News / USA

    Prison Work Farm Rehabilitates Inmates, Horses

    Innovative Program Gives Men and Horses a Second Chancei
    X
    December 21, 2013 6:38 PM
    VOA’s Julie Taboh takes us to a prison farm in the state of Virginia where inmates are gaining valuable job skills as they learn to care for retired racehorses, that in turn receive attention and a well maintained facility.
    VIDEO: Innovative program in the United States gives man, beast a second chance at life.
    On a cold morning in December, Tamio Holmes pulls his truck up to a barn at the James River Work Center in rural Virginia.
     
    There to teach a group of men how to shoe a horse, Holmes, himself a former inmate, approaches student inmates at this working prison farm located in Goochland County in rural Virginia.
     
    The six-month program called Greener Pastures has two primary goals: provide a safe place for retired race horses, and train non-violent, short-term offenders to care for them.
     
    Holmes learned to be a farrier, someone who takes care of horses' hooves, in the same program while serving eight years at the prison.
     
    His own teacher, veteran farrier Bill Lane, is one of many dedicated professionals who volunteers his time at the prison, and says it’s all about putting your faith into somebody, teaching them what you know and then letting them develop their own style.
     
    “It’s hard, dirty work,” he said, but insists that it is immensely rewarding.
     
    For Holmes, enrolling in the program was a chance to open himself up.
     
    “You learn trust, honesty and loyalty,” he said, adding that it was after his experience with Greener Pastures that he made his decision. “This is what I’m going to do and this is what I want to do.”
     
    Inspiring others
     
    Now a free man, Holmes often returns to the prison to share what he learned.
     
    “I want the boys to understand [that] you have to have confidence in yourself,” he said. “Most importantly what I teach them is you have to have a good work ethic. You get out of it what you put into it. I mean, it’s not just about shoeing, but it’s about multiple other things that you can do in life.”
     
    A collaboration between the Virginia Department of Corrections and the non-profit Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation — the world's largest equine sanctuary devoted to the rescue, retirement, rehabilitation and retraining of thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack — Greener Pastures is unique.
     
    Every day, inmates in the program feed and groom their assigned horses and check them for injuries. The training also prepares them for jobs once they’re released from prison.
     
    Among the 22 thoroughbreds being cared for at the barn is Covert Action, grandson of the legendary 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat, who was dubbed "America’s Super Horse.”
     
    He's the horse Holmes started with in the program, which he says changed his life.
     
    “Since I’ve been in this horse program I’ve met some really, really good people,” he says. “I attribute it to them and I attribute it especially to dealing [with], and being around, these horses.”
     
    Warden Harris Diggs, who’s responsible for the program at the James River Work Center, knew nothing about horses when he inherited the program from the previous warden.
     
    "It was interesting to see the relationship that the offenders had with the horses and the relationship the horses had with the offenders," says Diggs.
     
    "The offenders had a nurturing atmosphere about themselves. These horses were thoroughbred race horses. Nobody wanted them any longer and I said, ‘you know, there is some similarity between the horses’ plight and the offenders’ plight.' I could see them bond and I could understand why the bonding was there.”
     
    That bond is evident as the nine inmates lovingly feed, groom and check the horses for injuries.
     
    Ben Cheston says being around the horses and taking care of them made him feel like a human being again, “because when you’re incarcerated for a long time, you lose that.”
     
    He hopes to use the farrier skills he’s learned in prison to get a job in the field upon his release.
     
    “A lot of guys that come into the system relied on crime for money or they never had a job or they had trouble with jobs because of drugs or whatever it may be,” he said, “and so this opens another door for them.”
     
    Kevin Jones, who graduated from the horse program in September of this year, hopes to work for veterinarian Tom Newton, another regular volunteer at the prison, once he’s released in 2015.
     
    “We all need people in our lives,” said Jones. “Sometimes we don’t take advantage of the help people are offering us. This is one chance and I’m going to take the help that someone’s willing to put their neck out for me.”
     
    Lamare Jennings, 37, has been incarcerated since 2006. He is scheduled to be released from prison in April 2014 and also hopes to apply his newly-acquired skills once he’s released.
     
    “I’ve grown up a lot since being incarcerated," he said. "My outlook on life now is more positive. My future seems to be more positive. This program is a second chance for horses, but it’s a second chance for me also.”
     
    “It's a very powerful connection and most of these men have never experienced that before,” said Anne Tucker, president of the James River Chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. “That may be part of what gives them this new sense of who they are.”
     
    Diggs hopes what the inmates learn in the program will have a similarly positive impact on the relationships the men have with their families, and he is happy with his decision to have allowed Tamio Holmes to return to the prison to teach the inmates.
     
    “We have to take calculated risks, and that was a calculated risk I was willing to take,” he said. “And it has worked out wonderfully, because they can now see that they can grow, and that the system that incarcerated them is also willing to give them a second chance.”

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora