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.

TEXT SIZE - +
— 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

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid