Okla. governor supports plans for prison rodeo's return

"It's great for morale, the culture; it's great for the community," said Gov. Kevin Stitt


By Adrian O'Hanlon III
McAlester News-Capital
        
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's governor said he wants to bring back what was once the nation's largest prison rodeo that brought crowds to the maximum-security prison in McAlester.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said he supports work to renovate the dilapidated arena and plans to reinstate the Prison Rodeo held at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester each year until 2009.

"It's great for morale, the culture; it's great for the community; it's a moneymaker for the Department of Corrections — and it's a fun event for Oklahoma," Stitt told the News-Capital.

To separate the inmates from the professional cowboys participating in the rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, trousers with prison stripes are worn by the inmates, seen Sept. 29, 1971, in McAlester, Oklahoma.
To separate the inmates from the professional cowboys participating in the rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, trousers with prison stripes are worn by the inmates, seen Sept. 29, 1971, in McAlester, Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)

OSP's prison rodeo started in 1940 with a hiatus during World War II until it resumed in 1948. A devastating 1973 prison riot at OSP led to another hiatus until 1978.

Prisoners previously signed up to participate in some events, while professionals also competed in the 12,000-seat arena behind prison walls before it was canceled prior to the 2010 event.

Support continues to grow for the rodeo's return after OSP Warden Jim Farris announced in August plans to renovate the arena and bring it back.

McAlester Mayor John Browne and city of McAlester Tourism Director Billy Sumner previously expressed interest and support in efforts to bring it back. McAlester Chamber of Commerce President Krystal Bess previously said bringing the prison rodeo back would be a tremendous asset.

Stitt said he toured OSP prison rodeo grounds in June and told officials he wanted to move forward on bringing back the event — but he knew it would take some work to renovate the facility.

"There were some structural issues so I told them to do a study on what it's going to take to get the facilities back up and going," Stitt said.

Farris previously said he contacted Tulsa-based architecture and engineering firm BKL, Inc. to determine exactly what it will take to renovate prison rodeo grounds, with the goal of bringing it back in the fall of 2022.

Some of the rodeo arena's concrete bleachers have crumbled, cracked, or sunk into the ground, but Farris wants to preserve as much of the original arena as possible.

Stitt said he went in 2019 to tour the Angola Prison Rodeo in Angola, Louisiana — which reportedly brought in $6.2 million in revenue in 2014 and 2015 with a series of spring rodeo events.

[More: How the Angola prison rodeo brings together inmates, community members]

The governor said he believes the Angola event also raised morale for inmates.

"They can sell some leather goods and we're trying to change the structure and kind of the culture inside the system because most of these people will get back out there and we're trying to rehabilitate it," Stitt said.

Stitt said he did not attend an OSP Prison Rodeo before its cancellation, but has heard tons of support from Oklahomans in bringing it back.

"We want to help," Stitt said. "It's great community involvement for McAlester and so whatever I can do at the state level, I'd love to get it done."


(c)2021 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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