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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.