Inmates at Mendocino County Jail build a chicken coop

Fourteen chickens now call the Mendocino County Jail home after inmates spent nearly a week last month building a coop for them on the Ukiah property.|

Fourteen chickens now call the Mendocino County Jail home after inmates spent nearly a week building a coop for them last month on the Ukiah property.

Matt DuBoise, founder of North Carolina-based Carolina Coops, donated $7,000 in supplies and his labor, and worked for five days side by side with inmates to build an 8-by-24-foot coop in the prison yard.

Two groups of five inmates, separated by gender, worked with DuBoise as he taught them how to build the coop, including how to level the ground and cut and create the frame. Nearly all of the work was done by the inmates, he said.

Inmate builders are part of the garden crew, a group who have earned the privilege, through good behavior, to work with a full-time gardener to beautify the grounds, Mendocino County Sheriff Matthew Kendall said.

“I want people to learn what is possible inside these jails, where you have all this land and inmates that barely get outside — why not give them the opportunity to learn to grow?” DuBoise said.

Organized by Santa Rosa-based Unconditional Freedom, a nonprofit providing resources and opportunities to marginalized members of society, the project gives inmates the chance to work with others, learn how to take direction and cultivate a sense of ownership and responsibility, DuBoise said.

It is part of Unconditional Freedom’s Turning Prisons into Monasteries program, which aims to restore jails as a place of contribution and growth.

The chicken coop is just a portion of the programs Unconditional Freedom is helping create at the prison. Before the coop-building project, the nonprofit and jail worked together to implement a gardening program and beekeeping project at the prison.

Now they are working on getting inmates certifications in a variety of fields including agriculture, culinary arts and animal husbandry, according to Marissa Ward, Unconditional Freedom’s program manager.

Kendall said the coop project is exactly the type of project individuals should be working on in custody, because it provides them with skills to integrate back into the working world, as well as giving them a sense of purpose and hope.

Not only does it provide the inmates a purpose, but it also reduces food costs.

Inmates working in the garden at the prison are growing enough food to cut meal costs by $10,000 annually, Kendall said.

The chicken eggs will be collected daily and used to feed the inmates.

“To come outside and to breathe the fresh air, to see stuff grow, to have the opportunity to do a hen house, to do hands on construction — I never had that in my whole life …” an inmate named Josh said in a video documenting the construction of the coop posted on Vimeo.

Since the video was posted in June, a handful of jails have reached out to DuBoise to continue the project. He hopes to continue donating and building coops at jails across the country.

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