By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Boro residents part of horse-rescue prison program
1231 Prison Horse RehaWeb
Brandy Owen speaks to Sadie as she feeds her away from the five other horses that are also part of a special prison horse-rescue program Dec. 16, 2008, in Hawkinsville, Ga. Sadie is a 12-year-old Appaloosa mare who is blind in her left eye. - photo by Associated Press
    CARTERSVILLE, Ga.  — Sadie kept to herself after she came through the gates at Pulaski State Prison. Months of abuse and neglect had taken their toll on the 12-year-old Appaloosa mare who is blind in her left eye.
    She seemed doomed until she met Brandy Owen.
    The 29-year-old from Statesboro spent weeks gaining the trust of the fragile horse that was rescued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and brought to the prison for rehabilitation.
    ‘‘She was real hard to get close to,’’ said Owen, who is six years into her sentence for aggravated assault. ‘‘She didn’t trust anyone, and it took weeks of trying every day to feed her by hand just to get a little touch.’’
    Now Sadie follows Owen’s lead around the grounds of the prison that has become their temporary home. They both have changed.
    ‘‘I can’t even describe how it feels,’’ said Owen, who admits she’s a little shy herself. ‘‘What I’ve done for her she’s done for me too. She’s given me confidence in my ability to work with all of them.’’
    Owen is one of a dozen inmates chosen for Georgia’s first prison horse-rescue farm. The women are learning skills needed to become a certified veterinary technician through Middle Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins.
    Shortly after warden Tom Chapman took over the reins of the prison outside of Hawkinsville three years ago, he started pushing for the project.
    Once Pulaski County ponied up $10,000 for fencing, inmates began the work detail to clear the land.
    ‘‘We spent no taxpayer money on this. No Department of Corrections money has been spent on this project,’’ Chapman said as he drove a golf cart around the corrals.
    The prison entered into an agreement with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to care for the animals.
    The state has only two other equine rescue facilities north of Atlanta while the number of impounded horses has increased this year, said Tommy Irvin, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner.
    As of Dec. 22, the Georgia Department of Agriculture had impounded 255 horses this year compared to 137 in all of 2007.
    ‘‘I think one of the problems we face is with people who got (horses) and didn’t realize what it takes to care for them or they didn’t have the financial means to do so,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘We rescue them and rehabilitate the horses to put them back up for sale.’’
    Money from the sale of horses helps fund their care. Irvin recognizes caring for the animals helps the women too.
    ‘‘It’s good for someone to love and care for them. Horses need attention,’’ said Irvin, who has five horses in his own pasture.
    After months of drought and a lagging economy Chapman expects there will be an increase in impounded horses.
    He hopes to expand his stable of six to up to 100 as he builds more paddocks to house the horses on some of the prison’s 125 acres.
    In the few weeks since the program began in November, the warden has seen big changes in the animals and the women.
    ‘‘When (the horses) first came here they could hardly stand up, and now they’re looking more like healthy animals,’’ he said. ‘‘And the inmates, I’ve seen a positive change in them — the attitude that they’re doing something worthwhile and is actually good. It’s really amazing to watch them interact with the animals and to take care of them.’’
    Jody Poole, who turns 40 right after Christmas, grew up on a farm outside of Athens. She was already working as a vet tech when she was busted for cocaine possession. Now she spends part of her days scooping manure.
    ‘‘I shoveled poop for two solid hours and I loved every minute of it,’’ Poole said while working the field. ‘‘I never dreamed this could happen to me in prison. This is a huge blessing.’’
    Poole feels like she’s back home in the pasture where she belongs.
    The women spend six hours each weekday in the fields with the horses. A two-person crew comes out for a few hours on the weekends, Chapman said. They care for the animals from head to hoof.
    Lora Graham of Statesboro watched as the emaciated animals first arrived with their ribs exposed.   She’s seen the fear in their eyes give way to trust as the horses are on the way to becoming healthy and whole.
    ‘‘It’s the same for us because you can come to prison and it’s going to be what you make out of it,’’ said Graham, 44. ‘‘It’s not the prison system that’s going to save you, it’s yourself. And if you want change every opportunity is here.’’
    Graham values the privilege she has to interact with the animals.
    ‘‘We know it’s still prison but when you come out here and you get with these animals that’s all you think about,’’ Graham said. ‘‘It’s a special thing to be out here and be around the girls that they’ve chosen for us to work with. It’s awesome.’’
    Department of Corrections worker Teresa Caruthers oversees the detail. ‘‘I love it. It’s exciting,’’ said Caruthers who has four horses of her own in Hawkinsville. ‘‘It makes me feel good knowing that (the horses) did have another chance and the women will learn something that maybe when they get out they’ll want to carry it a little further.’’
    Melinda Studstill, 44, of Rabun County had been chomping at the bit since she heard about the program.
    ‘‘I have two horses of my own at home and I miss them very much,’’ said Studstill. ‘‘To be able to come out here and just nurture these horses has been just a healing process for me as well as for them.’’
    After losing her teenage daughter in a car accident, Studstill said she turned to drugs.
    Now she’s looking forward to leaving prison and possibly starting her own equine-rescue operation.
    ‘‘It does change your attitude to be able to come out here and be a part of a program to help the horses,’’ Studstill said. ‘‘And not only that, to show the community that we can — even though we’re in our situation — there’s things that we can do to help also.’’
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter