they'd hate you or strongly dislike you. People change.
Andrew:We pick our clients up at the front gate of the prison when they're released. We bring them to our program. Our clients, things we all take for granted, they've never used a cell phone, they've never used a debit card, they've never paid for gas at the pump, they've probably never opened a bank account. Who has been incarcerated for decades and still has their birth certificate and their Social Security card? These people, if they came home and didn't have the support, they'd just crumble, like, "Where do I start?" And their families, many of them have outlived their families. The ones who do have families, families love them, but they don't know where to start. So, our job is to prepare people to be successful. We're not putting people up for life and giving them a place to stay. We're training people to be self-sufficient.
Woody:Like a transition.
Andrew:It's a transition. We want you to learn the skills you need. I give someone their first cell phone they've ever had. [crosstalk] After a week, they're going to be like a 10-year-old with the first one. So now, we got to teach you how to put the phone down. Now, we've got to teach you what workplace etiquette is. We've got to teach you that when you went to prison, what was considered flirting is considered harassment. We've got to teach you what this institutionalization that you've had, "Hey, in society, we're more accepting of different people, different ideas. You've got to let that old thinking go." A lot of guys obviously come home with skills, and now we're--
Jim:Mad skills, especially trade skills.
Andrew:So, we're looking to do-- and I shouldn't just say, guys, we work with women too. Once they go through our initial program, we feel confident. Now, we're working to find them jobs. We give them transportation. We're going to transport them to their parole officer. We're going to transport them to their job. We bring them to the grocery store. We bring them to their medical appointments. Initially, "Hey, we're going to take care of all your needs. Now, we're going to teach you how to be self-sufficient." Our goal is we're turning tax burdens into taxpayers. We're not just getting people out and saying, "We're saving the state money, because that's one less person you have to pay for," we're turning these people into taxpayers. We're not just turning them into taxpayers when they're working. We're getting them volunteer opportunities. They're volunteering in the communities they live. I tell clients, "Go join a church." Some of them say, "Hey, I'm not into church." And I say, "You go find your church, find you an AA group, find you some group. Start showing up. After you're there three or four times, someone's going to recognize you and say, "Hey, you want to go to lunch? Hey, tell me about yourself.'"
Woody:Integrate them into the community.
Andrew:When people get in trouble, 9 times out of 10, it's because their family doesn't know what they're doing. There are no connections. What we find that's worked is we want all these tentacles into them. I'm going to tell you we're a parole officer's best friend because our parole officers have no problems with their clients because oftentimes, the guys out on parole, mama may not know where you're at, but that parole officer is keeping in contact with you, a Parole Project client. These are people who were convicted of the worst crimes, and they're the most successful group out there.
And then, the mode is some of our clients who've come out been successful, we've had people start their own small business. We have homeowners, state employees, carpenters, welders, cooks. The people, you walk into Walmart and you don't realize the guy who's checking out next to you just got out of prison doing 30 years. You're in church, the person in the pew next to you is someone who came home. And that's the point. What does someone who's been in prison look like? We're training them to not only to blend in, but to give back to the community.
What I would say is we've proven in Louisiana, a place where life without parole is something that is exactly what it means. And we've just accepted that, "Well, we give people life, and we can't let them out because they've done something so bad, they can't get out," or we keep them there so long, they can't adjust to society. We're proving that wrong, and we're proving that. And this isn't like a bleeding heart speech, because I'm not a bleeding heart. I don't believe-- there is a reason we have prisons, there's a reason we hold people accountable. Well, we can hold people accountable, and then we can take a look back and see, is someone worth redemption? Is someone rehabilitated? Someone worth a second chance? And it's a resounding yes. There's a way that you can support someone.
One thing I hate to hear is, "He's been in so long, how can we let him out?" What I say is, "Shame on us as a society if we keep someone in prison so long, the reason we can't let them out is because we've kept them in prison so long."
Jim:That's a great way of putting it. And you know what? I think your nonprofit does more than anything else, is the same thing that you get inside prison from the staff if they're doing it right, hope. The biggest reason that people reoffend, in my opinion, is they try other things, they hit a bunch of roadblocks, and it's the only thing they know. If you have a felony on your record and you go apply for a job and you have to disclose that felony, and you do, you're doing the right thing, it's hard. Look, I'm not saying they didn't earn the right to have to struggle with that, but it's hard for people to give you a second chance. It is not easy. I'm not someone that lived in that life, but I've seen a lot of people pass through my life that have had that struggle. I've seen people turn back to the only thing they know, because it's the only way they can make money, is by slinging drugs or doing whatever it was that put them in prison to begin with.
Your program is really helping them adjust and teaching them that there's another way because anybody who's respected, even the worst of us, when you're respected for the right things, for being a good person, paying your taxes, all those things, you have a self-respect that you don't want to go back to that life.
Woody:And then, second chance also--
Jim:It's hugely important.
Woody:-what you just hit on, people come out and they can't get the jobs or people are like, "I'm not hiring a con," through second chance, through your program, somebody did take a chance. They're probably the best damn employee in the world. They're like, "Can you give me like 10 more of them?"
Andrew:I was about to say two points I want to respond to as it relates to second chances, there is not an employer that we've gotten someone connected to-- a lot of times, it's a lot of work, getting this employer to take a chance, and I understand it. He's got to think, how is the public going to feel about it? How are my other employees going to feel about it? There's not an employer who doesn't come back and say, "Hey, if you have another guy, I'd be willing to hire another guy." We have multiple employers, car dealerships in Baton Rouge, state government agencies that have multiple clients working for them.
As it relates to hope-- We talked about Warden Cain, the current warden of Angola, Tim Hooper, is really a good man, and he's doing good things up there. But as it relates to hope, prisoner-on-staff violence is down at Angola. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence is down at Angola. Participation in educational and self-help programs are up. Why is that? Because people in Angola are seeing people go home. And not only go home, but they're seeing them stay home and stay successful. They know guys' success, guys communicate, and it gives people hope.
Jim:So, light at the end of the tunnel.
Andrew:What I tell people, even the hardest person who says, "I don't believe in any of this, lock them up. Why should I care about prison conditions?", if you don't care about the thousands of people who live in Angola, care about the employees who work there.
Andrew:Because they should go into a safe environment. What I can tell you is, it's a safer place to work whenever there are people going home and there is hope in the prison. Hope is a good thing.
Jim:This is a damn good episode. One more thing--
Jim:Chills. How can people help support your program?
Woody:Say the full name.
Jim:We're going to link all of that too.
Woody:[crosstalk] -links and everything. We're going to put it across all our stuff because I believe what you're doing is really awesome. Y'all, they are nonprofit, and you fund it through donations and stuff, right?
Andrew:Grants and individual donations. So, our name is Louisiana Parole Project. Our website isparoleproject.org. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,@paroleproject. Check us out, you'll see-- If you're wondering what does someone look like coming out of prison, take a look at our social media. We call it the Money Shot, is the guy walking out of the front gate.
Jim:[laughs] I love it.
Woody:Hey, I'm going to follow--[crosstalk]
Jim:The Money Shot.
Woody:When we leave the studio, I'm going to go follow.
Andrew:And people can donate to our organization online atparoleproject.org. Your donation, no matter how large or small, helps us buy someone coming out of prison, a pair of shoes, helps someone go to driving school, fund the cost to getting their driver's license, gets people started. We are a nonprofit organization, and all of our money goes to supporting people. It's a good investment. What I could tell you is, is it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars to keep people in prison for life. The older you get, the more expensive it costs.
Andrew:It does. It's a good return on the investment. We have been ill served by politicians who have fostered the idea that keeping people in prison forever makes us safer. We've led the country in incarceration because of life sentences, and it didn't affect crime. The people who are committing crimes today are not the guys getting out of Angola. So, there's a difference. When we hear some people are like, "Ah, I'm not into these reforms that are happening," what I can tell you is without a doubt, because I see it, I work with these guys, they're not the guys committing crime. They're the guys who are paying taxes, giving back to their community.
Jim:Well, thank you for that and keep up the good work on that end. One more thing before we let you get out of here. You got a child and a wife now and we haven't even mentioned that. His wife's a doctor, y'all. How about that?
Andrew:Yeah. I'm a lucky man. God's shown me a lot of favor. The best job like I've ever had now is I'm dad to an 11-month-old daughter.
Andrew:It's been a wonderful experience.
Jim:Well, keep killing it, man. Keep doing the good work.
Woody:Hey, you know what? I would like to ask you back again sometime.
Woody:Because this is [unintelligible [01:02:21]. This is important.
Jim:Very important. Thank you.
Jim:Thank you very much. We appreciate you.
Woody:Our favorite episode we've ever done. Episodes actually that we've ever done.
Jim:Yeah, it was great. We hope y'all enjoyed this. Follow the Patreon, subscribe to us, if you'd like more information, and hopefully you would on the LPP, we're going to link all of that in the description of this podcast. Just scroll down, you'll see it there. You can click on it and help.
Woody:When you hear it, if you're moved like I was, share it because we want everybody to know this story.
Jim:That's important. Yes.
Woody:And we've told you, it'll always be something different coming out of Angola. This is as far in the positive spectrum as we've ever been.
Jim:100%. And until next time, I'm Jim Chapman.
Woody:I'm Woody Overton.
Jim:Your host of Bloody-
Jim:A podcast 142 years in the making.
Woody:The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.