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Women preparing for Oklahoma's prison rodeo

TAFT, Okla. (AP) _ More than two dozen women inmates in Oklahoma are preparing to participate in the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo next month.

It is the first time in more than 20 years that women will participate in the annual rodeo, held Aug. 18-19 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

``I think it's an opportunity of a lifetime,'' said Bobbi Rose Hensley, 25, who is serving time at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center on a drug conviction.

Hensley and nine other women, along with three alternates, at the prison in Taft have been preparing for the event by practicing on a barrel to simulate a horse, she said. Hensley also has been running three to five miles a night.

Monty Baker, a case manager at Eddie Warrior who oversees the team, said about 180 women tried out.

``We were looking for the best ones with the best heart,'' he said.

Thirteen women from Mabel Bassett Correctional Center also are participating. The women are scheduled to compete in a full range of rodeo events.

``A lot of them are really enthused about it,'' Baker said. ``I think for a lot of them it adds to their self-esteem.''

Icy Renai Avery, 33, said the experience has not only given her something to look forward to but has helped her move out of her comfort zone.

``I've made some new friends, people I don't normally talk to,'' she said.

Avery, who also is in prison on drug convictions, said most of her family has been supportive as she prepares to ride a bull for the first time.

``My daughter thinks I'm too old because I'm a mom, but my son is excited,'' she said.

Inmates have been participating in the event, billed as the largest ``behind the walls'' rodeo in the world, since 1940, said Terry Crenshaw, an administrative assistant at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

More than 12,000 spectators are expected to attend the event, which takes place at the state penitentiary arena, Crenshaw said.

``This is the one weekend (inmates) get to be in the limelight,'' he said. ``It gives them an opportunity to actually participate in something worthwhile, to understand there is more to life than getting in trouble.''

The rodeo features several events during the two days, including one called ``Money the Hard Way,'' where inmates try to grab a bag full of $100 from between a bull's eyes.
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