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Time to cowboy-up
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 10/08/2007

Cowboy If you’re in Louisiana this month, grab your lasso, stirrups, and canteen, because at the state’s penitentiary, October means one thing: it’s time to cowboy-up.

The world famous Angola Prison Rodeo has returned for its 43rd year. Every weekend this month devoted fans and curious first-timers can tour the 18,000-acre prison farm, sample tasty Cajun foods, shop the inmate-made arts and crafts, and watch inmate cowboys compete in a professionally run rodeo.

“Right now it’s not uncommon for us on any given Sunday in October to have 10,000 plus people come in to attend the rodeo,” says Angola spokesman Gary Young. “That’s quite a feat to have that many guests at a maximum security prison.”

The event got its start in 1964, when a small rodeo was put together to entertain inmates and employees. Three years later, it was opened up to the public, which led to the construction of a 4,500-seat arena. Today a 9,400-seat stadium, complete with a roof over the seating area, plays host to what the prison proudly calls the “Wildest Show in the South.”

“We probably have close to 1,000 inmates involved in all aspects of the show, from rodeo contestants to inmates selling hobby craft to inmates playing in bands,” Young explains.

Each Sunday, gates open at 9 a.m. for the food, tours, music, and arts and crafts festival. The rodeo gets underway at 2 p.m. Angola contracts with rodeo stock contractors to provide the horses, bulls, cows, and ponies. Professional judges are brought in to judge the competition. Rodeo clowns, who protect the rider from the bull or horse after he dismounts or is bucked off, also are hired to ensure the safety of the inmates. Even though the rodeo basics are present and counted for, fans will get more than the run-of-the-mill cowboy show.

“Our events are a little bit non-traditional,” Young admits with a laugh. “We have Convict Poker, which is where a group of inmates sit absolutely motionless holding their cards at a poker table in the middle of the arena. Then we release a bull into the arena and the last inmate to move is the winner.”

As if a 2,000 pound bull barreling towards a table of men isn’t hair-raising enough, another event, deemed the most exciting by regular fans, requires inmates to get close enough to a bull to snatch a chit, or poker chip, from its horns.

There’s also ‘Wild Cow Milking’ where teams chase cows around the arena with jars and the first to bring milk to the judge wins. Bull riding is another fan favorite, where inmates must sit atop a bull for a full six seconds. Contestants accumulate points for their performance in the events, and the one with the most points at the end of the month receives the 'All-Around Cowboy' award.

“A real positive that tends to get overlooked with all the excitement of the rodeo is that in most of our prisons across America, most of the of the folks incarcerated come from real negative backgrounds and don’t have a great amount of positives in their life,” Young says. “With the rodeo, the inmate might not ride the bull six seconds, and he might not stay on the horse, but at least he has done something positive and received positive reinforcement.”

That positive reinforcement contributes to Angola’s all-around success in combating violence within the prison.

“Anytime a maximum security prison can have 10,000 guests come in and not have any security problems is a real testament to how much Warden Burl Cain has changed the culture here at Angola,” Young adds.

The rodeo is quite a unique event that remains largely indescribable, even with all the details of the competition.

“You really need to come see it to experience it,” Young says, “it’s an amazing thing!”

Proceeds from the rodeo promote faith-based initiatives at Angola, including the construction of chapels at each housing unit.

Related Resources:

More on the Angola Prison Rodeo

See the inmate designed rodeo posters

Visit the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association


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