Louisiana has the unfortunate distinction of consistently having the highest percentage of incarcerated individuals per capita in the world. The Louisiana Prison Museum and Cultural Center—which is located on the campus of Angola Prison in West Feliciana Parish—explores Angola’s fraught history and what life is like for inmates in one of America’s most notorious prisons.
The Louisiana Prison Museum is not for the faint of heart. The museum is located several yards away from where inmates are housed at Angola. You may even spot an inmate restocking the gift shop’s signature Guts and Glory Hot Sauce, which is made from peppers harvested by Angola prisoners. The Louisiana Prison Museum features graphic displays, including weapons fashioned by inmates, leather straps used to discipline inmates, and an electric chair known as “Gruesome Gertie” that put 87 prisoners to death before being decommissioned in the early 1990s.
One of the Louisiana Prison Museum’s most curious exhibits showcases items that crafty prisoners fashioned behind bars. One particularly ingenious prisoner made a skeleton key that opened virtually every lock in the prison by carefully shaving the handle of a comb. Other items include a throwing star made from a tin can, a knife made from a piece of bone, and nunchucks fashioned out of salvaged wood.
The Louisiana Prison Museum has a sizable exhibit dedicated to the Angola Prison Rodeo. Every October and April, select inmates don cowboy attire and participate in events such as bareback horse riding, bronco riding, and sneaking up on an agitated bull and attempting to pluck a poker chip off its head. The museum features the mounted head of a bull who was a rodeo participant.
Louisiana residents have mixed feelings about the Angola Prison Rodeo. Some view it as a barbaric remnant of Angola’s brutal past, while others support the Angola Prison Rodeo as it provides Angola’s prisoners with something to look forward to. Some prisoners even sell handmade art and crafts and perform music at the event. The rodeo is open to the public, and virtually every seat in the 10,000-seat stadium is generally filled.
The Louisiana Prison Museum and Cultural Center isn’t an easy place to visit, but it is a very educational one. If you’re curious about what life is like behind bars, there’s a good chance that you’ll leave the Louisiana Prison Museum committed to being on your best behavior, so that you can avoid doing time in prison at all costs.