This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Louisiana's Angola Prison Rodeo, drawing thousands of spectators into the detention center complex. The rodeo, called "the wildest show in the South," draws in funds for religious and educational programs for prisoners, with each springtime event raising roughly $450,000.
The Angola Prison Rodeo commenced in 1964 as a recreational activity for the inmates and prison guards, and was originally closed to the public. Over time, more and more spectators began to arrive for the events, watching from the hoods of cars and apple crates outside of the fence. Seeing an opportunity to generate profit, prison officials eventually began selling tickets and setting up seating for fans.
Angola, a maximum security facility, holds some of Louisiana's most violent offenders, and according prison athletics director Gary Frank, only the most well-behaved inmates get to participate in the games. Prisoners spend their time during the year preparing arts and crafts which are sold at the rodeo event, which can hold 10,000 spectators. "It keeps them occupied, keeps their minds occupied," Frank said. "It also gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment."
Here is a piece on the prison entitled Lockup: Inside Angola:
Here is a clip from the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo:
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The Angola Rodeo event schedule includes the Grand Entry, the Bust Out, Bareback Riding, the Wild Horse Race and Barrel Racing, which is the sole event in which inmates do not participate. The barrel racing event is a tour stop for The Girl's Rodeo Association. The prison rodeo concludes with an event called Convict Poker, in which four inmate cowboys sit at a table in the middle of the arena playing a game of poker, while being attacked by a bull. The last man sitting wins.
Frank commented, "Everybody has an inner kid in them, and they (the inmates) just want to play. If they get into a fight, they don't get to play. It helps take out the nonsense." Rodeo spectator Monique Wagner added, "they're still human beings."
Image via Wikimedia Commons