Every morning, Luis Carrasquillo goes to a barn where he feeds and waters thoroughbreds, cleans their stalls and brushes them down. At day's end, he returns to his cell at Wallkill Correctional Facility.
Carrasquillo and 10 other inmates at the medium-security state prison in Upstate New York's Ulster County are part of a program in which they care for old, sometimes broken-down race horses that might otherwise be put to death.
"The inmates are learning valuable skills," said Deputy Supt. Leonard Portuondo. "There are jobs available out there (at horse farms)."
Portuondo said one Wallkill inmate, who is scheduled for parole soon and is taking part in the voluntary program, will be given a job at a horse farm in Westbrook, Conn.
Group Pays Bills
The program was begun last year by a group of horse owners and animal lovers concerned about the fate of old thoroughbreds. The group formed Thoroughbred Retirement Fund Inc., which pays the bills for feeding and care of the horses, stages fund-raisers and collects private donations.
The prison administers the program, and inmates learn grooming skills aimed at helping them find jobs when they are released. All applicants must be low-security risks because the farm is outside the main prison building.
"I feed the horses, clean their stalls and make sure they have water," Carrasquillo said as he walked a horse at the barn on prison grounds.
"I like horses and would like to find a nice job taking care of horses," added Carrasquillo, who is serving 4 1/2 to 9 years for selling drugs.
Portuondo said the inmates seem to develop a more positive attitude about themselves by taking care of the animals.
"They're enthusiastic. Just being outside and being responsible for the care of the horses changes their attitudes," he said.
While inmates learn job skills, they are also providing a service to the horses. Many of the thoroughbreds have medical problems that ended their racing careers. In many cases, the horses' owners could no longer afford to care for the animals but did not want to see them put away.
"A lot of the horses would be dog food if it wasn't for the program," said Jim Tremper, a prison instructor who supervises the inmates and who has worked with horses for 16 years.
Can Barely Walk
Tremper said some of the animals sent to the farm can barely walk. Others have arthritis, abscesses, broken bones or are just underfed.
"They (the inmates) fatten them up, take care of them and get them looking good," he said.
To get a horse placed in the program, an owner must write to the foundation's acceptance committee. The horse must be a thoroughbred, have a racing record and be free of communicable diseases. Owners must also agree to sign over the horse to the foundation, but can visit the horse whenever they like.
"Some of the owners are still very attached to them," Tremper said.