You may have been to a rodeo before, and that’s good. Here’s one that will buck you out of your comfort zone: the Angola Prison Rodeo. Yes, prison.
Why would you want to go to a prison? Well, curiosity for one reason. I’d never been on a prison ground before. And this one, the largest prison in the world, sits next to the Mississippi River on an old plantation.
Every April and October the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola opens its gates and puts on a rodeo and art show. The public is invited, and it always sells out. The art show features works from the inmates—most of them trustees, those prisoners who’ve worked hard on rehabilitations and corrections to earn the trust of the wardens. Don’t worry, those inmates who’ve not earned such trust are not allowed access to the rodeo grounds or the day’s guests.
The rodeo actually lasts for just a couple of hours, but you’ll want to come early and stay late to explore the fascinating art show. Shop for tooled leather belts and wallets, hand-carved wooden birds, and even oil paintings so finely detailed that you’d expect to see them in a chic gallery in New Orleans’ Garden District. The prices are affordable too. The trustees work all year to create enough art and crafts to sell at the show. So bring some cash with you, as you may find a piece of art worth taking home with you.
There are plenty of tasty treats to fuel your adventure. The dishes rival any state fair cuisine with fried everything (including fried Coke) and plenty of sweet drinks to wash it all down.
The highlight of the day are the rodeo events. Trustees take enormous pride at competing. Traditional competitions include bareback riding, barrel racing, and bull riding.
A massive bull, nostrils flaring, horns dangerously pointy, holds a rider clinging to a rough rope tied around the steer’s girth. The chute opens, and the bucking begins. The rider does his level best to hang on longer than anyone else. When thrown, clowns race into the arena attracting that angry bovine to prevent him from goring the rider.
The prison rodeo offers several other events, from chariot races where inmates hold a pitcher of water while riding on a sled pulled by a horse and rider—and try not to spill a drop, to the convict poker where inmates sit at a small table playing cards until an angry bull decides to upend their game.
The final event–Guts and Glory–entails a poker chip tied to the meanest, toughest Brahma bull available. The inmates must get close enough to snatch it off.
The family atmosphere bubbles over with laughter. Children frolic among the art scene and then hang on the railings to spy the trustees riding the broncos. Any why not? This is an event that promotes being the best you can be, even in the most challenging circumstances.