When you reach the gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, you are greeted by gun-carrying guards that hand you a notice which reminds you not to take cameras, alcohol, or explosives onto the grounds. More than a dozen sets of eyes observe your movements and note your behavior as you walk from your parked car to the secured entrance. It is an intimidating experience, but Im looking forward to another short stay at Angola for the prison rodeo this Sunday. The event that started as an outlet for prisoner fun has evolved into the famous Angola Prison Rodeo, the strange Louisiana pastime that features bulls, boudin, and balsa wood prisoner crafts.
The event has come to be known as The Wildest Show in the South because of the nature of the performance. Hardened criminals are released from their cells and compete in the rodeo ring every Sunday in October. But the rodeo is not just a novel way of letting convicted felons exercise. It provides prisoners with an opportunity to do something positive while paying for their debt to society. For many, it is the first step in walking the straight and narrow path that hopefully leads beyond the walls of Angola.
Although most of the participants had no prior experience working with livestock before entering Angola, the inmates put on a heck of a show. They are committed to entertaining the crowd because the continued success of the rodeo grants more liberties to the prisoner participants. Among the days events are bull riding, wild horse races, and wild cow milking, during which teams of inmate cowboys chase ornery cows around the arena and try to extract some milk. All of this is overseen by official rodeo judges.
Food is also available on the grounds and most of it is similar to what you might find at festivals of this nature. But unlike the deep-dried confections offered at other Louisiana festivals, only these are served by cooks from the prison. Look out for the particularly tasty potato tornado, which consists of a whole peeled potato that is fried and then salted.
While the rodeo performance is the draw for most attendees, some come only to wander the grounds and observe the prisoner crafts for sale. The quality of the arts and crafts on display is almost as unnerving as the bartering process that takes place with the inmates behind the barbed-wire fences. Some of the most popular items are inmate portraits and depictions of life on the farm.
Admission to the rodeo is $10. The drive takes about two and a half hours. Be sure to get there early, because seating is limited. Bryan Davis