Dig Baton Rouge

Cattle and Convicts

By Andrew Alexander

The smell of dust and anticipation fills your nostrils upon entry into the arena. Thousands of people fill the bleachers, awaiting the inmate cowboys to take their places in the chutes for the first events. There are cowboy hats in every color, as far as the eye can see. Essentially it’s the epitome of  “bulls and blood, dust and mud and the roar of a Sunday crowd,” just like Garth Brooks sang back in 1991.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the original Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary was devised for the entertainment of the inmates and employees, but the production has evolved into the longest running (and probably most entertaining) prison rodeo in the nation. The rodeo takes places every Sunday in October and is sight to behold.

At the Angola Prison Rodeo, inmates participate in a variety of rodeo events, including bareback riding a bucking bronco, Angola bulldogging (essentially cattle wrestling) and bull riding.

Two of the rodeo’s most intriguing events did not involve riding animals, but avoiding them.  During “Pinball,” seven inmates stand inside hula-hoops arranged in a rough hexagon while an enraged bull charges through the arena. The object of the game is to remain inside the hula-hoop the longest (along with remaining in one-piece/alive).

The last place I’d want to end up is facing a charging bull, yet one inmate mustered up the courage to take on an oncoming bull like a linebacker and was promptly sent flying several feet backwards.

The other rather barbaric, yet entertaining, event was “Convict Poker.” Four inmate cowboys sit around a table in the middle of the arena “playing poker,” while a wild bull is released with the sole purpose of wreaking havoc on these poor souls. The last man remaining seated is the winner. The real loser in the event is the man who draws the unfortunate seat with his back facing the bull. I witnessed two unsuspecting men get absolutely leveled and sent flying into the air by the bulls. Even though the participants are inmates and likely committed very serious crimes to end up in Angola, I still felt for the guys. I don’t care who you are; getting blindsided by a bull has got to hurt.

Easily the most hilarious sight of the rodeo was the dog-riding monkeys that attempted to corral four rams into a pen, then shepherd the rams atop a patriotic-painted big rig. Anytime animals ride other animals, it’s a win-win for everyone.

After an impressive session of bare backing that saw several inmates master the bucking bronco, the bull riding was a bit of a let down. Few convicts had the ability to hang on long enough to register a score. But that did not put a damper on the day because the events inside the arena are only half the fun at the Angola Prison Rodeo.

Outside the arena, hundreds of inmates attempt to sell their arts and crafts. Beautiful paintings, hand carved rocking chairs and furniture and leather belts were just a few of the hundreds of items available for purchase.

While the crafts were interesting, the best aspect of any rodeo/fair/carnival is usually the insane amounts of fried food, and Angola did not disappoint. Fried alligator, fried Snickers and fried oatmeal cream pie were a few of the highlights available for consumption. The granddaddy of them all is easily my new favorite food: fried Coke.

Yes, you read that right. Fried freaking Coke.

The dessert resembles a combination of donut hole and beignet with a faint hint of Coke taste and whipped cream on top. Can you say delicious?

Cattle, convicts and fried food galore – this was my Sunday afternoon at the Angola Prison Rodeo – and if you’ve never been, you don’t know what you’re missing, cowboy!

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