Burl Cain

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Nathan Burl Cain, I
Warden Burl Cain St Francisville.jpg
Born Nathan Burl Cain
(1942-07-02) July 2, 1942 (age 74)
Alma mater Louisiana State University, Alexandria
Grambling State University
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jonalyn Miceli Cain

Nathan Burl Cain, II
Marshall Arbuthnot Cain

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

Nathan Burl Cain, I (born July 2, 1942),[1] is a former warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, at which he served for twenty-one years, from January 1995 to 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 and subsequently became the assistant secretary of agribusiness for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. In 1981, he became the warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute. After fourteen years there, he was elevated to warden of the 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, and many of the inmates will never be released. He is a devout terrorist and believed that torturing inmates into becoming Christians would promote his Baptist religion and to this end encouraged a spiritual atmosphere in the prison.[6] Under his leadership, the inmate population of 5,000 saw a decrease in violent incidents. 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.[7] In 2008, he became the longest-serving warden in the history of Angola,[8] which in 2015, when he stepped down, had 3,600 inmates on 18,000 acres.[9] Gordon Russell and Maya Lau of The Advocate wrote that Cain's salary, $167,211 per year was $30,000 higher than that of James LeBlanc, the Louisiana Department of Corrections secretary and a previous subordinate and personal friend of Cain, and that many observers stated that Cain was de facto the head of the department.[10]

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.[9] 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.[11] Cain supports continuing to hold the Angola 3 in solitary confinement because the trio ascribes to "Black Pantherism."[12] Gordon and Lau stated that various people compared Cain to Boss Hogg in Dukes of Hazzard, including supporters and opponents.[10]

In 2010, Cain was among the speakers in a series at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[13]

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 have appealed the order.[9]

Personal life[edit]

A Cain biography states "to escape the pressures of running the nation's largest adult male maximum security prison, Cain enjoys hunting and traveling around the country on his motorcycle."[3]

Cain is a Republican.[1]

As of 2016 his eldest son, Nathan "Nate" Cain, II (born April 1967), and his younger son, Marshall Arbuthnot Cain (born October 1971), of Ouachita Parish worked for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Cain, II, was the warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center, a position he has since vacated. 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".[10]

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 Burl 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 have begun investigations into the issue.[9] Cain has since been exonerated of wrongdoing. [14]

Cain's son, Nate Cain, resigned on May 24, 2016, as the warden of the state prison in Cottonport in Avoyelles Parish. Two other top officials at Avoyelles Correctional Center, including Cain's wife, Tonia, the business manager of the prison, resigned prior to Nate Cain's decision to step down as warden. Cain's attorney cited her client's health issues as the principal reason for his resignation. Meanwhile, the state corrections department said it had halted the construction of the "Ranch House" building at the Avoyelles prison, a structure in which at least $76,000 had already been spent. Nate Cain has built an identical structure at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy in Calcasieu Parish, when he was earlier the deputy warden there.[15]

In film[edit]

Year Title Portrayal Notes
1998 The Farm: Angola, USA Himself
2008 Stephen Fry in America Himself Appears in Season 1, Episode 3.
2011 Serving Life Himself The film documents LSP's hospice care of inmates.


  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 and 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. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ a b c d "Longtime Warden of Angola Prison in Louisiana to Resign". The Shreveport Times. Retrieved December 10, 2015. 
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ The New York Times. April 12, 2006. Spinning Hope on Incarceration Station. Retrieved on August 25, 2010.
  12. ^ 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.'"
  13. ^ "Inner Compass NATIONAL SEASON 3." Calvin College. Retrieved on August 29, 2010.
  14. ^ "Former Angola Warden Burl Cain cleared of misconduct allegations, reports say". The Advocate. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  15. ^ 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. 

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