We meet Darrow Baker outside the prisoner-built rodeo arena as he prepares his 19-year-old quarter horse Hammer for the Grand Entry event.
Darrow is an Angola Rough Rider, a group of convicts given the opportunity of opening the rodeo by entering the arena at a full gallop and presenting their flags. On a normal day at Angola, he takes care of the cattle on the prison grounds, giving them medical attention and tagging them.
"People think we’re the lowest of the low, that we’re the bottom of the totem pole, just because we’re here. In all actuality, a lot of us try — day in and day out — to change the person that we were when we came here. To be a man, not a young punk or a wild kid. A lot of us grow up." -- Leonidas Lowry, DOC # 400723
Inmate Timothy Gay attempts to keep a straight face for my photo as a heckler calls at him.
I ask Tim about the one fallacy he'd like to address about his prison, he responds: “It ain’t the same Angola it used to be. The men, they’ve changed themselves. Watching their kids grow up without them, now we all want to get out and see our kids."
This is the back side of the main prison, this is where the offenders live. Each camp is self-sufficient, their own laundry, their own dining hall, their own recreation centers.
Kenneth Guin, better known as “Big Bear,” hails from Alexandria, Louisiana.
He’s currently serving a life sentence at Angola, where he’s been imprisoned for over thirty-five years. Kenneth has worked the rodeo since 1983, and won a few buckles in the past, but can’t compete any longer due to a knee replacement.
Big Bear's favorite event: "Wild Cow Milking.”
“This is my first rodeo. I’ll be back in October, on that side of the fence. I’m out in 74 days.” — Wesley Pierce
Wes was one of the only inmates we spoke with that had an imminent release date from Angola.
Freedom Behind Bars - Angola Prison Rodeo
Started in 1964, the Angola Prison Rodeo at Louisiana State Penitentiary provides inmates a moment of freedom.
Approximately 75% of inmates at Angola will never leave. Louisiana has the nation's highest incarceration rate, and is known for tough sentencing. For those here serving time the rest of their days, the rodeo acts as a reminder of life on the other side. They mill around, joke with fellow convicts, and see family and friends.