Angola prison rodeo hits half-century mark

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Angola prison rodeo hits half-century mark
ANGOLA, LA., USA -28OCT07- Prisoners form a prayer circle before the Angola Prison Rodeo. Religion and morality are are the key tenets to Angola's prison reforms. Louisiana State Penitentiary -- aka 'The Farm', aka Angola -- houses over 5,000 inmates, the vast majority of whom will never leave. What began as entertainment for prisoners and guards alike has become a massive regional event, as the Angola Rodeo draws over 13,000 people on an average weekend. (Photo by Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates sit together as they prepare for the start of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate corrals bulls at the finish of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates gather their equipment at the finish of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate is bucked off a horse during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates gather their equipment at the finish of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates hold hands for a prayer at the beginning of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates sit together as they prepare for the start of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate fills a bottle with water following the conclusion of the the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: A security guard walks past an advertisement welcoming people to the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: A young visitor is reflected in a mirror handcrafted by an inmate (R), who is behind a fence, as they negotiate a price for an item during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmate Danny Fabre smokes as he attends the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates run from a bull during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: A monkey rides a dog during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates attempt to corral a horse during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates look on from the stands as professional riders perform during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Visitors clown around during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates hold hands for a prayer at the beginning of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate holds onto a fence during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmate Randolph Matthieu sells jewelry he handcrafted at the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An bull knocks over a table while charging towards seated inmates during the 'Convict Poker' competition for the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmate contestants wait for the start of the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate holds a U.S. flag during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate smiles at the crowd after being knocked off a bull during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: An inmate attempts to ride a bull as other inmates look on during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmates attempt to ride a horse during the 'Buddy Pickup' competition at the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmate Dwayne Magee looks on during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
ANGOLA, LA - APRIL 23: Inmate contestants gather during the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary April 23, 2006 in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Prison Rodeo, opened in 1965, is the longest running prison rodeo in the nation. The 10,000 seat arena was built entirely by inmate labor. The prison holds approximately 5,000 male inmates, 68 percent of whom are serving life sentences. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
381144 22: Angola prisoners wait October 29, 2000 for the start of the Angola Prison Rodeo in Angola, Louisiana. The Angola Rodeo, the longest running prison rodeo in the nation, got its start in 1964. Proceeds from the Angola Prison Rodeo cover rodeo expenses and supplement the Louisiana State Penitentiary Inmate Welfare Fund, which provides for inmate educational and recreational supplies. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)
381144 20: An inmate tries to get out of the way of the bull as he competes in Guts & Glory October 29, 2000 during the Angola Prison Rodeo in Angola, Louisiana. The competition requires the prisoner cowboy to grab a chit from between the horns of the bull. The Angola Rodeo, the longest running prison rodeo in the nation, got its start in 1964. Proceeds from the Angola Prison Rodeo cover rodeo expenses and supplement the Louisiana State Penitentiary Inmate Welfare Fund, which provides for inmate educational and recreational supplies. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)
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By STACEY PLAISANCE

ANGOLA, La. (AP) - They're often thrown like rag dolls and risk being stepped on or gored by bucking bulls and broncos. But in those few seconds in the spotlight of the Angola Prison Rodeo, the inmates feel like they are part of the world again.

Louisiana's most violent criminals, many serving life sentences for murder, are the stars of the nation's longest-running prison rodeo that this year celebrates 50 years.

In a half-century, the event has grown from a small "fun" event for prisoners into a big business at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, with proceeds going into the Louisiana State Penitentiary Inmate Welfare Fund, which helps pay for inmate education and recreational supplies.

Only the prison's most well-behaved inmates get to participate, said Gary Frank, an award-winning power lifter and former professional football player who serves as the maximum-security prison's athletic director. He oversees the prison's intermural sports programs, which include just about every sport and the rodeo.

Those competing in the rodeo have to pass a physical to be deemed strong and healthy enough, and thousands of others work year-round making arts and crafts to sell at the event, he said.

The rodeo is the prison's most coveted event because it is open to the general public. It's held on prison grounds in a stadium that can seat 10,000 spectators.

"They sometimes get hurt, but they know the dangers," Frank said.

The rodeo got its start in 1965 at a small arena built by a handful of inmates and prison personnel, but it wasn't until 1967 that the rodeo opened to the public. Even then, attendance was limited because there were no stands. Spectators had to sit on apple crates and the hoods of their cars to watch the performances.

The success of the 1967 and 1968 rodeos prompted construction of a 4,500-seat arena, which opened in 1969. As years passed, the rodeo grew in size, adding events and sponsorships, and taking on a more professional feel. The stadium has been expanded, and now as many as 10,000 spectators will file in to watch prisoners perform in traditional rodeo events.

The only rodeo professionals who compete are the women riders brought in for the women's barrel racing event, said Gary Young, a spokesman for the prison. There are also professional rodeo bullfighters dressed as clowns who distract the animals once the riders are thrown, he said.

Besides the rodeo, Frank said the prison has 18 basketball teams, 18 volleyball teams, 44 softball teams and about a dozen tackle and flag football teams. There's also an annual tennis tournament.

Sports make the prison a safer place to live and work, he said.

"It keeps them occupied, keeps their minds occupied," Frank said. "It also gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment."

The rodeo and sports programs serve as motivational tools for good behavior and obedience, Frank said.

"Everybody has an inner kid in them, and they just want to play," Frank said. "If they get into a fight, they don't get to play. It helps take out the nonsense."

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