Angola Prison Rodeo returns in 2022 sold out
ANGOLA, LOUISIANA — It’s been three years since Myron Smith heard the roar of a rodeo crowd.
On Saturday, the 10,000-person arena at the Angola State Penitentiary was packed for the first time since 2019 with people eager to see a raging bull chase its rider and pairs trying to roll a cow on its back. The coronavirus pandemic canceled the competition in 2020 and 2021.
But Smith, who competed in seven of the rodeo’s 11 events on Saturday, was poised to win “Guts and Glory” and his $500 prize.
Smith stood on the dusty arena floor with his straw sombrero hanging from his back. He had to battle nearly two dozen other incarcerated people in an effort to rip a chip out of a bull’s eye.
Smith, who is serving a life sentence for murder, waited patiently for “Nightmare Elm Street” to throw its horns at two people, including Tank, who won 21 times.
He then apprehensively approached the bull, reaching out and grabbing the air before grabbing the red chip and running away with it in the air. He saw his family, including his fiancé who came from Boston to see him, cheering him on.
“I started doing a backflip but I’m 48,” Smith said with a laugh. “I looked and my family, they were up there, ‘yeah!’
“It was a big breakthrough of relief.”
It was the 19th time Smith had won “Guts and Glory”.
“A Beautiful Rush”: About Angola’s Prison Rodeo
The 56th Angola Prison RodeoHeld on Saturday and Sunday, the rodeo features 11 events that incarcerated people can participate in. They include bull riding, bare back, bust and wild horse racing.
A “chariot race” involves the participant being pulled on a sled behind a rider. The participant tries to stay in their sled while holding a pitcher of juice.
In “convict poker”, four people sit at a folding cardboard table while a bull rages around them. The last person seated wins the prize. Smith was the winner of his round.
The only event incarcerated people do not participate in is the barrel race. Instead, it’s a stop on the Girl’s Rodeo Association tour.
Some have called the rodeo exploitative, but for Smith and others like him, it’s a chance to make money and a distraction.
“It’s actually a nice rush,” he said. “You sort of take your mind off other things and problems and things that are going on.”
“When I was incarcerated, I wanted to help my family and start trying to do a little something instead of leaving them behind,” Smith added.
Nicknamed “The Wildest Show in the South”, the Angola Prison Rodeo is the longest running prison rodeo and began in 1965. It has grown from a 4,500 person arena to a 10,000 person arena.
This year, the rodeo sold out on Saturday and Sunday.
Beyond the rodeo, art can “come to life”
About 1,000 inmates at the State Penitentiary, most of whom are serving life sentences, participate in rodeo, sell their crafts, or run concessions, which benefit various inmate-run programs.
Wayne Guidry, who has been in Angola for about 20 years, made his first origami guitar to fend for himself in a parish prison. Since then, he has built over 350 wooden instruments. His guitars, made of maple and walnut, glistened in the Saturday sun.
“I’m a fan of wood. Every piece, every cut has its own character,” the 46-year-old said. “I love playing music and just listening to the wood vibrate and the sounds that come from it.”
Guidry is a mentor to other inmates at the prison, and he has taught others how to make guitars and ukuleles. For him, the weekend is an opportunity to see his peers again with their friends and family.
“They become a different person,” he said. “We actually see that this person can live in society. In prison, we can put on a mask a lot.”
“It kind of takes all those masks off and I like that,” he added.
Guidry is serving a life sentence for murder but has asked for clemency, he said.
The rodeo changes the atmosphere in the penitentiary. It’s festive and fair-like with a carousel for kids and people snacking on candy apples, crackers and boiled peanuts.
That’s what Rodney “Chuck” Foster loves the most. It reminds him of going to the fair in Washington Parish where he is from.
Favor photos over a wood fire. He says he can replicate anything he sees from an image, but his favorite thing is to make art his own, relishing the landscapes of forests and swamps.
“I like doing it,” said the 56-year-old, who is serving a life sentence. “It’s a hobby for me.
“My biggest fans are at home. I send most of my stuff to my wife, (five) kids and (six) grandkids. They sell some of it for me, but mostly they decorate their homes.”
Michael Baza, who has been in prison for 28 years, creates belts, wallets and lamps attached to miniature leather saddles. He said it was about doing quality work.
“It keeps me busy and even taught me to be more patient and creative,” he said.
“It’s really fascinating because you take a piece of raw material and you’ll have nothing but a blank piece. Then you put a design on it and actually let it come to life.”