n the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while thousands fled New Orleans, the city’s prisoners were trapped. Fresh eye-witness accounts reveal what really happened to those left behind, and how crucial forensic evidence was simply washed away. In September 2005, long after most people had fled a devastated city, inmates of Orleans Parish Prison – many of them shackled – were still waiting to be rescued from the blazing heat and the stinking floods.
“They basically abandoned the prison,” says Vincent Norman, a chef arrested for an unpaid fine who found himself locked in a cell for days. Norman should have been there no more than a week. Instead, abandoned without food, drink or sanitation as the waters rose, he was in prison for 103 days.
In the days before the hurricane, when other citizens of New Orleans were ordered to leave, city leaders were asked: “What about the prisoners in the jail?” “The prisoners will stay where they belong,” replied Marlin Gusman, the criminal sheriff in charge of the city jail. But it was a gamble he would regret.