Reportage by Chris D.
Courtesy of Professor Morris and the generous donors of the Tulane Creative Writing Fund, the Advanced Fiction Workshop (and myself–recent grad/willing driver) had the opportunity to attend the morally ambiguous and spectacularly muddy forty-fifth annual Angola Prison Rodeo. If you are lucky enough to attend this event, you will, as one should on field trips, learn a few things.
1) You will learn that Angola (or “The Farm”–Wikipedia article here) is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, with 5,000 inmates.
2) You will discover that around thirty of these inmates are insane. The “Yes, though I have no experience and nothing to gain or lose, I will volunteer to ride a 2,000 lb bull that may or may not stomp on my head like an overripe cantaloupe”-type of insane.
3) If you read Tim Gautreaux’s short story “Rodeo Parole” (from Welding with Children), you will find it to have a more somber atmosphere (and drier setting) than the Inmate Poker event at Angola, though the details will be the same–four convicts sitting at a poker table and trying not to fidget when a wild bull is released into the arena. The winner is the last man seated at the table. The losers are the people who get a hide-covered battering ram to the ribs. (There will be many losers).
4) You will learn that monkeys with tiny saddles can ride dogs that herd sheep. For some reason, this will be the most disturbing thing you see.
5) You will discover that there is only so much punishment your delicate, aesthetically advanced sensibilities can take. You may scoff at prisoners trying to milk wild cows, gasp at convicts scrambling away from bucking Brahmas, and shake your head in indulgent disapproval at inmates trying to wrestle the smaller bulls. But during “Guts & Glory,” the final event, during which thirty or so current-cons attempt to retrieve a poker chip tied to the nose of a bull that probably gets tasered for a warm up, all ideas of “taste” and “exploitation” go out the barred window. By the time the eighth guy gets charged into and flipped eight feet in the air, you really won’t be capable of much more than a benign and slightly stupefied grin (or grimace, depending).
6) When you go to the crafts fair, you will learn that prison business-savvy includes knowledge of what cartoon characters will inspire children to harass their parents into buying handmade leather goods and woodwork from people behind chain-link and barb wire. (Actually, though Dora is spot-on, Spiderman seems a little 2007.)
7) You will learn, again, how smart your girlfriend is, when she asks, “Do you really need a snakeskin visor?”
8) You will learn that having already graduated from Tulane Creative Writing doesn’t necessarily preclude you from drawing on the wonderful benefits of being a student in the program.
9) You will learn that having already graduated from Tulane Creative Writing doesn’t necessarily preclude you from having to do homework for Paula.