Angola Prison Rodeo: Gamified

It’s time to rodeo! Let me guess what this phrase brings to mind: cowboy boots, angry bulls, horses, barrels with colorful clowns hiding inside, and way too much animal…waste. These are the things I imagine as well (maybe add a funnel cake in there, too). What has never crossed my mind as an integral part of a rodeo is a prisoner who has been sentenced to something like life behind bars. But for the Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola), without the untrained prisoner, there would be no rodeo.

I’m sure at this point you need details. This is not just any rodeo, as I am sure you have already speculated on your own. But what makes it even more untraditional is that a prisoner has to be on good behavior in their environment so that they can be deemed a “Trustee,” a task that can take up to 10 years, before they can even consider participating. This is a long time to be on good behavior and successful at challenges but the incentive is high for a prisoner because they have the ability to be cheered by all looking on and can, for a small amount of time, forget the confines of their cell. And along the way, conquering challenges can equal having a pet, getting a job, or freedom to roam the grounds.

So let’s get down to brass tacks: the events. What can an onlooker expect? First up, Bust Out; an event in which six bulls simultaneously shoot out of their stalls and do what angry bulls do, run and buck. And did I mention a prisoner cowboy was clinging for dear life? The last man left standing (or technically sitting) wins. Next up, Convict Poker. A sort of rodeo version of Chicken, if you will. Inmates are seated at a poker table when an angry bull is released to charge at the table. The last man to remain seated at the table wins. And my favorite, Guts & Glory. A poker chip is tied to a Brahma bull and the inmate to get close enough to steal the chip takes the glory.

I often report on aspects of gamification being used to encourage me to buy more pizza, remain loyal to an airline, or improve customer service. And each time I do, I think that it’s such a great idea and that I must’ve been mere seconds away from thinking of it myself.  But this particular example was one that I wasn’t prepared to come by and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

On one hand, an incarcerated individual has, in most occasions, earned his or her place behind bars and I’m not really sure that putting on a rodeo for their benefit is, well, kosher. But on the other, if this can really decrease the level of crime and bad behavior behind those prison walls, then a rodeo is worth it, right? What are your thoughts?

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