This week, the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary, nicknamed “Angola,” will host one of the wildest events in the South: the Angola Prison Rodeo.
On April 22 and 23, prisoners will compete in brutal rodeo events like Prisoner Pinball, Prisoner Poker and Bust Out for a chance to earn a couple hundred dollars. There are often more participants than spots available in the rodeo.
They’ll also hold a hobby craft fair where they can show off their talents and sell some of the wares they make behind bars.
The event is the longest running prison rodeo in the United States. It got its start back in 1964 as, what event organizers claims, was an event that allowed prisoners to enjoy a little entertainment.
Today, it’s grown into something much bigger than anyone ever imagined. Thousands of people visit the rodeo every year, generating around half a million dollars in revenue for the prison.
This video shows the rodeo and craft show in action, and features some of the participants.
Over the years, some interesting things have taken place during the event. One year the bleachers collapsed, but fans simply sat on the broken structure and continued to watch the performance. Another year, rain threatened to end the festivities altogether, but the prisoners kept the show going.
It wasn’t until 1972 that the rodeo became a permanent fixture of the prison. Professional producers, judges and rodeo clowns are recruited to promote competitiveness and safety at the event. Recently, the prison built a new arena that can seat 10,500.
Of course, not everyone loves this rodeo as much as the 10,000 visitors that attend every year. Many are appalled by the brutality of the event altogether. One critic compared it to the Coliseum of Roman times.
The prison argues that the rodeo gives prisoners a way to interact with the outside world, earn a livable wage, and that it helps pay for programs that are beneficial to the prisoners.
On the flip side, prisoners are in an awful lot of danger throughout the rodeo. There are also rumors that they may not have as big of a choice whether to participate or not as we might think.
A great deal of money goes into running a rodeo this big. Just this year, lawmakers ordered an audit of the prison to make sure it is using the proceeds from the rodeo the right way. Currently, prisoners earn cash prizes for winning the events, which is one reason so many brave the danger of competing. But this is only a small portion of what the rodeo brings in.
The Angola Rodeo takes place every spring and fall. Tickets cost $20, but children under 2 are free if you plan to hold them in your lap. If you do want to attend the rodeo, take a look at the event’s website for more information.