True, 97% of the inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola will die there. And true, they've murdered, raped or robbed. But you've got to give them their propers: They sure build a nice golf course. It's the nine-hole Prison View Golf Course, just 21/2 hours north of New Orleans. This is the only golf course in the country on prison grounds, and it may be the only course in the world that requires a complete background check before you can get a tee time.
Warden: So, Mr. Kowalski, word on the street is you don't replace your divots.
Seriously, a golfer must call at least 48 hours in advance and provide his date of birth, driver's license number and Social Security number. Not allowed: convicted felons, former inmates, people on the prison's visitors' list and, of course, inmates. You call back the next day to see if you got a time. How many prisons have people calling to see if they can get in? Kind of gives new meaning to those old blues lines:
I got lucky last summer when I got my time, Angola bound.
Well my partner got a hundred, I got ninety-nine, Angola bound.
It's even weirder to drive through prison gates to play golf ($20 with cart). It's all you can do to keep from telling the guy at the security gate, "We're here for nine to 18."
Still, you never really feel in danger at Prison View, even though the inmates not only built it, but many of them also work the grounds, sans guards. They're trusties, which means that they've been in prison for at least seven years and have virtually spotless records inside.
One of them is Jeffrey Hawkins, who has been at Angola for 14 years, doing life for second-degree murder. It was his 38th birthday. He and his shovel could've wandered off to the highway anytime he wanted, but they didn't.
"Being outdoors in this environment is great," said Hawkins, who was putting in a cart path. "It's beautiful. I learn something new here every day."
Playing at Prison View, you learn something new too. For instance, you learn what you should and shouldn't say to your golf ball. Like, when playing the 7th hole--which is separated from the hardest-core inmates, in Camp J, by only a razor-wire fence--you never want to holler, "Run! Run!" Or, "I killed that one!" Or, "Man, I got a shank today!" It's fine, though, to say after hooking one, "That's in jail," because it probably is.