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The Truth Behind Louisiana’s’ Gruesome Angola Prison Rodeo

Jamie Delos Reyes

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Louisiana is known for its hearty Southern cuisine, mysterious swamps, burnt orange sunsets, and rich yet complicated history. However, the state also has a dark reputation – Louisiana is America’s top jailer, with more prisoners than any other state in the US. The Louisiana State Penitentiary is the most notorious prison in the Pelican State. Every year, it holds the controversial Angola Prison Rodeo. This event pits prisoners against beasts in front of big crowds. Discover why it’s one of Louisiana’s most disturbing events today.

1. The “Bloodiest Prison in America” Hosts the Rodeo

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Louisiana
Photo Credits: The Nation | Judi Bottoni

Built on a former slave plantation, the Louisiana State Penitentiary is nicknamed the “Bloodiest Prison in America”.

Its other name, the Angola Prison, refers to the African country where many of Louisiana’s slaves came from. It’s the largest maximum-security prison in the US, housing almost 7,000 inmates.

Angola Prison is known for being a violent place. Thousands of prisoners have died working out in the fields. In one incident, 31 inmates cut their own Achilles tendons to protest their harsh working conditions.

The prison’s on-site museum displays crude weapons fashioned by those behind bars. There’s a shotgun made from metal pipes, knives, a medieval ax, and a spiked ball on a chain. There’s also a meat cleaver that’s been used to kill several inmates.

With all of these and more, there’s no denying Angola Prison’s bloody past.

2. The Angola Prison Rodeo is the Only One Like it in the World

Angola Prison Rodeo, Louisiana
Photo Credit: Sportsnet

Other prison rodeos such as those in Texas and Oklahoma have shut down a long time ago. This makes the Angola Prison Rodeo the longest-running prison rodeo in America, and now it’s only the remaining one.

3. Some of the Worst Criminals Participate in the Prison Rodeo

The Angola Penitentiary houses violent criminal offenders. Most of its prisoners serve life sentences for rape, armed robbery, murder, and other heinous crimes. Only those prisoners who have been on good behavior for a decade or so, aka “trustees” are eligible to join the prison rodeo.

4. The Angola Prison Rodeo Brings in Millions for the Penitentiary

Angola Prison Rodeo, Louisiana
Photo Credits: Bettina Hansen

The prison holds the rodeo twice a year and markets as “The Wildest Show in the South.”  Every year, the event generates millions of dollars for the penitentiary – for example, $5 million in 2013 alone.

In 2017, Louisiana lawmakers called for a legislative audit of the rodeo’s profits.

In 2014 and 2015, the prison rodeo generated $6 million dollars. Allegedly, prison officials withheld the money from the annual corrections department budget and the state treasury. Similar financial issues continue to hound the event until today.

5. Winners of the Violent Prison Rodeo Barely Get Rewards

Angola Prison Rodeo, Louisiana
Photo Credits: Clarion Ledger

The prison rodeo may bring in millions of dollars, but the inmates who risk injuries and death in the event get very little in exchange.

Prizes for the prisoners can be as little as $15. However, this is considered a fortune compared to what they earn while working for the prison, which only ranges from $0.02 to $0.20 per hour.

6. Inmates Suffer Brutal Injuries During the Rodeo

Prisoners never receive any training before facing wild horses and Brahma bulls at the rodeo. As a result, it’s common to see trampled, catapulted, and gored by these beasts. They’re thrown from the animals and land on their wrists, shoulders, and even necks and heads. EMS workers constantly bring out bloodied inmates throughout the prison rodeo.

7. The Angola Prison Rodeo Events Can be Total Pandemonium

What happens when you pit untrained prisoners against ferocious beasts? The answer is complete mayhem.

In one event called Convict Poker, the clowns set a cardplaying table inside the arena. Four prisoners sit around the table, and the last man sitting wins. The event typically lasts a few seconds once the raging bull charges and starts trampling both chairs and men.

Another event called “Wild Cow Milking” doesn’t involve cows, but ferocious, aggressive steers. Two-men teams compete for the prize – one man holds the rope fastened to the steer, which his partner tries to milk the animal.

Photo Credits: Juliette Robert

Eight teams play at the same time, which means eight steers and sixteen men are thrashing at once. Medics usually carry several inmates off the field after the animals kick, drag, ram, and manhandle them during the event.

8. The Most Dangerous Event “Guts and Glory”

Angola Prison Rodeo, Louisiana
Photo Credits: Phillip Hall

The Angola Prison Rodeo culminates in an event called “Guts and Glory.” Around 50 inmates will try to snatch a $600 poker chip attached to the horns or forehead of a rampaging Brahma bull. The crowd cheers as the bull trample, catapults, or gores the inmates trying to win the money.

Does the Angola Prison Rodeo sound like fun or terrible for you? Would you travel down to Louisiana to see this infamous event?

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