One of the most notoriously strict maximum-security prisons in the South may not seem the best setting for deliverance. But twice a year, redemption comes courtesy of rawhide, and salvation rides in on a tooled leather saddle. That’s when the Louisiana State Penitentiary hosts its Angola Prison Rodeo, an event popular with both the facility’s residents and the local population. It’s a chance for those serving time to break out of the usual routine and prove their mettle, and the opportunity for the community to gain a window, however small, into world that most seldom see.
The rodeo began in 1965, and first opened to spectators two years later. The contemporary lineup includes Bareback Riding, Barrel Racing, Bull Riding, and the infamous “Convict Poker”—an event in which prisoners play cards at a table while a wild bull seeks to unseat them with its horns. Participants take great pride in their various roles, and involvement in the rodeo is often a reward for good behavior. In addition to the rodeo events, various crafts and pieces of furniture, all made by prisoners, are available for sale. Up to $450,000 is raised each day by the event, the proceeds going to fund the various religious and educational programs the penitentiary offers, as well as the funerals of deceased inmates—an inevitability in a place where many are incarcerated for life. The smell of funnel cake and farm animals pervades, and that carnival atmosphere allows one to forget, at least for an afternoon, the harsh realities of prison—something that convicts and paying spectators alike are visibly grateful for.
Photos courtesy of Paul Stinson