WARREN, Maine — Bradley and Lincoln are two feisty horses that have gone through some tough times, and are now living at the minimum security Bolduc Correctional Facility in order to be cared for, rehabilitated and given a second chance at a good life.
As it turns out, the horses are helping to rehabilitate the two prisoners who are caring for them, too.
“It means everything to me,” said Chris, an inmate who said he works with Bradley and Lincoln every day. “I go back at night and I’m already looking forward to coming back in the morning. It’s not just about staying busy — you get bonded with an animal just like you do with a person.”
The prisoner helped show off the horses Thursday morning at a press event to present ShelterMe, a new collaborative effort between the Maine Department of Corrections; the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; and the Maine Animal Welfare Program. It’s the first program of its kind in Maine.
Chris has so far spent 17 years behind Maine bars and has less than two years to go before he’s released. He didn’t want to share his last name, or the reason why he was convicted.
“I’m trying to keep this about the horses,” he said.
While reticent about himself, the inmate didn’t run out of things to say about Bradley and Lincoln, both of whom looked glossy, well-fed and full of energy. They pranced around a fenced meadow at Bolduc, formerly known as the state prison farm, and rolled around the still-green grass.
Their apparent good health was not always the case, Chris and others said. When the animals first arrived, one in July and one in September, they had been surrendered to the state as part of animal cruelty cases. They were much thinner, and a lot less comfortable around people.
“Both horses were in really bad shape when they came here,” said Ben Beal, the director of Bolduc Correctional Facility. “They have a good life now.”
Beal said that he has noticed positive changes as well in Chris and inmate Eric Weston, 39, who also has been working with the horses.
“It’s a great opportunity for them,” Beal said. “They just learn coping skills and life skills. They learn that they have responsibilities. We’ve seen huge, huge changes with these guys.”
Weston of Skowhegan said he was serving a few months in state custody for a conviction of receiving stolen property. When he had the chance to work with the horses, he jumped at it. Altogether, the facility could provide work for as many as four prisoner caretakers.
“I just enjoy being around horses,” he said, adding that he brings them apple biscuits and comes over at night to give them their hay. “Most of the other guys don’t like to come down. They’re big animals, and even the cows make them nervous. City kids.”
Two more horses should be arriving any day now to join Bradley and Lincoln in the barn which was renovated by the prisoner caretakers from its former incarnation as a potato house. As the horses heal, mentally and physically, it’s possible that program officials will seek out adoptive homes for them, Chris said.
Those officials also want people to know that the hay is grown at the prison and the caretakers are paid a $150 stipend out of a special account that is not funded by taxpayers.
Chris, a white-bearded man who has photos of his grandson tacked to the walls of the barn, said that he’s hoping to take some of what he is learning with him when he is released from Bolduc. Maybe, in time, he’ll be able to have his own piece of land and the ability to adopt one of the ShelterMe horses, he said.
“It definitely teaches me patience. You can’t be rough with them,” he said. “You have to be in control, but at the same time, you have to be gentle.”