Here are some pictures of the “Angola Prison rodeo”, where prisoners compete to win packs of smokes and a few bucks. By sitting in a poker table while a bull charges them. The goal? To get the poker chip hanging off its horns.
These people aren’t cowboys, or glorified participants in a well respected tournament. These prisoners are shuffled over to this thing to be trampled by raging bulls for SMOKES, and maybe a hundred bucks. This is not something that would happen to anyone other than prisoners, and is part of an institution that systematically devalues their worth as people.
The rodeo rakes in millions of dollars a year, and that’s just the beginning of how shady the place is:
That year, the rodeo produced $2,463,822 in revenue.
But for all the hair-raising moments, the most unsettling part may be the strange symbolism of the opening pageantry. Putting a Confederate flag in a black man’s hands on a former slave plantation seems a little too deliberate for an institution that claims to have shed its darker past.
“I have always said, and I continue to say, that if slavery had persisted up until 2010, into the modern day, that would probably have been a well-run slave plantation,” Wilbert Rideau says. “I think it would have evolved into what exists right now at Angola.” We’re in his living room in Baton Rouge, with his wife, Linda.
Angola was a plantation first, housing slaves who cut sugar cane for the master. At the end of the 19th century it evolved into a prisoner lease system, with sentenced prisoners being rented to area companies. In 1901, Angola officially became a state-operated penitentiary, but in name only. It remained a plantation, with prisoners crowded into large wooden buildings and working from sunup to sundown in sugar cane and cotton fields—rain or shine, 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Angola is disturbing every time I go there,” Tory Pegram, who coordinates the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, told Truthout. “It’s not even really a metaphor for slavery. Slavery is what’s going on.
Angola is not alone. Sixteen percent of Louisiana prisoners are compelled to perform farm labor, as are 17 percent of Texas prisoners and a full 40 percent of Arkansas prisoners, according to the 2002 Corrections Yearbook, compiled by the Criminal Justice Institute. They are paid little to nothing for planting and picking the same crops harvested by slaves 150 years ago.