Every October, more than 20,000 spectators pack into a ramshackle stadium at Angola, Louisiana's notorious maximum security prison. They come to watch the inmates ride the bulls in the prison rodeo, a gladiatorial spectacle of violence and fierce determination. Eighty-five percent of these inmates have killed, raped, or robbed and are serving life without parole. They are ruled by Warden Burl Cain, who subscribes to the teachings of Jesus and Attila the Hun and who claims to offer salvation to even the most hardened criminal.
Journalist Daniel Bergner traces a year in the lives of six convicts. Never before has an outsider been given such unlimited access to Angola. The result is a searing portrait of this 5,000-inmate facility and its warden, where not long ago 37 prisoners slashed their Achilles tendons to protest the unbearable conditions. In luminous prose and with unflinching detail, Bergner reveals both the barbarous brutality and the moments of grace among men whose best hope for redemption is that six-second ride at the rodeo.