Inmate hired by racehorse farm, a 2nd chance

Jason Holland is set to leave the James River Work Center in September and begin a full-time job working with Thoroughbreds.

Jason Holland is set to leave the James River Work Center in September and begin a full-time job working with Thoroughbreds.

After a life caught up in a “revolving door” of drugs and trouble, a 41-year-old Virginia inmate who found his calling working with retired racehorses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, will exit prison this coming September and go straight to work at a well-known racehorse facility.

Jason Holland, a model inmate at the James River Work Center who is lauded as a talented individual who possesses a natural gift for handling difficult horses, will step out of prison and onto the green grass of Horseshoe Hill Farm in Virginia.

And just like that, a man who had previously worried about how he would convince a prospective employer to give him a chance after prison, and a farm proprietor in search of a competent horseman, cemented a win-win partnership suiting both their needs.

“I was pretty thrilled when I found out there was someone willing to take a chance on me,” Holland says. “It’s a great opportunity; I even have a few butterflies.”

Holland gained confidence working with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's James River horses. Pictured with Jonathan Gal, left, and Toasty A.

Holland gained confidence working with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s James River horses. Pictured with Jonathan Gal, left, and Toasty A.

Stephanie Nixon, owner of the Ashland, Va. farm that will employ Holland, says she decided to offer Holland a job after observing his relationship with horses. She has had many opportunities to watch him in her role of board president of the James River Second Chances program, which teaches inmates marketable horsemanship skills with the help of retired racehorses. Every time she happened upon Holland on the job, she was further impressed by his quiet confidence when dealing with horses, and with the increasing responsibilities he has shouldered.

“I’ve seen Jason quite a bit over the years, and one of the things that really impresses me is his patience. This is a trait that’s really important working with Yearlings,” Nixon says, noting that he has also become integral in the program itself, becoming a senior teaching assistant. “I knew I had to hire him. I really, really support this program, and what better way to support it than to help one of its graduates? They’ve already got all the skills for the work and Jason has the perfect laidback personality for the work.”

Before he was incarcerated at James River, Holland knew nothing about horses, but as a child used to dream of one day becoming a veterinarian, he says.

Since he was a boy, Holland has loved animals.

Since he was a boy, Holland has loved animals.

After a hard life leading to incarceration, there was no one more surprised than Holland when he discovered that boyhood love for animals, so many years past, was still close to his heart. “When I heard there was a program working with horses, I thought, sign me up,” he says. “Everything just fell into place after that. I got in relatively easily, and I watched and learned—I sucked it up like a sponge. And I guess people noticed.”

The whole experience of working with horses has been a blessing, he adds.

“It has just given me a whole new outlook on myself and what I can do. In the past I’ve struggled with confidence and believing in myself,” he says. “This program, and working with these horses, has really given me the confidence to do what I need to do. I feel that for once in my life I’m taking control of my life, and all I want now is to succeed.”

Barn manager Melissa Jensen has witnessed the transformation, which inspires her and gives her hope for her star pupil.

“If you ask him, he’ll talk about his struggles with addiction. He told me it’s like he’s been dragging a ball and chain around with him for 25 years,” Jensen says. “Now he’s ready to live his life. When he was living the addict’s life, he wasn’t exposed to all the good things that life has to offer us. But he’s proven to be a super guy. It takes a very special person like Jason to get the unanimous recommendation of everyone who has worked with him; he’s going to be a tremendous asset at Stephanie’s farm.”

8 responses to “Inmate hired by racehorse farm, a 2nd chance”

  1. Renee

    Horses are very Therapedic, glad he found his calling. Great job Jason! Keep up the good hard work. You’ve been given a chance that most don’t ever get given. Stay strong and never look back! You can and will succeed.

  2. Boots

    This is a great program. There is a critical need for more like this. I applaud both Jason and Stephanie. Please keep us posted and pics are always nicel

  3. William Cox

    SCTRF is proud of Jason! Love it when a graduate lands a wonderful job! Congratulations!

  4. Jen Weigand

    Wait until he has the joy of watching one of his horses in the Winners’ Circle! It’s more addicting than any drug out there! Good luck to you, Jason! I found my calling later in life, too, and no matter if it took all those years, you’re here now! 🙂

  5. AG

    Wonderful that he was given a chance to continue to learn and grow as a person. Hope he has a long career and continue by sharing his experience both with drugs and with these beautiful animals.

  6. John White

    That’s wonderful, Stephanie it great to work with but good luck with the goat!

  7. LindaVA

    Awesome story, and good luck to Jason!

  8. Donna Portree

    Great story – Jason can do it – One day at a time. Good luck to him

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