Burl Cain

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Nathan Burl Cain, I
Warden Burl Cain St Francisville.jpg
Nathan Burl Cain

(1942-07-02) July 2, 1942 (age 76)
Alma materLouisiana State University, Alexandria
Grambling State University
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Jonalyn Miceli Cain
ChildrenNathan Burl Cain, II

Marshall Arbuthnot Cain

Amanda Cain Smith
Louisiana State Penitentiary, the prison which Cain managed

Nathan Burl Cain, I (born July 2, 1942),[1] is a prison administrator and the former warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in West Feliciana Parish, north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He served there for twenty-one years, from January 1995 until his resignation in 2016.[2]


Cain was reared in Pitkin in Vernon Parish in western Louisiana. He is the brother of James David Cain, a Republican former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Louisiana State Senate,[3] and Alton Cain.[citation needed] Warden Cain holds a degree from Louisiana State University and a master's degree in criminal justice from Grambling State University in Lincoln Parish.[4]

He began his career with the Louisiana branch of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He was appointed as the assistant secretary of agribusiness for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections. In 1981, he was appointed as the warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute (DCI).

After fourteen years there, he was elevated to warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.[3] After accepting the job at Angola, he continued to live on the grounds of Dixon.[5] Until 2011, Cain served as the vice chairperson of the Louisiana Civil Service Commission.[3]

Tenure at Angola[edit]

Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. Many of the inmates are serving life sentences and will never be released. A devout Christian, Cain encouraged a spiritual atmosphere in the prison to build a culture of morality and to help inmates serve their time.[6] Under his leadership, violent incidents decreased markedly among the inmate population of more than 5,000.

Cain improved relations with the media, and allowed several documentaries to be filmed at the prison during his tenure. He said that he wanted people outside to see the lives of the men and understand them.[7]

He established positive incentives, including a television station so that all prisoners could see some programs. He supported the newsmagazine and radio. The Angola Prison Rodeo, football, and prize fights, are all filmed by TV crews. The latter two activities were started under Cain. On the other side, he worked to increase compassion, establishing a prison-run hospice program in 1997. The changes which he brought about at the prison are detailed in the 2005 book Cain's Redemption: A Story of Hope and Transformation in America's Bloodiest Prison by Dennis Shere.[8] In 2008, Cain became the longest-serving warden in the history of Angola.[9]

While at Angola, in September/October 2005, Cain also became the warden of Camp Greyhound, a temporary make-shift jail in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.[10]

In 2016, when he stepped down, the prison had 3,600 inmates on 18,000 acres.[11] Gordon Russell and Maya Lau of The Advocate reported that Cain's salary, $167,211 per year was $30,000 higher than that of James LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections and a previous subordinate and personal friend of Cain. According to Russell and Lau, many observers said that Cain was de facto the head of the department.[12]

As warden, Cain promoted a Christian-based message consistent with belief that religion can turn around the lives of inmates. He established a branch of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola, which has eight churches, and worked as well to create chapels in other state prisons.[11] In August 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit accusing Warden Cain and the Louisiana state prison system of hindering a Mormon inmate's access to religious texts.[13]

In 2008 Cain said he supported continuing solitary confinement for the men known as the Angola 3, saying they ascribe to "Black Pantherism."[14] Gordon and Lau stated that some of both his supporters and detractors have compared Cain to Boss Hogg in Dukes of Hazzard.[12]

In 2010, Cain was among the speakers in a series at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[15]

In December 2013, a federal judge ruled that death row at Angola is so hot during part of the year that the temperatures undermine the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which forbids "cruel and unusual punishment". The judge demanded a plan to cool death row. Prison officials appealed the order.[11]


Cain's resignation as warden came amid allegations about his private real estate dealings raised by The Baton Rouge Advocate. The capital city newspaper claimed that Cain sold interest in land that he owned in West Feliciana Parish to two developers who were reportedly either family or friends of two Angola inmates incarcerated for conviction of murder. The state legislative auditor and the state Department of Public Safety & Corrections began investigations into the issue.[11] In May 2016, Cain was exonerated of any wrongdoing, with respect to using his employees to perform home renovations.[16]

In January 2017, a separate report from the office of Daryl G. Purpera, the state legislative auditor, said that some ten correctional department employees performed work on Cain's private residence near Central in East Baton Rouge Parish. One worked for Cain for three weeks while on official duty at his regular state job. In addition to the labor which Cain received, the audit alleges that the former warden obtained appliances and furnishings, such as iron gates, and food and lodging at the penitentiary for a number of his relatives, mostly his children.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, Cain's long-term friend and business partner, said that Cain was "personally liable" for $20,000 for the costs of the food, lodging and gates; and that the department will file a civil suit or seek restitution if Cain faces prosecution in the matter.[17] Cain discounted the findings of the Purpera report, saying it had misinterpreted his "creative" approach to handling his duties as warden. Cain claims to have transformed the long-running Angola Prison Rodeo into a self-sustaining facility, resulting in a financial windfall for the state. He also authorized the construction of five new chapels built with privately raised funds.[18]

Cain said that it was his

being creative and thinking outside the box that got me in trouble. These kinds of things discourage state employees from being entrepreneurial. … I stole nothing. I gave. … I should be tossed off rather than condemned.[18]

Ultimately Cain was cleared by the Daryl Purpera investigation and by another probe into his activities by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Cain said that he never doubted that he would be cleared because he had stolen nothing, had merely "thought outside the box" to bring needed changes to the penitentiary. He said that prayers from his fellow Southern Baptists assured that he would receive justice in the investigations.[19]

Samuel C. "Sam" D'Aquilla (born October 10, 1964) of Jackson, the district attorney for the Louisiana 20th Judicial District, indicated that he would refer the case to a grand jury.[18]

Personal life[edit]

According to a biography by Ridgeway, Cain "enjoys hunting and traveling around the country on his motorcycle."[3] Both he and his brother, former state senator James David Cain, are Republicans.[1]

Cain's eldest son, Nathan "Nate" Cain, II (born April 1967), and his younger son, Marshall Arbuthnot Cain (born October 1971), of Ouachita Parish, also have had careers with the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Cain, II, had advanced to become warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, a facility since named for former state Representative Raymond Laborde of Marksville. He vacated the warden's position in Cottonport on May 24, 2016. Marshall Cain is a manager of Prison Enterprises. Cain's son-in-law, Seth Henry Smith, Jr. (born January 1974), of East Feliciana Parish, also works for the corrections department, as a "confidential assistant" to one of the appointed officials.[12]

Prior to Nate Cain's decision to resign from Avoyelles Correctional Center, his wife the former Tonia Bandy, business manager of the prison and another top official, also stepped down. Tonia Cain's attorney cited her client's health issues as the principal reason for the resignation. Meanwhile, the state corrections department said that it had halted the construction of the "Ranch House" building at the Avoyelles prison, a structure for which some $76,000 had already been spent. Nate Cain had built an identical structure at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy in Calcasieu Parish, where he was earlier the deputy warden.[20]

Nate and Tonia Cain divorced in 2017 and she resumed her maiden name of Bandy. She has since agreed to plea bargaining and will admit to some of the seventeen wire fraud charges (and an additional count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud) in hopes of getting a lighter sentence than she would have if convicted of the crimes. The two stand accused of purchasing personal items, including television sets, furniture, and guns and ammunition, on a state credit card. No trial date has yet been set for Nate Cain.[21] As it developed, Bandy pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the federal corruption case against both her and her former husband. The government then dropped seventeen fraud charges pending against her. Though she could face twenty years in a penitentiary, she is expected to receive a more lenient punishment in her sentencing on October 9, 2018.[22]

Representation in media[edit]

  • The Execution of Antonio James (1996), documentary at LSP directed by Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack
  • The Farm: Angola, USA (1998), documentary directed by Garbus and Stack
  • The Farm: 10 Years Down (2009), documentary directed by Stack
  • Serving Life (2011), documentary about LSP's hospice care of inmates, a program established in 1997. It is directed by journalist Lisa R. Cohen; the narrator and executive producer is Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker.[23]
  • Appeared in Season 1, Episode 3 of the 2008 series: Stephen Fry in America


  1. ^ a b "Click Nathan Cain, July 1942". voterportal.sos.la.gov. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  2. ^ "After leaving Angola, Burl Cain to continue collecting $134,000 in regular paychecks through August " (Archive). The Advocate. February 21, 2016. Retrieved on February 26, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Ridgeway, James. Mother Jones. July/August 2011 Issue. p. "God's Own Warden". Retrieved on March 23, 2013.
  4. ^ Annual Report (PDF) 2006. (Archive) Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections. p. 3. Retrieved on March 23, 2013.
  5. ^ "Auditor says state paying too much by letting Angola warden live at DCI." The Advocate. February 7, 1997. Retrieved on February 3, 2011. "The state legislative auditor is questioning corrections officials for allowing two prison wardens to live off their prison grounds at extra cost to the state. But a top corrections official said the arrangement is fine. Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola continues to live in the same house on the grounds of Dixon Correctional Institute where he lived while in his previous job as DCI warden."
  6. ^ Burl Cain Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. on Charlie Rose
  7. ^ The Farm: 10 Down (2009), directed by Jonathan Stack
  8. ^ Dennis Shere, Cain's Redemption: A Story of Hope and Transformation in America's Bloodiest Prison. Northfield Publishing Company. 2005. ISBN 978-1-881273-24-0. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  9. ^ Churcher, Kalen Mary Ann. Self-governance, Normalcy and Control: Inmate-produced Media at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Pennsylvania State University. ProQuest, 2008. p. 74. ISBN 0549921737, 9780549921738
  10. ^ Greta van Susteren, Burl Cain (September 8, 2005). "New Orleans' Makeshift Jail". Fox News. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d "Longtime Warden of Angola Prison in Louisiana to Resign". The Shreveport Times. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Russell, Gordon and Maya Lau. "Fall of Burl Cain: How 1 last side deal led to Angola warden undoing " (Archive). The Advocate. December 10, 2015. Retrieved on April 15, 2016.
  13. ^ The New York Times. April 12, 2006. Spinning Hope on Incarceration Station. Retrieved on August 25, 2010.
  14. ^ Ridgeway, James (21 March 2013). "Louisiana Attorney General Says Angola 3 'Have Never Been Held in Solitary Confinement'". Solitary Watch. Retrieved 28 August 2013. "In a 2008 deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, 'Let's just for the sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.' Cain responded, 'Okay, I would still keep him in CCR…I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.'"
  15. ^ "Inner Compass NATIONAL SEASON 3." Calvin College. Retrieved on August 29, 2010.
  16. ^ "Former Angola Warden Burl Cain cleared of misconduct allegations, reports say". The Advocate. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  17. ^ Gordon Russell (January 22, 2017). "Audit: Former Angola warden Burl Cain benefited from free labor, nearly $20K in other freebies". The Baton Rouge Advocate.
  18. ^ a b c Gordon Russell (January 24, 2017). "Ex-angola warden Burl Cain touts 'creativity' in defense of audit allegations, which DA promises to take to grand jury". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  19. ^ "Burl Cain, former Angola warden, exonerated". The Baptist Press. April 11, 2016. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Maya Lau. "Nate Cain resigns from Avoyelles Correctional Center amidst probes; attorney cites health issues as reason". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  21. ^ Gordon Russell, "Tonia Bandy, ex-wife of former prison warden Nate Cainguns , titureo plead guilty in corruption case", The Baton Rouge Advocate, June 28, 2018.
  22. ^ Gordon Russell (July 9, 2018). "Tonia Bandy, ex-wife of La. prison warden Nate Cain, pleads guilty to federal fraud charges". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  23. ^ "'Serving Life': Facing Death, Inmates Find Humanity", NPR: Tell Me More series, 19 October 2011; accessed 29 May 2017

External links[edit]