Presidential Candidate Stays in the Pen

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By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 9, 2006; 3:30 PM

ANGOLA, La. -- Sen. Sam Brownback took his budding presidential campaign to prison this weekend, spent a restless night among inmates and pressed his message that faith can work even to improve the lives of hardened criminals.

The Kansas Republican had no expectation that the drug cartel hit man, serial rapist or other convicts in his cell block would vote for him. After all, about nine in 10 of the inmates are serving life sentences. His mission at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, rather, was to promote religious-based prison efforts to curtail violence and provide inmates with an alternative to crime once _ or if _ they got out.

On Friday night, Brownback joined hundreds of inmates at a prayer service before prison officials escorted him to his modest sleeping quarters. On Saturday morning, he emerged from his 7-by-10-foot cell to tour the maximum-security facility and take a walk down death row.

"There aren't probably a lot of votes for me here," he said. "There can be a lot of prayers, though."

Last Monday, Brownback formed an exploratory committee that allows him to raise money for a possible run for president. He kicked off a multistate tour with a more conventional trip to Iowa on Tuesday before traveling to the prison.

About 90 percent of the 5,108 inmates at Angola are lifers. Half are convicted murderers. Eighty-five are on death row.

Burl Cain, the prison's warden since 1995, attributed a drop in violence at the prison to Angola's commitment to "moral rehabilitation" programs. The prison has six interfaith chapels, nightly prayer services, four part-time chaplains and a "Bible college" that has trained dozens of inmates to be ministers.

Brownback, 50, said programs such as Angola's can "break the cycle" that sends two-third of inmates back to prison after they are released.

"We don't want to build more prisons in the country," he said. "We don't want to lock people up. We want people to be good, productive citizens."

Sidney Deloch, an inmate who is 28 years into a life sentence, said faith-based programs also have made life better inside the prison.

"This prison used to be one of the bloodiest in the country," said Deloch, a Baptist minister at Angola. "It's still bloody because it's covered with the blood of Jesus Christ, and this blood is saving people's lives."

Brownback, an opponent of abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem-cell, long has been a champion of religious conservatives. He also has been a staunch advocate of government's use of religious-based initiatives to combat poverty and crime.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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