Angola Prison Rodeo returns: Sell-out crowd and inmates enjoy 'convict poker', bull riding

·5 min read

ANGOLA, LOUISIANA  — It's been three years since Myron Smith has heard the roar of a rodeo crowd.

In April, the 10,000-person arena at Angola State Penitentiary was filled for the first time since 2019 with people eager to watch a raging bull dispel its rider and pairs try to get a cow rolled onto its back. The coronavirus pandemic cancelled the competition in 2020 and 2021.

But Smith, who participated in seven of the rodeo's 11 events on Saturday, was ready to win the "Guts and Glory" and its $500 prize.

Smith stood out on the dusty floor of the arena with his straw sombrero hanging on his back. He had to compete against nearly two dozen other incarcerated people with the goal of plucking a chip from between the eyes of a bull.

Smith, who is serving a life sentence for murder, waited patiently as "Nightmare Elm Street" tossed his horns at two people, including Tank, who's won 21 times.

Myron Smith winning the Guts & Glory event during the Angola Prison Rodeo hosted by The Louisiana State Penitentiary Saturday, April 23, 2022.
Myron Smith winning the Guts & Glory event during the Angola Prison Rodeo hosted by The Louisiana State Penitentiary Saturday, April 23, 2022.

He then apprehensively approached the bull, reaching out and grasping air before grabbing hold of the red chip and running away with it raised in the air. He saw his family, including his fiancé who traveled from Boston to see him, cheering for him.

"I started to do a backflip but I'm 48," Smith said laughing.  "I looked and my family, they was up there, 'yeah!'

"It was a big breakthrough of relief."

It was Smith's 19th time winning the "Guts and Glory."

'A nice rush': The Angola Prison Rodeo

The 56th Angola Prison Rodeo, which returns in October and runs every Sunday that month, rodeo has 11 events that incarcerated people can participate in. They include bull riding, bare back, bust out and wild horse racing.

A "chariot race" involves the participant being pulled on a sled behind a horse rider. The participant tries to stay in their sled while holding a pitcher of juice.

In "convict poker," four people sit at a cardboard folding table while a bull rampages around them. The last one sitting wins the prize. Smith was the winner of his round.

The only event incarcerated people don't participate in is barrel racing. Instead, it is a tour stop for the Girl's Rodeo Association.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.

Some have criticized the rodeo as exploitative, but for Smith and others like him, it's a chance to make money and serves as a distraction.

"It's actually a nice rush," he said. "Kind of takes your mind away from other things, issues and stuff going on."

"When I was incarcerated, I wanted to help my family out 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 first began in 1965. It's grown from a 4,500-person arena to a 10,000-person arena.

According to the Angola Museum website, the rodeo is produced by professionals with years of experience. Each event has trained rodeo clowns whose primary job is to save lives by distracting bulls from injuring offenders. Competitors are also required to wear protective gear.

This year, the spring rodeo sold out both Saturday and Sunday.

Beyond the rodeo, art can 'come to life'

About 1,000 incarcerated people at the state penitentiary, most of whom are serving life in prison, participate in the rodeo, sell their hobby crafts or run concessions, which benefit various inmate-run programs.

Wayne Guidry speaks about his crafts as The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.
Wayne Guidry speaks about his crafts as The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.

Wayne Guidry, who's been in Angola for about 20 years, made his first guitar out of origami as a way to cope while in a parish jail. Since then, he's built more than 350 wooden instruments. His guitars, made of maple and walnut, shimmered under the sun Saturday.

"I'm a fan of the wood. Every piece, every cut, has its own character," the 46-year-old said. "I enjoy playing music and just enjoy listening to the wood vibrating and the tones that come from it."

Guidry is a mentor to others in the prison and he's taught others to make guitars and ukuleles. For him, the weekend is an opportunity to see his peers with their friends and family.

"They become a different person," he said. "You can actually see that this person can live in society. In prison, we can put a mask on a lot."

"It kind of sheds away all those masks and I like that," he added.

Guidry is serving a life sentence for murder but has applied for clemency, he said.

The rodeo changes the atmosphere at the penitentiary. It's festive and feels like a fair with a merry-go-round for children and people munching on candy apples, cracklin's and boiled peanuts.

It's what Raymond "Chuck" Foster likes best about it. It reminds him of going to the fair in Washington Parish where he's from.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary held the Angola Prison Rodeo after a two year halt because of the pandemic Saturday, April 23, 2022. In addition to participating in the rodeo, incarcerated people can sell their crafts.

Foster wood-burns photos. He says he can reproduce anything he sees from a picture but what he likes best is making the art his own, relishing forest and swamp landscapes.

"I enjoy doing it," the 56-year-old, who is serving a life sentence said. "It's a pastime for me.

"My biggest fans are at home. I send most of my stuff home to my wife, (five) kids and (six) grandkids. The sell some of it for me, but mostly they decorate their houses."

Michael Baza, who's been in the prison for 28 years, creates belts, wallets and lamps attached to miniature saddles from leather. He said it's about making quality work.

"It keeps me busy and even teached me how to be more patient and creative," he said.

"It's really fascinating because you take a raw piece of material and you'll have nothing but a blank piece. Then you put a design on it and let it actually come to life."

Contact Ashley White at adwhite@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @AshleyyDi

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Angola Prison Rodeo returns in 2022 to sold-out crowd