By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans

THIS Florida prison has a furry little secret - a zoo full of alpacas, birds, alligators, a lemur and even a sloth

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Videographer / director: Quincy Perkins
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Thom Johnson

The farm, at Stock Island Detention Centre in Key West, was founded by accident in 1994 when the prison fenced off an area underneath to protect a gaggle of ducks that kept getting injured while crossing the road between the jail and a golf course.

Now the prison is home to over 150 animals, ranging from the original ducks and farm animals to alligators and a ten foot python.

Jeanne Selander, who manages the farm, takes four volunteers from the prison to help care for the animals and maintain the farm.

She said: “They are not required or forced to work on the farm. And that’s because we have animals here and if they don’t love the animals and working with the animals, they are not going to do well.

“Most other jobs in the jail, if you request to work and they put you in laundry, you don’t get to decide I don’t like doing laundry. You do laundry.”

And Jeanne admits that working with prison inmates does have its trickier moments.

She said: “I have had a couple of close calls or bad experiences with inmates. A lot of times they just get mad at each other and start fighting.

“So, I call for back-up and the deputy has come down. For the most part, having been here 12 years, I get really good inmates.”

The applications for working on the farm are fiercely competitive, as Jeanne only accepts inmates who truly care about the animals they’re looking after.

Lawrence, who is serving a two year sentence for battery and bodily harm, says the experience might help him get work with animals in the future.

He said: “It takes my mind off of being in jail. I was pretty stroked when I found out I got the job, I know I’m a hard worker. I like animals and I like to be outside rather than upstairs in jail.

“Animals are therapeutic, it’s just nice to get away from all the drama upstairs and stress, come down here and just take care of the animals.

“I have a day off Friday, but I don’t take it, I just come down anyway.”

Patrick, who is awaiting sentencing for a charge of burglary and stolen property, said: “Everybody wants to come down here but, y’know, a lot of people just want to come down just to be outside or just to take advantage of the benefits, but there is a lot of work involved.

“I grew up with snakes , so I’m a big fan of all the reptiles. There’s one turtle over there that I’ve really kinda connected with. His back legs are hurt, so he’s gotta be separated from all the other ones, but I take him out all the time and let him do his thing.”

“You would never think that there is a 2000 pound bull underneath a jail, a Tegu, the 10 foot Burmese python, just some stuff that you’re kinda like, ‘Wow’.”

While the farm regularly works with prison volunteers, it does not take on volunteers who have been convicted of violent or high profile crimes.

Jeanne said: “The biggest apprehension I had was working with inmates because I had never even been to a jail before, so I was told that they would train me and teach me how to work with the inmates.

“At first I was definitely a little intimidated about working with inmates. I’m down here by myself. I’m the only employee but I do have a radio and we have security cameras watching me at all times, so if I have a problem and I call for backup every deputy in the jail descends upon the farm to help me.”

“When an inmate comes upon their release date I have mixed feelings. First of all, if they are really good worker I hate to see them go, however, I build a relationship with them and I really wish the best for them when they get on the outside.”

The inmates work hands-on with all of the farm’s animals and help Jeanne build new enclosures and paddocks for the ever growing zoo.

Patrick added: “I’ve always worked my whole life, so being able to stay active, I mean, I wasn’t living the best lifestyle out there so it’s kinda of bringing me back to my element.

“Y’know, helping me to be a better person. I’m trying to change.”

When Selander started at the farm, there were just 20 animals but now they care for over 150 . They also host open days for local families to come and meet the inmates and the animals.

After struggling to find a job that held her interest, Jeanne says she loves the job because she is always learning.

Selander added: “I think this program is great for the inmates, I think the love that the animals give them, the unconditional love, some of them have never experienced that before.

“The animals don’t judge, they don’t care that you are wearing an orange outfit, they just know that you are the person that loves them and cares for them, so I think the inmates and the animals benefit from the love.”