My second-favorite story about growing up next to a state penitentiary is a kind of rural-route legend in which one of the good ol' boys that lives at the end of my road apprehended an escapee. The prisoner in question had hopped the fence then realized he had nowhere to go. My neighbor was driving down Lee Road in his pickup, saw the fella sitting on the side of the road and pulled over.
"You know they're looking for you, right?"
"Yeah, I know."
My neighbor kicked open the passenger side door. "Well, get in, I'll take you on back."
My first-favorite part of growing up next to a prison is that the facility is home to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's James River program, which provides inmates an opportunity to learn how to take care of thoroughbreds—possibly helping them get a job on the other side. The Washington Post did a fantastic segment on James River today:
I'm a huge fan of this program not just because my old hunting horse Shelby was one of the first equine guinea pigs. (She was deeply suspect of the cows, but liked the inmates fine.) It's an awesome program that has turned out some first-rate horsemen, some of whom I have been proud to work with.
Not only does the program help people—no small thing, given how difficult the criminal justice system makes it for ex-cons to get jobs—it also helps horses. One of my biggest beefs with the thoroughbred racing industry is not that the animals are mistreated (most of them live better than the people that care for them) but that the business breeds too goddamn many cheap horses. What that means in practical terms is that there are a lot of horses that don't have any value as a breeding prospect after they are through racing, and can end up in the slaughter pen. The TRF rescues and rehomes as many of them as it can.
So if you're looking for an awesome cause that you can feel good about, this local branch of the TRF—based in Goochland County, Virginia—is a great one to consider helping out. Or, ya know, if you're in the market for a pony...