The Angola Prison Rodeo
Produced by Rob Davis
The Angola Rodeo, the longest running prison rodeo in the nation, got its start in 1965. The first arena was small, built by a handful of dedicated inmates and personnel. It wasn’t much in those days, and the rodeo was staged just for the entertainment of prisoners and employees. But it was fun.
The 1967 rodeo was opened to the general public on a limited basis. 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 for the 1969 rodeo. A near disaster occurred when the bleachers collapsed during one of the shows. Spectators weren’t alarmed; most didn’t even get up. They sat on the collapsed structure and continued to watch. The 1971 rodeo was the wettest in history, but the show went on.
As years passed, the rodeo grew in size, adding events and sponsorships. The official Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rules were adopted in 1972 and the rodeo became a permanent fixture.
The Angola Prison Rodeo is a professionally produced rodeo. Angola contracts with professional rodeo stock contractors to provide the rodeo stock used in events; professional judges are contracted with to objectively judge each event. In addition, to ensure inmate participant safety, professional rodeo clowns are always present in the arena during events. A full complement of emergency services personnel are on-site to provide medical assistance to inmates and spectators.
In 1997, spectator capacity was expanded by 1000 seats and construction of a roof over the seating area began to provide increased comfort for spectators under Louisiana’s blazing October sun. Hobbycraft space was also expanded to the point where it is no longer just a little concession area on the side for some inmate organizations to make a few bucks. It is now an all-day full-blown arts and crafts festival, complete with entertainment and food galore. The arts and crafts festival begins at 9 a.m. and continues throughout the rodeo which begins at 2 p.m. each Sunday in October. Many fans come to the rodeo for the arts and crafts show alone.
Ticket, concession, and hobbycraft sales for the next two years broke all records, prompting the administration to build another arena. Construction began on the new stadium in April 2000 and increased capacity to 7,500. The new stadium was completed for the first rodeo in 2000.
What began 40 years ago as a “fun” thing by a handful of rodeo-loving inmates and employees is now big business. 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.