One of the essential elements of success at New England’s premier horse shelter is its robust volunteer program. According to management of the shelter, “It simply wouldn’t be possible to provide the necessary level of care and service to the horses without support from the MSSPA’s wonderful volunteers. Some work with us at fundraising events, some assist with administrative tasks, and some work in the barns nearly every single day.” Of those who regularly help with barn chores are a special group of volunteers from the Southern Maine Women’s Re-entry Center, which is located nearby the horse shelter on River Road in Windham. Incarcerated women, nearing the end of their confinement and meeting other conditions set by the Maine Department of Corrections, are eligible to apply as volunteers at the MSSPA.
The collaboration between the Maine Correctional Center and the Society isn’t entirely unprecedented; however its current iteration using women exclusively has been mutually beneficial to the horses in care and to the women themselves. Several decades ago, male inmates from the MCC were similarly engaged with working at the MSSPA; however the program was discontinued when it ran out of funds more than 20 years ago. Nearly two years ago, when the SMWRC closed in York County and moved to its new location in Windham, officials from the Society and the Department of Corrections entered into an agreement to have the incarcerated women, on a voluntary basis, work at the farm and with the horses. It is a part of their preparation to rejoin society outside of prison, a “giving back” that engenders positive feelings of self-worth.
The project has been extremely successful, with as many as eight women from SMWRC working at the MSSPA farm shelter each day. The women must apply to the program, undergo an interview process, commit to a work schedule each month, and stick to the schedule to earn two days of good time for each month of volunteer work. In addition, the women have the experience of being with other community volunteers, working at the shelter out of a sense of caring and community spirit. They enjoy lunch at the shelter, which they prepare for themselves as they will when released from incarceration. According to the volunteer inmates, the best part of the program is getting to know and work around the horses.
On Tuesday, March 26, members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, along with the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections and the Warden of the Maine Correctional Center, visited the horse shelter. There the group had the opportunity to observe the project in action, including a grooming session for two of the rescued horses by women from SMWRC. They also toured the licensed shelter and discussed the process of investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty cases in Maine.
Pictured (from the left): Scott Landry, Warden, Maine Correctional Center; Rep. Richard Pickett; Gary Laplante, MDOC Director of Operations; Jane Orbiton, Committee Clerk; Senator Susan Deschambault; Rep. Danny Costaine; Rep. Patrick Corey; Meris J. Bickford, CEO of MSSPA; Rep. Chris Johansen; Rep. Janice Cooper; and Randal Liberty, Commissioner, Maine Department of Corrections