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Love Angola: Of rodeos, gifts and monkeys on dogs

Brett Will Taylor (photo by Jason Kruppa)

Don’t you just love it when a loved one shares an unexpected gift?

I got such a gift this past Sunday. Not from my lover, NOLA, but from one of her country cousins.

You know the type. The kind who’s a good Christian and all, but who causes shudders when she shows up at family gatherings, proudly bearing Frito pie (and she doesn’t even have the good sense to use Velveeta cheese!).

In this case, I’m referring to the country cousin called Angola. Or, more precisely, Angola state prison. I spent the day there this past Sunday experiencing the awesome prison rodeo they host annually.

If you haven’t gone, get in your car and GO! It’s worth the drive (besides, just when you begin to fade from the monotony of US 61-N, an amazing daiquiri bar rises up from the asphalt to replenish your soul!)

When you go, you’ll find what you’d expect from a rodeo: bucking bulls and thrown cowboys, corny rodeo clowns, and lots of dust (mixed with … well, you don’t want to think about that).

You’ll also find the unexpected. Like monkeys riding dogs. That’s right. There was a segment of monkeys … riding … dogs … who herded sheep. Up onto the top of a pick-up truck. (No. This was not the daiquiris talking. It really happened).

And, you also might find a gift.

I found mine at the humongous crafts fair that stretches over a good slice of the prison grounds. It’s where the prisoners sell the goods they’ve made while doing time.

My gift came from a prisoner named Edward. He’s one of the happiest people I’ve met in a long time, even though he’s serving a life sentence that began in 1969.

Edward was selling these model boats he had built, representing different eras in American history. There was a Titanic boat, a boat from the Revolutionary War period and a deep-sea commercial fishing boat that took me back to the days when I knew some of the fisherman in New Bedford, MA. When I met him, he had three boats left. He had started the day with 11 … at a price tag of $300 each. These were some nice boats!

His craftsmanship was not only beautiful, but also quite resourceful. My friend asked where he got the materials. “Oh, it all comes from around here, stuff no one wants.” He pointed out how parts of the Titanic were made from an old broom handle.

I asked Edward if he’d been building boats his whole life. “Nah. One day, about 10 years ago or so, I saw this flyer for a hobbies workshop. It was about building model boats. I was always looking for a reason not to go to work, so I ducked out and went to that instead. I liked what I saw, but knew I could do better. So I asked my brother to start sending me magazines that had pictures of boats. I’d memorize every detail of those pictures and figure out how to make a model that looked just like them. Over time, the warden asked me to help build other things. Which I do. Other prisoners help me with that stuff, but I don’t let anybody touch my boats. They’re mine.”

And there was the gift. In the cold hard world of a prison, on a day 10 years ago when he was just looking to get out of work, a joyously happy lifer named Edward found his passion.

It was a great reminder that our passion is always there. Waiting.

It waits while we get all tangled up in the web of our postponements. It waits while we put it off because the money’s too tight, the timing’s not right, the kids aren’t grown. The this excuse. The that one. Year after year. After year.

For some, their passion waits an entire lifetime. For others, like Edward, it waits only until a hunch (and a desire to skip work) makes you pick up a random flyer.

And, then, the flame is lit. The passion is ignited. And the true journey of your life is begun, even in a place where many think your life is over.

So. What are you waiting for?

The final 2011 Angola Rodeo is Sunday, October 30. Go to for details.

Brett Will Taylor writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his blog at


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