Every Sunday in the month of October, and one weekend in April, Louisiana State Penitentiary opens its gates to the public to attend the Angola Rodeo and Hobby Crafts Fair. The inmates and professionals are involved in the Rodeo itself which consists of the usual events like barrel racing and bull riding, but also events like “convict poker” and “guts and glory”.
Convict poker involves four inmates sitting at a table in the center of the arena, pretending to play poker while a wild bull is released and charges straight at them. The winner is the last man still seated at the table. In guts and glory a poker chip is tied to the meanest bull – the winner is the one who gets the chip. The Angola Rodeo website describes the latter event as “perhaps the most exciting” of the rodeo.
All these poker references and anyone might deduce Burl Cain is a gambling man.
In general, I am opposed to Rodeos. Too often they involve animal cruelty. In particular, I am opposed to a rodeo in which inmates are in essence forced to risk their lives, knowing that they will almost definitely need medical care and receive only mediocre attention. Although involvement in the rodeo is technically on a voluntary basis, for most of these men who are serving life sentences and receive less than minimal wage for slaving in the plantation fields every day, there seems to be little choice available.
I recently read a book about Burl Cain – God of the Rodeo – which follows the lives of a number of inmates, some of which were involved in the rodeo, over a year’s period. It did little to endear to me a man against whom I am already naturally biased. I would highly recommend reading it; it came across as an honest and objective observation of a warped world.
That being said, I make an effort to attend the event when I can in order to peruse the crafts fair. Inmates are given the opportunity to sell items they have made to the public, and their families get a chance to spend some quality time with them without the closely watchful eyes of guards and restrictive time limits. The crafts range from paintings and jewelry to handbags, rocking chairs and grills. The quality of pieces also ranges from poor to impressive – the former likely only an excuse to mingle with the public.