Burl Cain, a longtime warden who infused faith into what had been called the nation’s most violent maximum security prison, has been cleared of alleged ethics breeches following investigations by two Louisiana state agencies.
“Thank you so much for the prayers,” said Cain, former warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, speaking to the state’s Baptists in an exclusive interview with the Baptist Message newsjournal.
A Southern Baptist, Cain was Angola’s warden from February 1995 until Jan. 1 when he retired amid various ethics allegations pressed by the daily newspaper in Baton Rouge, the state capital, last year.
“It was really important for me to be restored, especially so Louisiana Baptists would know I didn’t really stumble; it was a political thing,” said Cain, 73, who was instrumental in opening Angola to a pioneering theological education initiative by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
The Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, acknowledged in a March 22 report that Cain, who was the longest-serving prison warden in the U.S. at retirement, had been cleared in investigations by the state’s Inspector General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
“The investigations did not find evidence to support the claims, the documents issued Tuesday show,” The Advocate reported March 22. The newspaper reported that various recommendations had been made as a result of their investigations to clarify personal business guidelines for corrections officials and outside individuals and inmates.
The newspaper also reported that an investigation by the State Police had cleared a nephew of Cain, an Angola employee, from an allegation of payroll fraud.
Cain said he took retirement amid a number of circumstances, including the new governor, John Bel Edwards, taking office; pressures being exerted on Edwards by a disgruntled legislator, whom Cain did not name in the Baptist Message interview; and a desire for Jimmy LeBlanc, head of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, to be reappointed so that the NOBTS seminary extension and other moral rehabilitation programs would continue.
Cain said the investigations by the Inspector General’s Office, Department of Public Safety and Corrections and State Police took a toll on him and his family.
“It cost me my job, it cost me a lot of money, it cost me a lot of chaos for my family … and it cost me my reputation,” Cain told the Baptist Message.
Cain said he never doubted he would be cleared of the allegations and he looks forward to “what God has in store for us in the future.”
He is working with a North Carolina prison to establish a seminary program similar to the one New Orleans Seminary conducts at Angola. Likewise, he has other prison projects he hopes to resume in the Midwest and West.
He said he also is open to returning to prison administration if it is God’s will for him.
Cain’s spiritual journey at Angola began just a few months after he became the prison’s warden in 1995 in watching a lethal injection execution of an inmate who had been convicted of murdering his mother-in-law. Cain had not asked the man about his eternal security, and that fact burdened him to the point he knew he had to do something.
From that day on, Cain vowed to ask men about their relationship with God, knowing the eternal importance of a changed life. And, in realizing the value of moral rehabilitation for lessening violence, the opportunity to set up a prison program with New Orleans Seminary “just fell in my lap.” The four-year NOBTS program, started in 1995, has produced 278 inmate graduates. Some have even transferred to other prisons as missionaries.
Now, Cain said, instead of inmates committing crimes, they are witnessing to other inmates, studying for a seminary test or holding a Bible study. Thousands of inmates have professed Christ as Lord and Savior, and violence has decreased by 85 percent among the 6,300 inmates.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley told Baptist Press, “If a Hall of Fame for prison wardens existed, warden Burl Cain would have to be a first ballot selection for his groundbreaking vision and dramatically effective implementation of a process for moral rehabilitation.”
Cain “had the courage to believe any life could change and to give transformed inmates in America’s largest maximum security prison an opportunity to be heroes in a story of redemption,” Kelley said in a written statement. “Our seminary is grateful for the opportunity we have to train those transformed inmates to be ministers, and we are delighted to watch as this vision for moral rehabilitation spread to more and more of the nation’s most difficult prisons.”
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told the Baptist Message, “It is impossible to overestimate the eternal good accomplished by warden Burl Cain. He understood the men assigned to his jurisdiction were not merely prisoners but persons for whom Christ died. His willingness to provide spiritual nurture in the context of incarceration has brought many souls to glory.”
In September 2015, Kelley dedicated a new 11,000-square-foot building that houses an extension center built by the inmates and funded by donors.
The Joan Horner Center has a computer lab, two classrooms, an auditorium and library, and is named in memory of benefactor Joan Horner, founder of Premier Designs of Dallas, who with her husband Andy Horner were longtime supporters of the Angola ministry.
The next month, Louisiana’s Washington Baptist Association accepted a church at Angola into its fellowship.
Grace Baptist Church is believed to be the first church at a prison that a Baptist association has approved for membership. The church is the only Southern Baptist congregation among the prison’s 28 inmate-led churches.
Other correctional facilities have taken notice of the change inside Angola and adopted the seminary’s programs:
San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, Calif.
Darrington Unit, Rosharon, Texas
Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman
Phillips State Prison, Buford, Ga.
Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel
In speaking to the state’s Baptists, Cain voiced thanks “for being a good steward. Thank you for letting us have the opportunity to show how we can change lives in prison.”
He “wasn’t that smart” to figure out the viability of the New Orleans Seminary initiative, Cain told the Baptist Message. “Here we took off and did a crazy thing and it worked. Can you believe that? It’s all over the country.
“Without your support we would never have been able to launch moral rehabilitation, nor would we have had a seminary, which is really the game changer,” Cain said. “Without the support of the Louisiana Baptist Convention it wouldn’t have happened.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Will Hall, editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention; staff writer Brian Blackwell; and Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston.)