‘They’re a lot like us’: Pro­gram pairs in­mates, wild horses

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Rich Pe­dron­celli As­so­ci­ated Press writer Don Thomp­son in Sacra­mento con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Jail in­mates and wild horses are help­ing each other learn to adapt through a Cal­i­for­nia pro­gram aimed at pre­par­ing both for so­ci­ety.

In­mates at Rio Co­sumnes Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in ru­ral Elk Grove spend 40 hours a week train­ing mus­tangs that fed­eral land man­agers gather from over­pop­u­lated ar­eas in 10 Western states.

The train­ing pro­gram south of Sacra­mento is one of six na­tion­wide, with the oth­ers at the fed­eral level. Sacra­mento County of­fi­cials say theirs is the first within a lo­cal cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity.

The in­mates see them­selves in the horses as they both learn valu­able lessons and skills.

“They’re a lot like us,” said Christo­pher Robert Cul­casi, 40, who is serv­ing a two-year sen­tence for auto theft. “You take them from the wild, you herd them up, throw them in hold­ing facil- ities, take them away from what they know — ev­ery­thing they know — and then ask them to com­ply. You know, that’s a lot of what we’re go­ing through here.”

Ja­son MacDon­ald, 49, said he has been in pri­son or jail for much of his life, in­clud­ing his cur­rent three­year stint for bur­glary.

“I did some­thing wrong to go to jail. He didn’t do noth­ing wrong, you know?” he said of his horse. “So I’ve got a com­pas­sion for him right off the bat be­cause I feel like he’s in jail wrongly ac­cused, you know, and it’s my job to get him out of jail, to get him a sad­dle and go.”

Five sad­dle-trained horses will be auc­tioned off Dec. 10 by the Sacra­mento County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment pro­gram that be­gan in 2014.

In­mates vol­un­teer and must be ap­proved by a cor­rec­tional panel be­fore they can work with the horses out­side the barbed­wire fences that sur­round the jail. They spend four months tam­ing and train­ing the horses. They also built and main­tain the hold­ing pens and care for the pas­tures where the horses graze.

About 15 per­cent of in­mates who par­tic­i­pate in sim­i­lar pro­grams at fed­eral prisons com­mit new crimes, far below the na­tional re­cidi­vism rate in which about two-thirds of con­victs are soon back be­hind bars, of­fi­cials said.

“They’re put in a sit­u­a­tion where they have to learn lead­er­ship skills and they learn about them­selves and their anger man­age­ment and their pa­tience,” ranch man­ager Joe Mis­ner said. “It changes their thought process on how to han­dle sit­u­a­tions that hap­pen in their lives.”

“You take them from the wild, you herd them up, throw them in hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties, take them away from what they know — ev­ery­thing they know — and then ask them to com­ply. You know, that’s a lot of what we’re go­ing through here.” — Christo­pher Robert Cul­cas, mem­ber of Sacra­mento train­ing pro­gram

Re­tired Sacra­mento County Sher­iff Thomas Neri keeps an eye on in­mates work­ing at the Wild Horse Pro­gram run at the Sacra­mento County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment’s Rio Co­sumnes Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Elk Grove on Nov. 2.

PHO­TOS BY RICH PE­DRON­CELLI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­mate Chris Cul­casi spends a few mo­ments with Ze­phyr, at the end of a train­ing day at Wild Horse Pro­gram run at the Sacra­mento County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment’s Rio Co­sumnes Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Elk Grove on Sept. 9. In­mates spend 40 hours a week train­ing mus­tangs pro­vided by the fed­eral Bureau of Land Man­age­ment.

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