|Fish and Water Lead to Success for Wyoming Women Inmates|
|By Wyoming Department of Corrections|
The Aquaculture Program at the Wyoming Women's Center in Lusk is an innovative program aimed at providing qualified inmates with valuable work skills they can use when they complete their sentences, thereby becoming productive citizens when they reenter society.
The Aquaculture Program is supervised by Dr. Heidi Atwood, Manager, and Mike Saylor, Assistant Manager. Mr. Saylor joined the Aquaculture Program in September 2008, bringing an extensive background in commercial fish production and fish health. Dr. Atwood joined the program in December 2008, bringing an extensive background in culture and production of fresh- and salt-water aquatic species and teaching of related topics.
The Aquaculture Program offers inmates skills that will help them earn a livable wage upon their release from prison thereby helping them to be successful and much less likely to return to prison. "It is a privilege and a pleasure to work with such hard working and dedicated women. They are thirsty for knowledge and beg for more training. They would work themselves into the ground if we let them. The satisfaction of watching all these women grow into their potential and become the capable people they have the hearts and minds to be, is something I could never have imagined or hoped for. It makes my job incredibly fulfilling," says Dr. Atwood about her experiences with the inmate workers.
Since its inception, the Aquaculture Program has expanded its operations to include, in addition to the original product Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus, the production of Pacific white shrimp, Litopenaeus vannemei. They also grow fathead minnows, Pimphales promelas, as live bait for Wyoming anglers.
During 2009, 42,000 pounds of tilapia were sold in Denver. Over 16,025 pounds of tilapia and 100 pounds of shrimp have been sold so far in 2010. Currently the facility ships every week when there are market sized fish.
The high demand for quality baitfish in Wyoming was motivation to implement production of minnows that are approved for use around the state. The Aquaculture Center has successfully spawned adult minnows and is rearing the offspring for sale toward the end of 2010. The staff is working closely with the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to meet their standards for bait production and distribution.
There are currently nine inmates working in the Aquaculture Program. There have been an additional 26 inmates that have worked in the program since June of 2008. Inmates are trained and tested in key aquaculture operational areas. These areas include feed, inventory, production, nursery, and water quality. Training includes self-study and hands-on learning, and working with trainers in each area. Once certified in all areas inmate workers can choose to work toward becoming a trainer themselves.
Educational opportunities for Aquaculture workers include the Aquaculture Worker Certificate Program through Sheridan College, the Aquaculture Apprenticeship Program offered through the Department of Labor, and the Water/Wastewater Certification Program, with training provided by Wyoming Rural Water. These programs provide a significant opportunity for WWC inmates to earn college credit, document their extensive training and work competencies for future employers, and perhaps become a certified water treatment operator.
At the present time four inmates have fulfilled the requirements for apprenticeship and 16 others have completed the Aquaculture Certificate requirements. Additionally, WWC can now offer inmates working toward water treatment certification the opportunity to accrue training contact hours and to take the certification exam.
Inmates must meet specific criteria to be considered for employment in the Aquaculture facility. They must have a high school diploma or GED, have at least an 8th grade math competency, be disciplinary free, and have an interest in science and working with fish. The work is labor intensive, the work environment is very warm and humid, and the hours are sometimes long. This work is not for everyone and the inmates that stay in the program take great pride in their work and personal achievements. The inmates manage every aspect of food fish production, from sorting and manually loading market fish, to daily water-quality chemistry and record keeping.
Dr. Atwood explains that the pride, self-respect, and confidence the inmate workers acquire after mastering any part of aquaculture and fish farming, is an amazing outcome no one could have predicted. Their newfound self-respect allows them to care about themselves and their future, which many of them had not had the opportunity to experience in their lives. The self-confidence helps them feel they are capable of accomplishing their goals and that they can effect their future in positive ways. Their success with self-respect and self-confidence leads to pride in themselves that is too often exactly the opposite of what they knew and felt about themselves when they were sentenced.
Upon completion of the Aquaculture Program, these women are well on their way toward being productive citizens when they complete their prison sentences.
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