McAlester rodeo features prisoners

Founded in 1940, the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo is the only one of its kind in the world.

Annually, it gives more than 13,000 spectators a peek behind prison walls and a chance to see convict cowboys battle bulls, and each other, for the top prize, according to Helen Wheeler, executive director of the McAlester Chamber of Commerce.

The rodeo throws down at the maximum security Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. These aren’t your fluffy, everyday criminals, either, but hardened prisoners just a few doors down from death row.
Spectators can ogle the circus-like show playing out in the prison yard arena.

Money the Hard Way, a crowd favorite according to Wheeler, is “kind of a free-for-all” where a $100 bill is attached to the horn of a bull and let loose inside the arena for inmates to try to grab.

Bull Poker pits a card game-playing group of inmates against a bull. The last “player” still sitting at the table wins $50, along with bragging rights for sporting bull-sized cojones. 

Besides the arena antics, the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo is also an actual rodeo, with separate components for inmates and cowboys.

“It’s an (International Professional Rodeo Association)-sanctioned rodeo,” Wheeler said, “one of the largest in the nation.”

This year’s Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo is being held Aug. 17-18, with tickets going on sale June 1. “Jenny Coon Peterson

Jenny Coon Peterson

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