MCALESTER, Okla. (KFOR) – The director of the State Department of Corrections is reportedly backing an effort to bring back the prison rodeo at the State Penitentiary in McAlester, as first reported by Oklahoma Voice.

“More than 100 prisoners will be letting loose at the 40th annual labor day prison rodeo,” said a KTVY reporter in 1982.

The Prison Rodeo, at the State Penitentiary in McAlester, brought in fans from around the world which boosted the local economy.

“You had all the hotels full, you had restaurants full,” said Dan M. Reynolds, the prison’s warden from 1991-1994. “As soon as the rodeo was over, we were in a meeting the following week talking about next year’s rodeo.”

Reynolds said the rodeo began in 1940 to help provide medical needs to poor inmates. As it grew in popular, so did the production.

Reynolds said several celebrities, like Wanda Jackson, Reba MacEntire, Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, and Ray Price performed at the rodeo throughout the years.

Inmates would be let out of their cells to try out for the team.

“Many of these guys have ridin’ all their lives, like Pat Potts, who grew up on a farm,” said the reporter on the archive footage.

“A lot of them had some good talent,” said Reynolds.

Over the years, the prison had budget and hiring freezes, meaning there was no money and staff to keep the arena up and running.

“In 1985, there were even concerns about the structure and the foundation,” said Reynolds. “It just continued to get worse.”

The last rodeo was held in 2009.

As first reported by Oklahoma Voice, the DOC Director is backing a $9m effort for repairs to bring the rodeo back. The agency reportedly asked for funds in the state budget, but didn’t get them.

“If we have any money at all for doc that needs to go in paying additional for the department of corrections  workers and hiring more workers so we don’t have people working double shifts,” said Representative Andy Fugate of Del City.

The democratic representative said in 2016, voters passed two state questions to send fewer people to prison, thus saving money.

“If we’ve saved money, by not sending people to prison. The people of Oklahoma told us how to spend that money. They said to spend it towards helping families heal,” said Rep. Fugate.

“We are using $1m in our budget this year from other savings to shore up the building. We aim to restart in 2025. And ODOC plans to eventually host multiple smaller events throughout the year. We intend to partner with PBR.” — Kay Thompson, DOC Spokesperson.

Reports said the rodeo profits could go towards the department and create new rehabilitation and employment programs.

“It’s a big morale boost for the inmates,” said Reynolds.