The Angola Prison Rodeo is a wondrous thing. If you live outside of Louisiana, you probably haven’t heard of it. Even my friends in New Orleans who have heard of it had never been. Bobby and I had to see what it was about. Now, we are heading into our fourth trip to Angola in five years. I can’t wait to share this experience with our son.
First of all, who wouldn’t love the perfect occasion to wear a cowboy hat and cowboy boots?
You have to buy tickets to the rodeo in advance, and they sell out well before the weekend arrives. You can purchase your tickets at their website. The rodeo happens for one weekend in April, and then every weekend in October.
When you arrive at the prison, you will first notice how beautiful the grounds are. The penitentiary’s expansive grounds allows the institution to produce food for its inmates on site. So you’ll see crops and cows in the fields as you drive to the rodeo entrance gates. Be sure to tune into the local radio station. You’ll hear fascinating facts about Angola, narrated by a man with an entertaining accent starting every sentence with, “Did you know…” We repeated these facts for a long time after our first visit, trying to imitate the voice. You can also read about the history before you go by heading to this site.
Once inside, there is a lot to do besides heading to your seat in the rodeo arena. There are a plethora of fattening foods to choose from – think fried everything. There are photo ops such as a bull that you can stand next to. There are souvenirs to buy to rep the prison. There are performances by inmate bands. Then, the most magical of all, there is the hobby craft. Throughout the year, inmates can work on different crafts and hobbies such as painting, woodworking, jewelry making, and more. Then, they sell their wares during the rodeo. When you purchase an item, the inmate gets credit towards their commissary account. The items for sale range from totally weird – there were lots of Dora the Explorer and Spongebob earrings – to the awe inspiring – one man had made the most ornate and beautifully crafted grandfather clock I had ever laid eyes on. The most popular item for sale seems to always be the wooden gliders and rocking chairs. One day when we have some extra spending money, I hope to buy the dual rocking chair, which has two rocking chairs connected with a table and cupholders in the middle. It would be great for porch sitting.
As you browse the splendors of the hobby craft market, you’ll see that families are brought together with incarcerated loved ones. There are also some wares sellers that are positioned behind a barbed wire fence. This is pretty intimidating when you want to find out the price of an item and give your purchase ticket to the artist. I hate to admit it, but I couldn’t help but wonder what these guys had done to make them not allowed to be with the general population.
Come early to browse and shop; if you linger too long, you might miss the main event. The rodeo is So. Much. Fun. It is a professional grade rodeo, with acts brought in from around the country. There are horse trick shows and even little monkeys that ride sheep dogs like cowboys. Ummmm amazing. As their trainer announces at the start of their act, “These monkeys are not forced to ride. They do this because they love to ride!” And of course, the inmates get involved too. There are terrifying, yet entertaining, games that the prisoners “play” with the bulls. To whet your appetite, here is the description of one such game: “It’s the ultimate poker game, and even winning has a price. Four inmate cowboys sit at a table in the middle of the arena playing a friendly game of poker. Suddenly, a wild bull is released with the sole purpose of unseating the poker players. The last man remaining seated is the winner.” My favorite part of the rodeo is seeing the joy on little kids’ faces who have dressed up in full cowboy gear to watch the show.
The first year that we trekked to Angola for the rodeo, we decided to wait out the heavy traffic leaving at the end of the day. That is the worst part, especially if you have a long drive ahead of you. Everybody seems to leave all at once, and everyone has to pass through the gated exit one at a time. So it’s a slow go. We laid in the lovely grass by a stream until we got kicked out by a guard. That’s where we took these cute photos – sorry if they are too lovey dovey – it was the beginning of our romance, after all.
Before you get to the main highway, you drive a long, windy road. Take a turn off this road, and you will be led to an amazing forest trail with waterfalls called Tunica Falls. This was a fun discovery we made. If you’ve got the time before heading home, I definitely recommend taking a nature walk. Be smarter than I was though, and pack a less slick pair of shoes than your fancy cowboy boots. I had some close calls on the slippery rocks in those green boots of mine.
Let me know if you plan on going to the Angola Rodeo. And if you’ve been, please let us know what you love about it.