For a growing share of Louisiana's inmates, only chance for release rests with the governor — or the grave

[BY BRYN STOLE,  JUNE 11, 2017]

Thousands of tourists stream down the winding roads of West Feliciana Parish each spring and fall for the prison rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Alongside the raucous rodeo events, the crowds are drawn to the outdoor crafts fair set up outside the ring, where prisoners sell artwork, leather goods and furniture while mixing with relatives and customers. All the inmates allowed to take part have records of good behavior. Many have earned degrees — high school equivalency diplomas, vocational certifications, even advanced seminary degrees.

Most are serving life sentences. Nearly all of those inmates will die behind prison walls, barring a major change in Louisiana law. And the number of men and women serving life without parole in Louisiana prisons keeps growing, now approaching 5,000.

Even after the total number of prisoners serving sentences in Louisiana's sprawling and infamously swollen prison system peaked in 2012, the number sentenced to live out the remainder of their time incarcerated has continued to climb.