Bolduc inmates care for neglected horses through state program

By Bane Okholm | Nov 16, 2012
Photo by: Bane Okholm ShelterMe prisoner caretaker Chris and horse Bradley take a turn through the paddock at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren Nov. 15.

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.

Inmate perspectives

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

Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, left, and ACF Commissioner Walter Whitcomb address the media regarding the ShelterMe project, while prisoner caretaker Eric Weston, silhouette in background, waits with the horses. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, left, and Bolduc Correctional Facility Director Ben Beal listen to remarks from ShelterMe officials Nov. 15. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Inmate Eric Weston reassures Lincoln, a 6-year-old former saddle racing horse. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Prisoner caretaker Chris leads Bradley through the Bolduc paddock Nov. 15. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Lincoln anxiously keeps tabs on the whereabouts of companion Bradley from his stall. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
A view of the Bolduc Correctional Facility from the ShelterMe horse enclosure. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Bradley warily regards paddock intruders Nov. 15. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Lincoln stretches his legs in the ShelterMe paddock. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Prisoner caretaker Chris carries a bale of hay outside Nov. 15. The hay is grown on-site at the Bolduc Correctional Facility. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Bradley looks down over the hill that leads to the Bolduc Correctional Facility. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
ShelterMe horse Lincoln stops for a quick drink Nov. 15. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
A view of the Bolduc Correctional Facility ShelterMe facilities as seen from the road. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Chris watches Bradley and Lincoln during their public introduction Nov. 15. (Photo by: Bane Okholm)
Comments (7)
Posted by: Debra Damon | Nov 18, 2012 12:11

What a great idea Senator Bill Diamond, great for the inmates, and a great thing for the abused horses. Maybe other ideas like this could be done to have some of these inmates that aren't dangerous to give them something to do and I believe it must be rewarding to them.


Posted by: Valerie Wass | Nov 16, 2012 13:22

Great program all the way around.  Wonderful story!!!!


Posted by: Libby Davis | Nov 16, 2012 13:19

Man and Beast rehabilitating together. A great story, warms the heart. Wonderful to hear that all materials are on site.

Posted by: Herbert Lawrence Maker Jr | Nov 16, 2012 12:51

This is a Great Program, reminds me of the Saving Cars Behind Bars from a few years back. How wonderful to see our Maine tax dollars being used for such a good cause for all parties concerned. Was Deputy Warden Chief Al Barlow part of this program also. I know the SCBB took off in a few other States after seeing Maine's Success. Lets see more programs like this with More Staff Like D/C Barlow behind the wheel.

Posted by: GLORIA l. BAGLEY | Nov 16, 2012 12:47

This sounds so great for both man and horse, that It gives me a lump in my throat!

Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Nov 16, 2012 11:52

Great programs for both the men and the animals.  I adopted a dog a month ago who had been through the K-9 corrections program.  The dog had been feral and  was not socialized.  What a great job the prisoners did with him. The dog is a wonderful companion and continues to adapt to his new surroundings.

Posted by: Catherine L Leonard | Nov 16, 2012 11:10

What an exciting program! These horses deserve special care and who better than someone with time on their hands! I sure hope the program can expaqnd so more horses and prisoners may benefit!

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