Bolduc inmates care for neglected horses through state program
Warren — A presentation was held Nov. 15 at the Bolduc Correctional Facility to introduce ShelterMe, a project in which prisoners care for neglected horses as part of their rehabilitation.
The program has been operating at the prison for about seven months.
Commissioner Joseph Ponte of the Maine Department of Corrections described the project as a way to provide shelter for horses in need while giving inmates the chance to overcome the stigma of being ex-felons as they reenter society.
"For a felon to come out here and work with these animals, he doesn't have to overcome that," Ponte said. "Basically, the treatment he gives these animals he gets in return."
Two inmates are currently responsible for the care of the two horses currently living at the ShelterMe facility. The horse's names are Bradley and Lincoln.
Ponte described ShelterMe as "a great collaboration" between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as well as the Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Program.
ACF Commissioner Walter Whitcomb said that additional troubled and injured horses will soon arrive, including one that is blind. According to Whitcomb, prisoners have reconstructed Bolduc's ShelterMe facilities in order to accommodate the blind horse.
"I don't think you could find a place that's paying more attention to some animals that have been badly neglected," Whitcomb said.
ShelterMe proponent State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, agreed. "It shows the compassion that this program brings for animals, but it also shows what everybody is trying to do with the rehabilitation of those who are incarcerated."
Hay for the horses is grown on-site, as is lumber used to build paddock fences. Bolduc Correctional Facility Director Ben Beal said that ShelterMe is prepared to house up to six horses, requiring the attention of 10 to 12 prisoners.
A fact sheet distributed at the ShelterMe inauguration notes that it costs $3,360 to house one horse at ShelterMe for a year, and that the ACF Animal Welfare Program covers costs associated with veterinary care and special food.
Bolduc inmate Eric Weston said he volunteered for the ShelterMe project after a childhood spent on a farm with both draught and riding horses.
"I just like hanging out with [the horses]," Weston said. "They're kinda like a couple big dogs, Lincoln especially."
The horses' primary prisoner caretaker, who identified himself only as "Chris," told reporters that he wouldn't do any other job at Bolduc.
"I'm actually hoping this will lead into something when I get out as far as working with horses and other animals," he said.
According to Director Beal, the screening process for inmate volunteers is similar to a job application, in which a classification committee reviews the individual's criminal history, discipline within prison facilities, and attitude toward other offenders and Bolduc staff.
Beal said that "the inmates have changed tremendously. One of them has a very violent history...he's kinda carried it back into the institutions as well.
Since becoming involved with ShelterMe, however, Beal said, "[the prisoner's] behavior has changed immensely. He thinks before he reacts. He knows he has a responsibility. He likes what he's doing. The horses are kinda rehabilitating him at the same time."
Another program at the Bolduc Correctional Facility also brings inmates and dogs together. K-9 Corrections Program through the Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County, located in Thomaston. Inmates work with dogs for about eight weeks to work on basic obedience; teaching at-risk prisoners and at-risk homeless dogs the skills to become safe members of society.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.