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The great escape

Curator Jeanne Selander holds Mo the sloth, the most well-known animal at the farm. Selander regularly takes him to community events and stands with him at the entrance during open house days, where he meets all the visitors to the farm. “I always laugh. They didn’t invite me, they invited Mo, I’m just his roadie,” said Selander says of his appearances up and down the Keys. Photo and caption by Kim Raff via ABC News

An animal sanctuary has blossomed in the most unlikely of places - behind prison walls.

The great escape

In Monroe County, Florida, an animal sanctuary has been successfully implemented within the walls of Stock Island Detention Centre.

The program, set up in 1994, started as a way to protect the local duck population from a nearby highway. Initially just a new fence and a man-made lake, the plan was to create a peaceful rest area for the prison guards, that also doubled as a sanctuary for the ducks.

The idea soon gained traction around the country and soon enough, more abandoned animals were being surrendered to the sanctuary, which saw the small farm expanded into a much larger reform program for the inmates.

Today, the farm cares for more than 150 animals – of all shapes and sizes.

“We have a sloth, a lemur, lots of exotic snakes and lizards,” Jeanne Selander, the farm supervisor, told ABC News. “They’re abandoned, abused, confiscated or donated.”

According to Selender, the project is beneficial not only for the abandoned animals, but for the inmates as well. “The inmates work on the farm and help me with all the duties involved with taking care of animals.”

“It helps them learn compassion and to be productive,” she said.

Inmate Michael Smith cradles Thumper, a flemish giant rabbit, as Fat Albert, a giant tortoise who roams the farm, waddles over looking for attention. Hundreds of people stream through the zoo at the Stock Island Detention Center, which is completely funded by donations and community support. No tax dollars go to fund the project. Photo and caption by Kim Raff

Inmate Michael Smith cradles Thumper, a flemish giant rabbit, as Fat Albert, a giant tortoise who roams the farm, waddles over looking for attention. Hundreds of people stream through the zoo at the Stock Island Detention Center, which is completely funded by donations and community support. No tax dollars go to fund the project. Photo and caption by Kim Raff

 

The farm, which is operated solely on the generosity of community donations, is open to the public two times a month – to help raise awareness of how to treat and care for animals. 

For the inmates, the program offers an escape from the monotony and mental turmoil of prison life – assisting with rehabilitation and reducing the likelihood of inmates re-offending. Violent offenders, or anyone who has a history of child or animal abuse is not eligible for the program.

Photographer Kim Raff decided to visit the prison after she heard about the positive effect the project was having on the inmates.

“I think people are starting to take a look deeper into how we’re rehabilitating people,” she said. “I was really happy to be able to do a story about something that’s working, that’s a positive thing that’s good for the community, good for the people, good for the inmates, good for the animals,” she told PBS.

“For the most part, it’s very good for them. Instead of sitting upstairs in a cell, they’re actually doing something productive and something that gives them some meaning and some purpose,” she said. “They often will get out and bring their families back to show them what they did.”

Read about more amazing initiatives helping to rehabilitate prisoners here:

Behind bars: prison wine makers

Jail Dogs

Second Chance Farm

nmate Michael Smith brushes Ghost, an elderly blind horse, at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm. Ghost was abandoned by his owner in a remote area of Miami-Dade county and left to die. He came to the farm just skin and bones. Working with Ghost teaches patience to the inmates. They have to be gentle and build trust in order to care for him because he frightens easily. Photo and caption by Kim Raff

Inmate Michael Smith brushes Ghost, an elderly blind horse, at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm. Ghost was abandoned by his owner in a remote area of Miami-Dade county and left to die. He came to the farm just skin and bones. Working with Ghost teaches patience to the inmates. They have to be gentle and build trust in order to care for him because he frightens easily. Photo and caption by Kim Raff

 

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