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Op-Ed: Hiring Stable Employees With a ‘Troubled Past’

Devin Morrissey explores the subject of hiring individuals with a criminal history, making a case for thinking outside of the box. From horse-based prison programs to recovering addicts, Morrissey touts the benefits that may be possible.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When you own a stable, it’s important to make sure the people working for you are dependable, trustworthy, and honest. You always want to ensure the safety of your other employees as well as your horses. With that in mind, it’s also okay (and even a good idea) to think outside the box when hiring new employees. Many diverse backgrounds coming together to work at a stable can be beneficial for your business, but it’s potentially even more beneficial for the people you hire.

People with a criminal history or past addiction need jobs just as much as anyone else. Unfortunately, these individuals disproportionately find themselves out of work because of their past, as the current unemployment rate of formerly incarcerated people is over 27 percent. While it’s understandable to be a little nervous about hiring someone with a troubled past, you should also understand how beneficial it can be — in more ways than one.

Prison Rehabilitation Programs Are Creating Stablehands

You read that right — certain prison training programs are giving prisoners the skills needed to become an invaluable asset in your stable. These programs give inmates the opportunity to work with horses as a means of rehabilitating themselves. They’ve given these individuals the natural mental benefits of working with horses while equipping them with the know-how to care for these animals in a compassionate and efficient manner.

Some notable examples of these programs include:

  • At the Silver State Industries ranch in Carson City, Nevada, the Wild Horse Program allows just over a dozen inmates from the Northern Nevada Correctional Center to get to work gentling wild horses. There are up to 2,000 of these animals corralled there at any given time. Those facilitating the program have stated that those who participate become prideful of their work in the program and feel motivated to achieve further success.
  • In Richmond, Virginia, Second Chances is a program that collaborates with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to help prisoners and retired race horses alike. In the program, 50 prisoners at the James River Correctional Center are tasked with helping save former race horses from potential abuse or slaughter. The board president of this chapter, Anne Tucker, stated that, ““The inmates come in and work with the horses and start to think, ‘I’m not all bad. Maybe I’m not totally useless.’” In addition to learning useful skills, they learn to develop a sense of community.
  • In Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley along the U.S.-Mexico border, newly-gentled horses have been put to use helping border patrol agents detect and track migrants illegally crossing the border. Many of these horses come from Florence State Prison in Florence, Arizona, where inmates prepare horses for adoption by caring for them and teaching them to avoid displaying aggression, particularly when sudden movement or noises startle them.

These skills are yet another reason for hiring individuals with troubled pasts into your stables. If you receive any applications from someone who has had the opportunity to participate in a program like those listed above, you may find their skills to be a true asset to your business.

Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Redemption

Many times, ex-offenders can become highly motivated employees. Many are simply looking for a second chance, and there aren’t many people willing to give them one. As a result, those individuals may be more likely to be loyal to their employer and take their work seriously. There are many individuals with a criminal past who are genuinely good, honest, hardworking people.

One example is Dion Drew, who has become a sort of ambassador for open-hiring policies in different industries. Drew got out of prison in 2008 for dealing drugs and is now a supervisor making $25 an hour at Greyston bakery in New York. Drew was the subject of a Ted Talk about hiring “unemployable people.” In the interview, Drew exclaimed “I can’t really explain the things Greyston has done for me. They changed my life. If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be in the streets. I’d be dead.”

Former addicts can benefit from being hired as well. It’s easy to assume that if someone was once an addict, they’ll always be one, but an addict has an even greater chance of a full recovery if they feel they have a purpose. A steady job can keep them focused on their journey.

Offering someone with a difficult past a job in a stable helps them to pay the bills, take care of themselves and their family, and again, give them a sense of purpose. That purpose is exactly what can keep them from relapsing. Working in an environment with others can also help them to develop positive social relationships, which is another important dimension of recovery.

As a caveat, it’s important to take steps to guide your employees and protect your business. A good way to do this is to create an employee handbook. Regardless of the backgrounds of those you hire, it is prudent to give an employee handbook to each new hire. Outlining each employee’s expectations can help them acclimate to your stable as a workplace and better perform their duties. Further, doing so can limit your liability in case any unacceptable employee conduct occurs.

Equine Therapy and How It Can Help

Starting an equine therapy business isn’t always easy. There are a lot of legal considerations to think about, including business licensing, certifications, and deciding whether you’ll run as a non-profit or for-profit organization.

But there are many benefits to an equine therapy business — the biggest one being that you can help a lot of different people thanks to the therapeutic value of horses. They respond to feeling, and they teach people how to trust. A study from 2016 discovered that children with autism who took part in equine therapy became less irritable and hyperactive. They also tended to speak more and show a variety of other improvements. Veterans can also find help thanks to equine therapy. In 2017, PATH International served 6,724 veterans across the country to help them deal with issues like PTSD and returning to civilian life.

Ex-criminals and former addicts are strong candidates for working at your stables, especially if you’re considering equine therapy. Not only will they benefit from working with the horses each day, but they can end up helping others who might be struggling with mental health issues, addiction, and more, especially when considering that even the most damaging of drugs can be treated through means including equine therapy. It is even used to help those recovering from heroin addiction. Giving ex-offenders a job in this field can really allow someone with a past to come full circle, and they may even end up “giving back” to others simply because you took a chance on them.

Avoid Hiring Toxic People

While it’s important to hire people with diverse backgrounds, that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore certain warning signs or red flags. Sometimes, even clean-cut individuals with perfect records and a shining resume can end up being the worst employees for your business.

So, how can you avoid hiring toxic people in your stables? First, understand that talent isn’t always the most important thing. Look at a person’s character. Even a person with a troubled past can have an incredibly strong character, while someone with a “perfect” past could be disloyal or dishonest.

It also doesn’t hurt to get to know the person you’re considering hiring and hear other people’s opinions of them. If you’re on the fence about hiring someone new, introduce them to the rest of your employees. Then, ask your team privately what they think. You’ll be able to get a lot of input, which will make it easier to see how well that person would fit in.

Breaking Free From Stigmas to Hire the Right People

When it comes to hiring the right people in your stables, one of the best things you can do is to go with your gut.

You know how your stables run, and you know the plans you have to grow your business and the type of people needed to make it successful. When you keep that in mind, the hiring process doesn’t have to be a complicated one.

So, keep an open mind when it comes to hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Someone with a troubled past could end up being the best employee you’ve ever had, and you can take pride in knowing you may have opened a door to give that person a second chance at a better life.

Devin Morrissey dreams of writing abroad, but he’s settling for writing on the road.  You can find him on Twitter or across the Pacific Northwest, but tweeting him is probably easier. ​

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