Taming the wild ones

In a wide field hedged in by high fences topped with razor wire, Johnny Stankovic, dressed entirely in orange, stands almost motionless in the climbing morning heat. From his hand, a synthetic rope sags to the sun-bleached grass and then up again to the head of a young roan colt. The colt dips its head to tear at the sod but keeps a wary eye on Stankovic.

“He’s not used to people yet,” Stankovic says evenly. “He’s a new one. Gotta take it slow. They’ve only run from people before coming here.”

Stankovic is one of 40 to 45 inmates chosen to work in the Wild Horse Inmate Program at the Arizona State Penitentiary in Florence, Arizona. Randy Helm, a former undercover narcotics agent and experienced rancher, runs the program within the prison walls. He helped to found the program in 2013, which couples new skills training with a for-profit venture.

Helm says the monetary profits are minuscule — barely enough to keep the program afloat, in fact, but the sociological results are tremendous. While the program does not profess a “rehabilitative” aspect, prisoners involved in the program show a substantially lower recidivism rate, Helm says. Prisoners who are interested in the program can apply, just like all the other jobs in prison; they are chosen for various reasons including good behavior, prior animal experience, and general interest in the work.

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
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