Friday, April 13, 2012

Local county prison farm produces "Jailhouse Honey" and "Jailhouse Jelly"

I can tell you that jail is a boring place. That's because I worked in one for two years. In case you didn't know it, I was a deputy Sheriff for 18 years, and my first two years of full-time service was working in the county jail. It was one of the best experiences in my career because you learn a lot about human nature. And one of the most important lessons I learned while working there is that not everyone who goes to jail is a bad person. Yes, they did something bad to get there. Many of the people behind bars have some good characteristics too, but they made bad decisions for whatever reason and landed in jail. But as I said, jail is a boring place and much of the time, there is absolutely nothing to do. Some watch TV, some play cards, some sleep when they can - and the others may try to figure out some mischief to break the monotony. The mischief is what all jails want to avoid. It is better to keep the inmates occupied with something good than something bad.

One local Sheriff's Office is doing something to break the monotony of serving jail time and teaches some post-release skills too. The Guilford County Sheriff's Office, which is headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, runs a prison farm. Not just a prison farm but the only remaining county operated prison farm in the state of North Carolina. The prison farm has a capacity of 134 inmates and consists of 806 acres of land located in eastern Guilford County near Gibsonville. The prison farm is just that, a working farm. It includes cattle, greenhouses (the prison farm sells plants to the public), hay, corn, and lots more. And inmates maintain the farm under the supervision of ever-watchful detention officers.

In 2010, the prison farm added a muscadine grape vineyard. No, the inmates aren't making wine with the sweet grapes, but they are making what is called "Jailhouse Jelly". And to help the grapes and other plants to thrive on the farm? Yep, bee hives! Three prison farm staff members attended a basic beekeeping course held by the Guilford County Beekeepers and brought back their newly learned skills to form a 10 hive apiary on the premises. Between the acres of other crops, and the vineyard and the apiary, the detention officers share their skills with the inmates, and the inmates can use those skills when they go back into society. It is a win-win for everyone, plus it helps the honey bees too. I think it is a fantastic idea to teach these skills to others, and I hope more jails and prisons that operate farms will pick up on it.

Here is a clip with details about the prison farm apiary and vineyard. It comes from a weekly television show called "Guilford Sheriff 911" which is hosted by Sheriff B.J. Barnes and airs on Guilford cable and WGSR 47.1 in Reidsville. In the clip, Steve Carney, one of the detention officers and beekeepers, details how it all came about. I was graciously given permission to post the segment by Arch Embler, the public services liaison and producer of the show. Thanks, Arch!

And hats off to the Guilford County Sheriff's Office for not only helping the inmates learn something they can take with them when they leave, but for helping the honey bees thrive too!


  1. I think this program is great and that there must be vocational training in prisons. I'm particularly fond of this program because I've worked in farming and beekeeping and have a passion for both.

  2. Danielle: You are exactly right. In my time of working in the county jail, many of the people were bored out of their minds. State prisons that offer educational and training opportunities for inmates see great improvement in attitudes and it makes the time go by faster. If an inmate can take his training with him when he leaves the system, especially after working on a farm and with bees, then it would benefit the former inmate, the farmer who would employ him, and of course, the bees too. Good to hear from you! Hope all is well up your way.

  3. Mark,

    Thanks for this local promotion of our jail system working at its best. Wish other counties would do something like this. Hope you get some swarms other than your own bees.



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