One tried to swim his way out, masquerading in woman's finery that dragged him beneath the raging waters of the Mississippi River. Others tried to rehabilitate their ways out, only to find themselves after all still mired inescapably in the turbulent murky quagmire of Louisiana politics. Yet others tried merciless self-mutilation to rivet the attention of the press and an uncaring public upon brutalities of the system, and this worked, but only briefly.

Louisiana's immense and infamous state penitentiary called Angola held them all. The more they struck out in despair and desperation and yes, violence, in protest against the system and the place, the more tightly it clutched them.

And so the ones who are not dead are still in there, their fascinating stories providing heart-rending glimpses into what it was like to grow up black and deprived in South Louisiana and awaken to the dichotomy between what life promised and what it actually delivered. And yet, these stories are as universal as they are unique, for in every penal system in the country may be found similar cases. Each case has been carefully chosen to represent certain facets and failings in the American criminal justice system.

At a time in the late sixties when it was at the height of its "knock 'em down and drag 'em out" days, Angola was considered one of the nation's worst, a brutal world of violence and intrigue, political abuse and racial turmoil, where one in ten inmates would s