“It’s amazing to watch tough, street guys with tattoos take a foal and treat it like a father would.” – Connecticut Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo C. Arnone.
The two men, in bright orange tees and khaki pants, leaned on their shovels and a wheelbarrow, posed among the freshly turned soil rows, where cucumbers were recently planted, watching from a distance as people assembled, shook hands and chatted awaiting the ceremony to dedicate an animal rehabilitation center – rebuilt barn and rescued horses – in part, the fruits of these men’s labor.
But they’re not invited to the event. They’re inmates at in Uncasville.
Inmates Tyler Masucci of Westerly (RI), who helped rebuild the stable and Michael Theriault of Sterling, dubbed the ‘horse whisperer’ by corrections officers, works with the horses.
Masucci and Theriault are among but a handful of fellow prisoners permitted the privilege to work the facility’s farm, where vegetables are grown to supplement prison food coffers and also to help feed the needy in the community at soup kitchens and food pantry’s, and to have been part of the rehab facility for rescued animals, starting with two horses – Rebel and Venus.
“This whole process speaks to our (correction department) history; we had Shaker barns, still do, and farms. Supplying our own food helps make (inmates) feel good, growing food, building, working; just getting up in the morning, learning that important work ethic,” Arnone said.
The rehabilitation project dedication brought out the top brass at Corrections as well as officials from the state Department of Agriculture, who blessed the program, which now features two rescued horses, two goats and a flock of chickens.
Based on the Second Chance large animal rehabilitation facility at York Correctional in Niantic, also a collaborative between Corrections and Agriculture, the facility at Corrigan-Radgowski was possible through the efforts of many from both inside and outside the prison.
The people you meet at the dump, er… transfer station
Corrections officer Joe Schoomaker, whose responsibility is the facility grounds, was looking for some tomato stakes for the prison gardens and someone mentioned he might look at the and it was then he met Gerald Shaffer, a local man now retired who has set up an antique and very operation saw mill at his home.
Recent clear cutting at the prison by inmates meant a large supply of lumber. Schoomaker gave Shaffer some of the felled oak trees which Shaffer turned into 440 stakes. When Shoomaker, who by now had become friendly with Shaffer mentioned that they were rebuilding the crumbling barn in preparation for the animal rehab, Shaffer needed to hear no more; he milled the trees providing rough cut for fencing and all the wood needed for the barn restoration.
“Oh, it’s nothing. You know, it just makes you feel good,” Shaffer said.
Second chances all around
Rebel and Venus were abused, neglected, malnourished horses in desperate need of help. Now, with a sparkling clean barn and stables, plenty to eat, quiet and care, they are thriving.
“This is their second chance,” Schoomaker said.
And the inmates, nearly a dozen that work the gardens, and Masucci and Theriault being very much a part of the rehabilitation program from the infrastructure to caring for the horses every day, “it’s a chance for them, too,” said Brian Garnett, director of external affairs for the state Department of Correction.
“Many of these guys have never gotten up in the morning to go to a job. This is a first step for some of them, a chance to get it right when (they leave prison,)” Garnett said.
The grounds programs for inmates at Corrigan-Radgowski are only open to non-violent, Level II, handpicked inmates.