Good Works

See incredible photos of a jail where inmates and abandoned animals find a second chance.

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Mike Smith was out of jail for 10 days when he blacked out while drinking and was arrested alongside a busy street in Key West.

When he sobered up, he was back in jail. By his own admission, he was not surprised to be there. The blacking out had happened before.

“I’m done,” Smith told himself. “If I don’t stop, I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison.”

He has no recollection of being arrested, half a block off Duval Street.

This time, Smith knew he would have to do a small stint before he could get a spot in a substance abuse program.

In the interim, he signed up to be a trustee at the jail, working on a farm that for the last two decades has become a corner of Monroe County where abandoned, abused, confiscated, and donated animals from around the country have found refuge behind razor wire.

It’s a place where a miniature horse named Bam Bam grazes his days away on a pasture as men in orange jumpsuits muck stalls and make sure water dishes are brimming.

Snowflake the alpaca is shown here as inmate Michael Smith visits with Arabella at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm. All photos by Kim Raff, used with permission.jailzoo1-d980dc8903120f2a793d9eb263fcf8d1

Inmate Orlando Gonzalez shows Boots the alligator to visitors during an open house day.

Curator Jeanne Selander holds Mo the sloth, the most well known animal at the farm.

Smith was amazed on his first day at the farm at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Stock Island Detention Center.

“I figured it’d be just a couple of pigs, maybe,” he said. “I didn’t know there was gonna be snakes and lizards and alligators and everything else.”
21 years ago, out on the busy road that runs alongside the jail, a flock of ducks was losing its battle with traffic. In response to their dwindling numbers, a fence was erected, a pond put in, and a few picnic tables where the guards took breaks. But the sanctuary didn’t stay small for long. And as word spread through the “coconut telegraph” — the unofficial gossip tree that spans the Florida Keys — the jail’s animal population began to increase and diversify. There was a lot of need, and it turned out the jail was beginning to look like the place to fill it.

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About Barry G. Morris

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