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Editorial: Prison rodeo in the media

Mar 2, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

There was a media frenzy this week about the prospects of McAlester reviving the seven-decade tradition of its prison rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Story after story from media outlets — from right here in southeast Oklahoma to Oklahoma City and Tulsa — glowingly and excitedly floated the prospects of the rodeo coming back. In fact, if you go back and read and watch all those news stories, you just might be convinced that the bulls were already in the pen waiting to bust out to the roar of cheering crowds.

By Glenn Puit | Editor | Posted: Sunday, March 1, 2015 11:19 am

There was a media frenzy this week about the prospects of McAlester reviving the seven-decade tradition of its prison rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Story after story from media outlets — from right here in southeast Oklahoma to Oklahoma City and Tulsa — glowingly and excitedly floated the prospects of the rodeo coming back. In fact, if you go back and read and watch all those news stories, you just might be convinced that the bulls were already in the pen waiting to bust out to the roar of cheering crowds.

Now, before we get to the point of this editorial, we want to make it perfectly clear that we at the News-Capital — like pretty much everyone else — would love to have the rodeo back, too. Who wouldn’t? It is a historic part of McAlester. It also holds the potential to bring in much-needed tourist dollars to the region. We credit city Tourism Director Kathy Wall and city leaders for trying to get the horses out of the gate, so to speak, on this endeavor.

We know their hearts are in the right place.

But what is troubling is that, in media account after media account about the rodeo this week from major media outlets, there was one very important fact either missing or deeply buried at the bottom of each story.

What was it?

A little thing called reality.

As soon as we called and checked on this story line, we were told very matter of factly by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that this is simply not happening.

The arena where the rodeo has been held for decades is in a state of disrepair. While good, noble citizens of southeast Oklahoma have pledged some $100,000 for arena repairs, that amount would probably — if you are lucky — pay for a paint job and a retainer for the engineers needed to assess the actual structural integrity of the facility. Add hundreds of thousands to that amount and you might be able to get the arena in the shape necessary to have thousands of people attend.

Far more important, though, is the current status of the state budget and the resources available to the Department of Corrections. Corrections officers at the prison work tirelessly on double shifts to keep the public safe from the predators inside the walls of the prison. The DOC is begging people to work there, but the pay is so low that few are willing to perform the vital, honorary and necessary public service our corrections officers carry out every day.

We should first be talking about adequate pay, staffing, benefits, and the safety for our corrections officers at OSP. And, can McAlester really feel comfortable bringing in a private rodeo promoter guaranteed to make significant amounts of money off the backs of a taxpayerfinanced public institution that so dramatically underpays its employees?

If we are going to have a prison rodeo, great. We would love that. But the promoter and private interests behind it — not government — should be paying for every single expense. And, most if not all of the proceeds should go straight to benefit our corrections officers or help fund our Chamber of Commerce — not out-of-town rodeo promoters.

But as some of our colleagues in the news business apparently believe, you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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