South Florida

Unique Animal Farm Located at MCSO Stock Island Detention Center

An animal farm on Stock Island in Key West has a very uncommon set of caretakers.

From a pig named Wilbur to an alpaca named Snowflake, those are just some of the welcoming faces you'll see at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Children's Animal Farm.

But this isn't your every day petting zoo. In true Key West style, there is something a little different. The animals are taken care of by inmates.

"It is very unique to actually be in jail and at the same time be out in the open, in the air, enjoying. So it's kinda like a positive alternative to a negative consequence," said Seth Beckman, inmate.

"This is a unique, unusual situation at the jail and it's really the only one in the country that has a petting zoo," said Jeanne Selander, animal farm supervisor.

The sprawling farm is located underneath the Stock Island Detention Center which is elevated 11-feet above the ground to withstand hurricanes.

"We take in animals which have been abandoned, abused, confiscated or donated and we provide a forever home and one of the unique things about this farm is that the inmates actually provide the labor to care for the animals," Selander explained.

All the inmates who volunteer in the program are serving time for non-violent offenses. They leave their cells daily to feed and tend to the animals and even build and improve their enclosures. They say it's a win-win, with benefits for the animals and the inmates.

"You could say it's therapeutic in a way. It's peaceful. It's actually a cool feeling. When a bull runs up to you because he knows you're bringing him food, so it is a pretty cool feeling," said Adam Korzen, inmate.

"I feel free. I feel like I can escape without technically escaping. So it's always a plus to get outdoors, interact with animals," Beckman said.

"Animals give unconditional love and you can really see the changes in the inmates from when they start working on the farm until they leave," Selander said.

The farm started in 1994 with just a few ducks and now it's expanded to over 150 animals.

"We have a ring tailed lemur, we have two kinkajous, we have a sloth named Mo who is our famous animal on the farm," Selander said.

The South Florida SPCA has donated some of the animals. But the cuddly creatures have had some tough lives too, either being abandoned, rescued or confiscated, so they live out their days in these forever homes, a life sentence of sorts.

As for the inmates, they say they are grateful for this time with the wildlife which helps get their minds off being behind bars. Some inmates even want to come back after they've served their time, wearing different clothes of course.

"I'll come down and visit the animals not wearing orange," Korzen said.

"They bring their kids back to the farm which is amazing because who wants to come back to the jail? And I love an open house day where I see inmates come back in regular clothes with their families and they're proud of what they did," Selander said.

Selander wants to keep improving the farm and hopes to inspire more programs like this one, "You don't feel like you're at a jail when you come here. You do see razor wire, you do see a couple of inmates in orange, but they're very respectful."

The animal farm relies completely on donations. If you are interested in checking out the animals, the farm is open to the public every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 1-3 p.m.

For more information, call (305) 293-7300 or click here. The farm is located at 5501 College Road.

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