An Unconventional Southern Tradition

-Jamie Hershman

Two times a year the Louisiana State Penitentiary hosts a prison rodeo known as the Angola Rodeo, which began in 1965 and has been the longest running prison rodeo. While the rodeo was originally created as recreation for the inmates and the employees of the prison, it quickly turned into an event widely accepted by the public. In 1972, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rules were even officially adopted.

The events include quirky yet typical things you might find at any southern rodeo. They have competitions where the inmates ride horses bareback without holding on, and whoever stays on the horse the longest wins. They host “wild cow milking” where the inmates must chase animals and milk them simultaneously. They even enjoy bull-riding, a crowd favorite. Besides the events, prisoners are also able to sell crafts they have made in their down-time.

But the uniqueness of the rodeo comes from two very dangerous games: the convict poker game and the “guts and glory” event. The poker game consists of the inmates playing poker in the middle of an arena, where a wild bull can be released at any given time during the game. The last man sitting at the poker table wins. The “guts and glory” game involves a poker chip being tied to the toughest bull at the rodeo. The inmates must snatch the poker chip in order to win the event. This challenged always marks the end of the rodeo because it is considered the highlight and most exciting (and also most dangerous).

While it seems like it is all just fun and games in this rodeo, it’s ultimately a business. The money made from ticket sales goes directly back to the rodeo for improvements and repairs of the arena and for development of the Angola Rodeo as a whole. The inmates greatly enjoy the rodeo festivities, but  they also  are subjecting themselves to being pawns in the dangerous games that the community thrives on. The prisoners rely on the rodeo for relief from the prison, and the rodeo-goers thrive on the dangerous situations that the inmates partake in. And while it is a working cycle for the rodeo business, it all seems a bit inhumane to me.

Despite the negative aspects of the rodeo, a tradition is a tradition, and this one has been going strong for over 40 years every April and October, right on cue.

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