Inspiration for “Cowboy Convict’

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These photographs were taken at two maximum security prisons; Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, OK., predominantly white, and Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, LA., predominantly black, where eighty percent of the inmates are serving life for murder.

The inmates have two things in common; they are serving life sentences (murder, strong armed robbery, aggravated rape) with no chance of parole, and they are cowboys, participating in their annual prison rodeos as long as their behavior is exemplary.

There are many reasons why the inmates chase after a two thousand pound bull. For “easy money” where the winner who grabs the one hundred dollars off the bull’s nose, he makes more in that moment than all year at the prison wage of thirteen cents an hour. Some men rodeo because “its like slamming crank, the adrenalin is so high it takes me hours to come down,” or “it’s controlled violence where the guards don’t get on my case.” For other inmates, it’s a chance to break the monotony of prison life, to have an opportunity to show the free men “that we are capable of having feelings too, that we can also be sad, sorry and remorseful.”

Regardless of their reasons, for that brief moment in time, amidst the lookout towers, razor wire, and armed guards, these convicts are men, free to become whatever they want or should have been. “When I am tied to that bull and the gate opens, I see myself as a young man riding when I was free, I see my son…and then the dream is over.”