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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs