Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Angola Prison Rodeo

 Up early on Sunday and I made a quick batch of scones to share with Tim and Ada who came for breakfast........

Then it was off to the Angola Prison Rodeo!

A little Angola history:  18,000 acres (larger than Manhattan) with 5,200 men incarcerated there 75% of whom are serving life sentences.  It isn't a walled prison; instead it is known as the Alcatraz of the South since it has natural perimeter barriers:  the Tunica Hills to the east and the Mississippi River on the other three sides.  No barricade walls within either;  housing is in six different fenced areas.  The majority of the land is in farm production use.... hence the nickname "The Farm."   They grow vegetables (enough to feed not only all of Angola, but three other prisons year round), fruits, cotton and raise cattle and horses.

We had a fun filled day thanks to Matt and Suzanne who got our tickets and also a VIP invitation to the "Ranch House" for food and music before and after the rodeo.

Matt and Suzanne had the motorhome parked at the Ranch House as Matt ("retired" Oral Surgeon/Suzanne assists) was working the next two days at the prison.  They work at Angola every other week and have been leaving the motorhome there unless they are taking it on another trip between work visits.  This week the bus got a little bling!  Suzanne had this amazing tiger painted on it by one of the inmates as a surprise for Matt.

I'm not sure if he was surprised or dumbfounded!  You just never know what Suzanne will come up with next!  

After eating and visiting at the Ranch House, we made the drive over to the rodeo grounds.  Here was my only disappointment in the day:  NO cameras allowed at the rodeo grounds!  And there were sooooo many good shots just begging to be taken.  Oh well!

 The crafts.... they call them "hobbycrafts" were good this year!  Model ships, paintings, jewelry, furniture, wood working etc.  On our last visit about 5 years ago there was an excess of wood-burned geegaws and tooled leather goods (belts, bible covers, wallets) totaling not much that I remember being tempted to buy.  This year there was quite a variety and the wood-burning shop must have folded because I didn't see a single plaque anywhere!!!  I found a Christmas gift for someone (not sure for whom yet!) and also bought a carved Christmas ornament to keep for myself.

The protocol for purchasing an item is that the "offender" (prisonspeak for inmate) gives you a slip with the price and his name, which you take to one of the cashier areas where non-offenders handle all of the money.  They mark your slip "Paid" and then you  go back to the inmate and collect your goods.   Some of the goods are sold by offenders who can't mix with the public and in those areas, there is a fence separating them from the shopppers.

I'm not sure what percentage of the sales money each individual gets to keep, but the general ticket fees/rodeo profits go to the Prisoners Welfare Fund which provides services which aren't covered by the state.

When the rodeo began, it was as rough and tumble and fast-paced as I remembered.  Bull and Bareback Bronc riding are the same as any rodeo (though with more spills than with the pros and Bull Riding is called "Bust Out"), but there are other events which are distinctly Angola's version of rodeo.  The strangest is "Inmate Poker" where groups of four inmates sit at tables pretending to play cards while a bull roams around charging at them and the last man to be seated wins.  The final event is "Guts and Glory" where all the participants try to get the Poker chip from between the horns of the bull which is running around charging everyone in the arena.  The inmate who gets the chip wins money deposited directly into their prison personal account.... this week it was $1,000 plus a bonus $500  paid by a private "donor" who wanted the chip as a souvenir.   In case you're thinking that the bulls were small and not too scary..... wrong!  They were huge, mad and all had massive horns.  There were a couple of minor injuries, but at least this week nothing that appeared too serious.

For the offenders who were able to mix with the public, some were fortunate enough to have family members who had made the long drive out and spent the day with them.  Add together visiting family and friends, workers, shoppers and the 10,000 people with rodeo ticket seats and you've got a big crowd.  Especially when there is one 26 mile two lane road in and out!

Suzanne took time to introduce us when she could to the inmates that they've gotten to know personally over the past two years of working up there.  I could tell that she felt a genuine attachment to a couple of them.  I'm guessing that having the tiger painted on the bus was her way of getting some money to one of them.   Meeting someone who has a friendly personality and intelligence yet is at Angola for life on "three strikes" for relatively minor drug charges makes you wonder what is going on with our justice system.

Dueling Hat Logos!
After the rodeo, we went back to the ranch house area and visited at the motorhome for an hour or so and then headed for home.

 Even after waiting hours for the crowd to thin, the normally 45 minute drive took almost 3 hours!  Oh well, Tim and Ada were great company in the car!  A great day with wonderful friends!


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