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Angola prison rodeo hits half-century mark


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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jteasdale April 26 2014 at 3:12 PM

I know a lot of people are against this - basically throw them in jail and lock them up forever especially the violents ones (and I don't necessarily disagree depending on the prisoner). However if you have ever watched some of the episodes of Lockup and similar shows, you see how violent some of them are in prison with nothing to do except plot against other inmates, but most importantly against staff. I would rather have them work off some of that aggression through something like this or strive to live by the rules so they can participate, rather than hear that another guard has been assaulted or killed.

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moeelmore jteasdale April 26 2014 at 4:08 PM

Well Huntsville penetentiary in Texas has been doing the same kind of thing since at least the 60s. It gives prisoners incentive for good behavior as well as to stay healthy and physically in good condition. It gives them a chance for success and some form of meaning to life while they are incarcerated. It gives the public a chance to see that prisoners are also humans. Its a win for the prisoners, the system and the public.

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susantexas10 jteasdale April 26 2014 at 5:15 PM

Lockup is a farce.I worked in a maximum security prison for ten years. Yes inmates feel a lot of anger toward staff, but I suppose if you were beat down by three or more 250-300 pound security officers you would be pised too. And these inmates were cuffed and shackled. The officers would say the inmate tried to "slip his cuffs". Or security would just not feed people. It is against the rules but oh well these people are only inmates When I wrote an officer up one time fo rthat, that is exactly what I was told. That is a maangment tool to them .I don't watch that show or others like it.. It is too painful because I know what really goes on in prisons. I was wondering what the officers did to boost the inmates before the filming crew go there.

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gmgpjandon April 26 2014 at 8:33 PM

Yeah, they know the risk and they know they will probably get hurt. They also know uncle stupid will be there to pick up the tab on tax payers money.

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jgesselberty April 26 2014 at 8:24 PM

Anyone notice, it's PRISON.

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1 reply
ejorillion jgesselberty April 26 2014 at 8:49 PM

It is aprison where a life sentence means a life sentence, the only way you get released is in a pine box

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injai April 26 2014 at 4:46 PM

This program, pitbulls for parollees, inmates caring for dogs and cats, farm animals etc..~all with supervision, is excellent. Animals in a controlled environment brings out the deeply hidden heart of these hardened criminals. A criminal is not usually born overnight. There may be tendencies BUT nary is a one without a story of being abused to an awful degree in their childhoods. And this is true. It is not an excuse, but an explanation that instructs the prison system what they are dealing with, a very tough crowd. Their feelings of hopefulness, courage and empowerment are nil on the richter scale. Animals don't care about your failures. They live in the here and now. They see your soul, not the color of your skin, your socio-economic level, your past history, your mistakes made inthe past....they connect on a soul to soul level. Humans very often cannot afford to do that. We don't have the time, resources, desire, education, patience, beliefs etc... Animals provide unconditional loving, they don't judge. Do we want to punish only and entrench further the negative life experience of criminals making their conviction to harm only stronger? Or, is there a compromise to be made? This is one way where these inmates can give back and get at the same time. Very few times in life for a criminal is there a win/win situation. This is that time.

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2 replies
jcgreenleaf injai April 26 2014 at 5:11 PM

And to their victims' families you say what? Yahoooo?
You are part of the problem not part of the solution.
I can see NON-VIOLENT offenders participating, yes I can, but violent offinders, murders, rapists and kidnappers of men, woman and children? SICK!

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kupiec8 injai April 26 2014 at 5:18 PM

blah blah blah --- save it for someone who cares about criminals---you must have a relative in the rodeo.

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johnasbaker April 27 2014 at 8:02 AM

Disgrace to humanity. A new low. The animals just keep getting beat down. If the animal contestants were kinder to all things living they wouldn't be in prison.

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William McCurtis April 26 2014 at 4:32 PM

From what I have heard over the years, Angola is a hard, hard prison. It has been compared with the two prisons in Arkansas; Tucker and Cummins. I have known people sent to both. The Angola rodeo was started the year I graduated High School and entered the U.S. Army in Little Rock, Ark. Since then it has reach tremendous acclaim, and that is a GOOD thing. As I have chosen, and have been representing Buffalo Soldiers for 20 years, I have been fortunate to teach that history in some Federal Prisons and Juvenile Detention facilities. It is amazing what hearing this history can do for some of these inmates. It has changed some lives and outlooks on lives, and has brought understanding to inmates about some of their family members that were veterans, but couldn't talk about it. I have watched inmates take pride in learning that knowledge and research the history on their own. It is my hope that one day, myself and my members will be invited to State Penitentiarys for these talks. Angola would be a perfect place to teach them about black, Mexican, Spanish, indian and white, American Cowboys and how they worked and lived together and built the west. Until then, we members of 9th Memorial United States Cavalry applaude the Angola rodeo program.

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driftwooddreams6 April 27 2014 at 4:39 AM

good they need to let these men be men for a day or week and see what they are missing in the real world...Freedom is better than prison any day...

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DESPERADO April 27 2014 at 4:35 AM

I'd much rather watch the animals ride the convicts. These slime bags should be sitting in their cells with their bread and water..

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1 reply
Rachel DESPERADO April 27 2014 at 6:33 AM

Exactly! How would they be treated in any other country! ? Here they treat it more as a vacation!

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1 reply
hnter34 Rachel April 27 2014 at 6:45 AM


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coopdabomb April 27 2014 at 9:17 AM

They should be out picking up trash along the roads.

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HHSavin April 26 2014 at 3:50 PM

Great idea. Keeping them occupied with something they like to do keeps them out of trouble. Also, the added revenue for the prison is a win-win.

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