It’s one of the biggest, most exciting, and utterly unique tourist attractions in the south. Care to guess what it is? Disneyworld…? No. Dollywood…? Nope. Guess again. How about Elvis’s old standby, Graceland? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The answer we were looking for was the Angola Prison Rodeo, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
That’s right, perhaps next year rather than loading up the SUV for yet another generic trip to Six Flags, you may want to consider going to prison. (Not a sentence often written ‘round these parts). Really, the Angola Rodeo, located in the most rural part of rural Louisiana, has been described as, well, indescribable. Gary Young, the project coordinator for the Louisiana State Penitentiary says that it simply has to be experienced.
The rodeo is a joint project of inmates and prison workers that started in 1965. By 1967, it was opened to civilian spectators who had to sit on apple crates. And shortly thereafter, bleachers were built, the rules of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. were adopted, and in came clowns and animals and even an arts-and-crafts festival. And still it grew so much that in 2000, a new stadium with a capacity of 10,000 opened as well. And finally, today, they have a spring rodeo and another series of rodeos every Sunday of October.
And they usually sell out.
The popular events include Guts & Glory where inmate cowboys grasp at a wood poker chip that is tied to a bull’s horn, and Convict Poker, where four prisoners actually sit in chairs around a poker table in the middle of the arena. A bull is then let loose and the last man still sitting wins the pot, which is usually between $200 and $300… which can go a long way at the prison canteen.
Up to 1,000 prisoners are involved in the rodeo, from manning concession booths and selling arts and crafts to riding some mean broncos. Prisoner artists also compete to design posters. They even have prisoner musicians who jam before delighted crowds both before and during the show.
And to eat? Visitors often wait on long lines for jambalaya (it’s Louisiana after all), ribs, funnel cakes that as you would guess, are also deliciously prepared by the inmates.
All proceeds go to the Inmate Welfare Fund, which pays for prisoners’ education, recreational supplies, and the building of interfaith chapels.
The Angola staff has referred to it as “the most visited prison in the world.” And for ten bucks a ticket, I can see how that could easily be true.
But if you asked me, I’d say it is as clear an example of the phrase: “A great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.”