Wrangling photos from a prison rodeo

Prison inmates and a penitentiary rodeo are the focus of a new Marshall Student Center (MSC) Centre Gallery exhibition by a USF alumnus.

“Nothing to Lose,” which ends Friday, displays 13 black-and-white photos of the Angelo Prison Rodeo hosted by the country’s largest maximum-security prison – the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

The collection comes from Darryl Richardson, who graduated from USF in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

The prison, also known as Angola, houses more than 5,000 prisoners. According to a book of Richardson’s photographs, convicts view it as a “safe haven” because 90 percent of the inmates will not get the chance to see the grass on the other side of the barbwire wall tops.

Each year, the Louisiana State Penitentiary holds the Angola Prison Rodeo for one weekend in April and every Sunday in October.

Richardson said he was initially attracted to photographing the rodeo after watching a documentary about the event, which showcased the prison’s approach to better the rehabilitation process of the inmates.

Richardson’s interest took him and his girlfriend Arielle Myers, a FSU student, to the rodeo for what the couple described as a life-changing experience.

“At first it was a bit intimidating,” Richardson said. “But when we got to talk to them, they were human beings just like the rest of us.”

The exhibition features various portraits of the inmates and photographs of them struggling with bulls and horses inside the rodeo. Action shots like “Against All Odds” and “Three Hundred and Sixty” focus on the interaction between the animals and the prisoners.

Richardson said he shot this way to impose a metaphor of the problematic relationship between the convict and society when, or if, the inmate reenters the real world.

“Once they get out, they have nothing,” Richardson said. “All of your rights as a human being are taken away from you.”

Ashley Martinez, a sophomore majoring in communications, said among the other portraits, she was drawn to “Glenn Carter,” a shot of the prison’s youngest inmate.

“It sticks out since it seems as if he’s around our age,” Martinez said.

Richardson researched Carter’s crime before photographing him and learned that before incarceration, Carter was committing petty thefts with a friend just outside of New Orleans.

When they broke into a man’s trailer home and were rushed at with a fork, Richardson said, Carter’s instincts kicked in and he fired a gun – killing the man despite his intentions.

“It was a heartbreaking story,” Myers said.

Richardson said he acknowledged the viewers contemplating the portraits are still looking at criminals, even if he hoped to show the inmates as genuine human beings trying to improve their ways.

“The portraits are conflictive, Richardson said. “Especially Carter’s.”

Richardson is currently on tour with alternative rapper Murs, documenting the trip.

The Centre Gallery is located in MSC 2700 and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the gallery and upcoming exhibitions, visit ctr.usf.edu/gallery.