One of the best ways to reduce the prison population is to keep people from arriving there in the first place.
Crime prevention programs come in all shapes and sizes, but perhaps one of the most effective are those that take at-risk youth and mentor them into positive life paths by teaching them a new skill. Omaha Home for Boys owns and runs a farm that gives troubled juveniles the opportunity to assume responsibility the good ole’ fashioned way.
Every weekday and Saturday, a select number of Omaha residents (youth who have come from the foster care system and those who have had run-ins with the law; basically those who are considered at-risk for lives of dead ends, unemployment, and incarceration) are expected to show up to clean the barn and care for cattle. Each young man is given a specific calf to care for, in the hopes that the calf will be ready to show at the county fair come summer. Youth dry, brush, and oil their calf’s hair, and then teach them how to walk around the ring.
The farm manager, Mike Pellas, has a simple recipe for success. No one is allowed to say “I can’t.” He expects the boys to work hard and promises that they will learn. Pellas has walked alongside with hundreds of young men over the past three decades. Many have gone through the program and ended up in prison anyway, but others have used it as a stepping stone to success, like those who have become college graduates, soldiers, husbands, and fathers. One former resident showed a champion steer and now returns every month to say ‘hi.’ He has a steady job. Another is now Pellas’ assistant.
“Some days, I’m out of gas, and a kid stops by to thank me,” Pellas says. “And just when you think you aren’t making a difference, you remember you are.”