A former inmate of Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center is speaking out about the prison he once called home for six years.
Dale Argo, who was released about a year ago, says with all the media coverage of the alleged abuse at the prison, he wanted to share his story and experiences, saying they are not a true picture of life there. He also defended Warden John Lewis, who he says is a Godly man, a man who cares about every inmate who serves their sentences there. Lewis is affectionately known as “Big John” by many at BDCC.

“It’s just like any job you go to,” he said. “You’re going to have days where you’re in a good mood and days where you’re in a bad mood. Since I was there, I never saw a guard hit anybody. He would not put up with that. I’m not building the man up to be a saint, I’m just telling you what I’ve seen.”

He didn’t deny the video footage he’d seen on the news, but he said he’d never seen anything of that magnitude while he was there.

“I don’t know what happened with this deal on TV, but all I can tell you is how (Lewis) has helped me,” he said. “From an inmate’s point of view, I have never seen anybody pushed around or guards grab them unless the guard is provoked. When I say provoked, I mean spitting on them or push them or physically threaten them. I can honestly say I have never seen that man even closely condone what they showed on TV.”

Tommy O’Rear, an instructor at BDCC who teaches self-help classes like anger management and parenting on Sunday nights, says Lewis is the epitome of what a warden should be.

He says Webster Parish is fortunate to have a warden like Lewis, because of the programs and services offered at BDCC.

Argo says that while it’s still prison, the inmates are treated with respect, and it’s a lesson Lewis shares with inmates and guards alike.

“When I tell you that he actually cares about everybody in there, he actually does,” Argo said. “He and his wife actually care about what goes on in there. Besides having the classes and gaining the knowledge, they (inmates) get good time for it.”

Good time is when an inmate gets time off his sentence for attending these classes. They have homework and are tested in these courses. If they don’t pass the class, they don’t get the good time.

Argo says it pains Lewis to see a repeat offender return to prison, saying it actually hurts him. He doesn’t get mad, he says.

“You can ask him about any one of these guys out of 400 and something people, and he can tell you something about them,” Argo said.

O’Rear says Lewis is strict, but it’s not out of brute force, it’s out of respect.

As a trustee, Argo worked at the chapel for four of his six year sentence. He says all the services and classes are offered to both the men at BDCC and the women housed on the fourth floor at the Webster Parish Courthouse.

“It’s to prepare the inmates for when they get out,” O’Rear, who teaches the men’s classes, said. “It’s to prepare them to get back into life. There are 90 men in these classes, and all these men love the Lord. These inmates are very concerned about their children and grandchildren and they want to be good examples.”

Argo and O’Rear talked about the chapel that was built at BDCC, saying it was built totally through the generous hearts of churches and community members. Without Lewis, they say, the chapel would not be a reality.

“(The State of) Louisiana or nobody paid for that chapel,” Argo said. “That was all donated. Sheriff (Gary) Sexton and Big John should be known for that. You can go to other places and you never see a church. Ms. Kellye (Lewis’ wife) and Tommy could be making money, but they go out there for nothing, and why? Because of him (Lewis).

“The best way I can put it is this,” he continued. “When you go there, you broke the law. You should be man enough to say I did it, and I’m going to do (my time). You can go to church every day. You can go to classes. He’s got a GED program out there now. He’s trying to make us, when we walk out of there, be better in the community.”