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Learning Patience, Compassion and Horse Maintenance

Inside the barn“Who would have thought a guy from West Baltimore would be scooping poop,” Jamel Johnson asked as he was presented a certificate marking the end of his six-month training in equine care.

Johnson’s classmates, six other men currently housed at the Central Maryland Correctional Facility, called for a speech from the graduate during a brief ceremony at the Division of Correction Second Chances Farm near Sykesville.

The Second Chances Farm is a partnership between DPSCS and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), whose mission is to provide a safe haven for horses facing an uncertain future because their racing days are over.

While he may never have envisioned working on a horse farm while in prison, Johnson said he was grateful for the opportunity. Most of all, he learned patience, Johnson said.

"Big Read" photoJohnson thanked Conni Swenson, program coordinator, for showing the inmates she teaches the same patience they’ve learned from the horses in their care.

Johnson is the second graduate of the certification program at the Division of Correction Second Chances Farm. In conjunction with TRF, DOC offers select inmates a chance to work with the animals, eventually earning a “Groom Elite” course completion certificate.

The inmates learn all aspects of equine care and management, Swenson said. After release, the men will be ready to work with horses in a therapeutic program, on breeding farms, at training facilities or private farms, or even racetracks, she said.

The inmates acquire other, less tangible skills too. “Mr. Johnson learned to be patient, learned to be responsible. Obviously compassion, too, but the patience was the big thing for him, she said.”

Seven inmates are now working at Second Chances through the program.