Each October, Inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary Host a Huge Public Rodeo

Atlas Obscura
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Aug. 14 2013 8:30 AM

Each October, Inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary Host a Huge Public Rodeo

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Every Sunday in October, inmates from the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary host a publicly viewable rodeo. The prison—a former plantation nicknamed "Angola" after the original home of its slave workers—opens its doors to thousands of visitors, who come to watch the bucking bulls, hear prison bands, and purchase crafts made by inmates.

The Angola rodeo tradition began in 1965 when a small group of prisoners and staff built an arena, intending to hold a rodeo purely for their own entertainment. What started as a way to pass the time turned into a huge public event. By 1969, visitors were cramming into a brand-new 4,500-seat arena to watch inmates attempt their six-second bull rides. The current arena holds 10,000 people.

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Inmates don't just participate in rodeo events—they are the ones selling hot dogs and candy apples, playing music for the crowds, and running market stalls featuring their own art, jewelry, leather goods and woodwork. Easily distinguished by their black-and-white stripes, the prisoners chat freely with visitors but don’t handle any money. The rodeo offers a rare chance to be among the public—three-quarters of Angola’s 5,000-strong inmate population are serving life sentences.  

Insights into inmate life:


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