Real Talkies

Real Talkies

Every cut is a lie. It’s never that way. Those two shots were never next to each other in time that way. But you’re telling a lie in order to tell the truth. –Wolf Koenig.

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September 18, 2010 , , , , , ,

SWEETHEARTS OF THE PRISON RODEO (2009) is a powerful but bittersweet documentary about female inmates who compete in the 2007 Oklahoma State Penitentiary Rodeo – film by Bradley Beasley (director of Okie Noodling).

Synopsis: Since 1940, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary has held an annual ‘Prison Rodeo’. Part Wild West show and part coliseum-esque spectacle, it’s one of the last of its kind – a relic of the American penal system. Prisoners compete on wild-broncs and bucking bulls, risking life-long injuries. In 2006, for the first time, female prisoners were allowed to participate. “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo” goes behind prison walls to follow convict cowgirls on their journey to the 2007 Oklahoma State Penitentiary Rodeo. Within this strange arena the prisoners become the heroes while the public and guards applaud.

Danny Liles, Incarcerated for murder, imprisoned since 1982

It is refreshing that the film does not attempt to portray the inmates to be victims of the penal system or to excuse or glamorize their action. The film just shares the story of people who did some terrible mistakes but have their families, stories and moments like most of us.  Danny who is incarcerated for murder since 1982, says that, “Prison is years and years of boredom. Walking on grass, taking a bath in bath tub etc are things he has not done in 25 years. He wants to get hold of something in life  and rodeo offers the moments of Adrenaline. He has participated in the rodeo for the past 14 years. According to most of the participates, those two days of the rodeo – when the inmate is celebrated, is cheered on and applauded, is worth every minute and it is worth all the risk, injury and pain of the event.

The film shares some staggering statistics – “Oklahoma leads the nation in the incarceration of women“, almost double the national average. 80% of the female prisoners are women. My first reaction was why?  If you all have the same questions, refer to  the study – Why does Oklahoma have the highest incarceration rate in the US?. Summary of the study -Crime reported in Oklahoma (5,700 per 100,000 population) is not higher than that of the nation (5,900 per 100,000 population). The rate of arrest of female offenders in Oklahoma is the same as that of the nation (700 per 100,000). Yet, the rate of incarceration of female convicted offenders is more than double the national rate of incarceration (39.2 versus 18.9 of the 100,000 population). The rate of incarceration is increasing every year with the result that female inmates in Oklahoma constitute 12.4 percent of the total inmate population, which is more than four and one half times the national rate. If this trend is not reversed, Oklahoma tax payers will have to open more prisons for women.


Though, ‘Sweethearts of the Rodeo’ is a well shot, well edited, provocative and action filled film; I still felt the film was a bit glossy and glamorous and at times made it seem like prison life is not all that bad. I wish there was a bit more of grittiness. I felt most connected and rooted for Jamie and Foxie. Foxie had not seen her family since she was 12, she grew up to be a mature person in prison. Wonder how her life is now that she is released. Jamie was incarcerated for murder when she was 17 and was prison for 13 years, she gave birth to a child in prison and was longing to get out to be with him. Jamie was most vulnerable in her house after she was released – Oklahoma needs to do a better job at providing support and reintegrate the female inmates to the community.

Incidentally, there will be no prison rodeo this year. The event has been canceled  due to budget constrains.


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