Angola, Louisiana – The Angola rodeo in Louisiana – running since 1964 – is no ordinary affair. For a start, the event is held inside a high security prison with more than 6,000 inmates, and instead of watching trained cowboys and cowgirls, the participants are some of the state’s most dangerous criminals.
“They want to put on a show,” says Warden Burl Cain who considers the rodeo as part of a rehabilitation programme. “I would never do it, I’m afraid but they’re not. They want to do it, so we let them do it.”
Warden Cain has good reason to be afraid – some of the events, such as convict poker, are nothing short of dangerous. Inmates sit around a small plastic table in the rodeo ring when an enraged bull is released. The bull charges straight towards the four prisoners and the last man sitting wins $250. It is a game of raw nerves. Injuries are common, despite the fact that the men wear helmets and safety vests.
“It would be nice if we had training,” says prisoner Kristopher Schoening who has been locked up at Angola for 15 years. “But it’s also pretty awesome when you win the event and you ain’t had no training!”
The rodeo, which takes place five times a year, drew in over $1m in revenue from ticket sales, along with the proceeds of selling snacks and furniture made by inmates. The funds go to “bapitst seminary classes, funerals for the inmates, educational programes, and maintenance for the prison’s six chapels”.
Outside the arena, inmates are encouraged to set up their own arts and crafts stalls. They sell everything from fried coke (a congealed ball of solidified soda) to leather belts and stain glass windows. More than half the inmates are first-time offenders and up to 90 percent of them will die there, given Lousiana’s harsh prison sentences.