Lexington is home to a unique and widely unknown program that is the fruit of a partnership between the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the Kentucky Department of Corrections. Blackburn Correctional Complex, home to roughly 600 gentleman serving a range of sentences for past transgressions, is an educational institution that readies its occupants with workplace skills in a variety of occupations. Through the direction and mentorship of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Blackburn became the home of Second Chances Farm in 1999. Shortly before the first TRF horses arrived, an old dairy barn was converted to accommodate them. Today, it is one of the largest Second Chances farms, with about 50 horses living out their retirement years on 100 acres of prime Kentucky bluegrass at the state’s largest minimum security prison. Just as has happened at the other farms at correctional facilities, the inmates and the horses at Blackburn have become close friends.
The TRF Second Chance’s Farm is a pioneering program where inmates care for retired racehorses, giving them the daily care and attention they so deserve. Although it started as a way to provide two populations with basic needs, it wasn’t long before other benefits of the program were realized; inmates also gained confidence and a sense of empathy. In contrast, Blackburn’s main mission is to provide an avenue for residents to gain vocational training and skills that will help them become employable and productive citizens when they return to the workforce. In spite of all the hard work from both entities, it was found that there was a major hole in the pathway to success for these gentleman; the lack of employer engagement. The overall goal is to see these gentleman become gainfully employed in the equine industry before their release, and until recently there had been no specific trajectory to get there. Through the help of engaged employers, the Employer Engagement Program was born at Blackburn in conjunction with the TRF Second Chances Farm.
The program consists of two parts and assists the gentlemen from their entrance into the Second Chance’s Program through their gainful employment upon release (and beyond in many cases). Individuals are enrolled in the employability course while still at Blackburn and are engaged in a curriculum that assists with resume and cover letter building, introduces proper interview skills and teaches how and where to find available employment. The gentlemen have access to mock interview sessions with employers as well as the expertise of industry professionals. Once they have completed both the employability and Second Chances programs, and are nearing release, the team of TRF, Blackburn and Talent Pipeline individuals help to facilitate employer connections and job opportunities. It is then the goal of the team to help facilitate the gentlemen’s hire and transition into their new position upon release. Needs for support are also monitored and may range from transportation and housing to clothing and financial education. Each individual has their own strengths and challenges, as do employers, and the team is dedicated to helping break down barriers regardless of the cause.