Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Different Kind of Prison by Sarah J. McNeal

While researching prisons in Wyoming for my WIP, IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE, I found something fascinating and actually kind of wonderful. I’ll admit I am not captivated by prisons, or at least not until I found out about The Wyoming Honor Farm.

Monument At The Riverton Honor Farm

But first, here’s a little history. The Wyoming Honor Farm opened in 1931, attained by the 21st Legislature, and was originally known as the “State Penitentiary Farm” with a budget for the first year of $50,000. It was part of the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, and was run by Farm Manager Andrew Brenston, the acting onsite supervisor, with 1 other supervisor and 2 correctional officers. The staffing level didn’t change for 40 years.  According to the 1958 Annual Report, “It was proposed that the overall farm program be continued and improved for … hope that a greater number of those released would profit by participating in this work to the extent that they may be successful in finding and maintaining their place in society and become useful citizens once again.”

The Wyoming Honor Farm started with 880 acres a mile north of Riverton, Wyoming. After 11 acres were sold later to the State Highway Department, 869 acres remained. Farm operations decreased to 640 acres in 2016. Activities in the early years included beef, swine, and poultry operations, crops, dairy production, and a butcher shop. 2300 acres of State and leased land behind the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander were added in the late 1970s for grazing for the beef program. Current annual farm operations include an average of 700 cattle, spring calving, 170 wild horses, and over 500 acres of alfalfa, corn, oats and other crops.

In 1985, “A” Dorm was built, housing 40 inmates, at a cost of $425,000. Three other dorms were built in the following years, along with new food service facilities, vocational education shop and a multipurpose administration building. Now here is the part I really love. In 1988, The Wyoming Honor Farm partnered with the Bureau of Land Management to begin training wild horses.  3500 wild horses have been adopted from the Honor Farm since 1988, and over 950 inmates have worked in the program, with an average of 175 horses on-site each day. The co-operative agreement between the Wyoming Honor Farm and the Bureau of Land Management is one of the longest running Prison partnerships in the United States.

In the 85 years since its beginning, the Wyoming Honor Farm facility has expanded to fill an important position in the Fremont County community, and overall Wyoming Department of Corrections vision, providing offenders opportunities to become law-abiding citizens, and successfully return to society as neighbors.  Through upgrades and physical expansions, the Honor Farm has grown into a prison containing four dorms, having a facility capacity that has grown from 30 inmates in the earliest years, to 279 inmates in 2014. The facilities now include a warehouse, as well as programming, vocational, recreational, and educational space, to meet the goal of reducing recidivism through cognitive and behavioral intervention.

 The Inmates packing sand during a flood

The Wyoming Honor Farm's Wild Horse Program, which began in early 1988, plays an important role in inmate rehabilitation because it provides an opportunity for inmates to learn how to respect animals and people through day-to-day challenges. Respect is a life skill that many inmates need help developing while incarcerated. Inmates in the Wild Horse Program work together as a team and, through this team, they learn to respect the opinions and goals of others. Inmates working with horses learn that through respect and patience even a wild animal will respond in a positive manner.

The Wyoming Honor Farm's Wild Horse Program has adopted a training program which staff members feel is both beneficial to the horses here and to the inmate trainers who work with the wild horses. The horses progress from round pen work, to halter work, then into the saddling and rider acceptance process. This ensures that the horses are not saddled or ridden before the necessary ground work has been completed. Clinton Anderson's training series is used as our main horse training system. Also included in the program are techniques similar to those used by Buck Breneman, Monty Roberts, Ray Hunt, Bryan Newbert and John Lyons which have proven to be very successful.

When an Honor Farm inmate is assigned a job in the Wild Horse Program he begins work on the feed crew. His job is to feed the animals. During the day he will spend much of his time helping others work with the horses.
This gives the inmate an opportunity to observe training techniques as well as become familiar with the animals. When the supervisor feels that the inmate is ready to progress to handling and gentling he will talk to the inmate and start the training process.

Inmates With Wild Horses 

The horses start getting desensitized from the beginning through the feeding and pen cleaning process. They also are moved from pen to pen, or worked in the large arena until they can handle some pressure. This is done either by horseback or from the ground. The horses will also get exposed to contact through the chute when being doctored, vaccinated, or identification tags being checked. The horses then are sorted into pens according to age, sex, or training progression. Once it is determined the horse is ready to handle it, they will then start getting sorted out individually during the day, and go through lots of round pen work before being progressed into the halter starting process.

Once a horse has moved on into the halter stage, it is progressed and advanced to more refined halter training. Attention is concentrated on getting the horse’s feet handled and the horse willingly going into the horse trailer. It will then be progressed to saddle acceptance, and slowly with baby steps, be transitioned into rider acceptance. The main focus for the horses is having a solid foundation created by lots of groundwork.

The Honor Farm has 2 adoptions on site each year, (one in the spring, and one in the fall), and a few other satellite adoptions around the state in coordination with other BLM events. Horses are adopted using a competitive bid process, where the highest bidder gets the horse. Bidding starts at $125.00 per horse. The horses are still property of the BLM for one year. After the year is up, the adopter gets a vet or brand inspector to sign an application to verify the animal is healthy, and then the adopter gets clear title for the horse. 

The inmates in this program have to learn to communicate and cooperate with each other to make everything work. Just like the horses, inmates have to establish relationships, and maintain them with positive or negative communication. The main focus is more on the positive side and stresses that this is not just horse training, it’s life. If the inmates can apply the lessons learned by working with the horses and each other, they have a much better chance of becoming productive citizens when they get out. A strong, positive, work ethic is something the Wyoming Honor Farm really tries to instill in the inmates.

A strong belief is that the horses will not lie to you or for you. So it stands to reason, the horse holds the inmate accountable. If one does not gain the trust of the horse, they will not progress. If one try’s to lie, cheat, or sneak with the horse, it will not tolerate it, and the truth will come out. Inmates also get to help take care of something that responds back to them. If you treat the horse and coworkers with dignity and respect, the rewards can be life changing.
It’s easy to see it as a win-win situation. In cooperation with the BLM which helps remove horses from the range, the public gets to have access to horses that have been gentled in the training program. The lives of the horses are saved and the lives of the inmates are changed forever through this innovative and wonderful program.

Riverton Honor Farm And Rescue Horses

Naturally, I have to use this exciting research in my 1958 era WIP about Kit Wilding and June Wingate.


June believed Kit loved her…until she married him

June Wingate has just married the man of her dreams only to overhear a conversation at her reception regarding the truth about why he married her. Her heart and trust are broken.
The newly elected mayor of Hazard, Kit Wilding, needs a wife because the town demands that their mayor be a married man. He trusts June, but now that they’re married, his wife seems distant and secretive.  Kit is not the kind of man to give up easily.

(Unedited Opening Lines):

A loud slap echoed through the mayor’s house. June’s hand stung as she placed it back in the pocket of her dressing gown, part of her vast trousseau paid for by her parents.

Kit stepped back and rubbed his reddened cheek with his left hand. June couldn’t help but notice the flash of his golden wedding band in the light of the dressing room. Her heart clenched at the sight of it. They’d been married only a few hours and now this…

“What the hell was that for, June? Did I do something wrong by trying to kiss my wife?”

“You bet you did. I thought you loved me and now…” She wasn’t quite sure how to say it to him now that she knew the truth. Honestly, she could barely believe what she had overheard at their wedding reception. How could she explain to him what she heard and express the doubts she had about his love because of it? Well, best to find a way because it seemed quite evident to her that he wasn’t about to leave her be until she did.

“You’d best tell me what this is all about, June, or I’m going to think you married me just to spite your parents and now you have second thoughts.”

“Oh, I have second thoughts all right, Kit Wilding, but it has nothing to do with my parents. It seems you married me just so you would have my family’s statue in the town to help you get elected mayor. I never would have thought you could do such an underhanded thing, Kit, not in a million years.”

“And you came by this amazing and supposed truth in what way?” Kit turned to walk back into the bedroom, and then he sat on the bed and faced June, his face a stoic mask.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:
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  1. Wonderful post about the honor farm. It seems like it has the makings of a successful rehabilitation pathway. Thank you for sharing.

    I also love the excerpt of your work in progress. I look forward to reading it. Best wishes.

    1. I know this prison is suitable for everyone, but for those who commit nonviolent, one time crimes, I think it's a good place to learn empathy and skills to change the lives of the men and the horses.
      Thank you for the compliment about my excerpt, Robyn. I really appreciate that you came over and read my blog.

    2. It's Only Make Believe sounds wonderful, and I will want to read that one.
      I've not heard about the honor farm...but it seems like a wonderful thing. I would love to see more prisoners placed in a situation in which they could be rehabilitated and become more educated.
      Thanks for the wonderful post--I can always count on you to create something wonderful.

    3. Celia, I accidently found the honor farm when I researched prisons in Wyoming. What a lucky find.
      I agree that it would be nice to have more prison situations where nonviolent, first time offenders can be helped to find a productive life and develop empathy through the rehabilitation of rescue horses. I love it when I see something that is so hopeful and positive.
      Thank you so much for coming, Celia, and for giving me some positive and encouraging words.

  2. Thank you, Sarah. I'm sure the prison farm rehabilitates many of the inmates so they can lead productive lives when released.

    1. It must be better working with horses or gardening than being in a regular prison with only an hour or two to spend in an enclosed prison yard with nothing productive to do.
      Animals can be such a comfort to human beings and gladden the hearts of those who care for them.
      Thank you so much for coming, Caroline.

  3. Excellent post. I'd not heard about this prison farm. Wonderful program. Love what I read of your book

    1. Linda, you are so kind. Thank you for your comment about my WIP excerpt.
      I'm really kind of glad you never heard of this prison so I could put something out on the blog that's new and fresh.
      I really do appreciate your comments and for coming to visit my blog.

  4. Terrific post, Sarah! I am in awe of the Honor Farm, especially the wild horse program. It sounds as if it save both inmates and horses, starting them on a path to success. Thank you for telling us about this amazing place. Wyoming must be a great place to live. Well, except in the winter. :)

    1. Lyn, I was impressed by this horse-man save when I came across it during my research. I felt uplifted by this positive program to help both men and horses rehabilitate into a better, successful future.
      Although I live in North Carolina, I did visit Wyoming on a vacation with my friends back when I lived in Omaha, Nebraska. It was such a beautiful place, I had to use it for my Wilding series. I definitely would not want to live there in the winter. After a year of living in Nebraska I knew I needed a warmer climate. LOL
      Thank you so much for visiting my article, Lyn, and for leaving such a lovely comment.


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