A former inmate who spent the final 16 months of a nearly 13-year prison sentence learning to care for Thoroughbreds, credits the beautiful animals as “godsends” for teaching him the confidence he needed to land a professional job with a pharmaceutical software company shortly after returning to society outside the razor wire.
Scott Keefauver, an inmate at the Wateree River House of Corrections from March 2009 until September 2015 says that working with retired racehorses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program for inmates and racehorses helped better prepare him for a future career than the online college degree he will soon complete, or even the database development work he did for a nearby school.
It was by sitting in the in the classroom of a Thoroughbred herd that Keefauver began to understand the interactions among thousand-pound animals. And that had a direct bearing on his life, and the people in it.
“It was incredibly enlightening,” he says. “If you look at prison life and the people there, it’s just like a horse herd. You know the ones to let in, and the ones to watch out for, the ones to keep close and the ones to keep at a distance.
“It’s the same with horses. We had a horse named Willy who liked to nip and would kick you if you let him. It turns out that Willy was extremely unconfident, a lot like the guys in prison who are loud, antagonistic and acting out. I realized by watching Willy interact with the other horses that these (tough guys) in prison were not the Alpha, but that there’s something lacking in them.”
And through that learning process Keefauver gained the most important quality that would set him up to succeed beyond the confines of prison, and to eventually don a suit and a tie and interview for a position at a pharmaceutical software company.
It all boiled down to one word: confidence.
“It’s the horse who has to have the confidence in you. And you have to have confidence in order for the horse to trust you,” he says. “This realization had a unique translation into my own life … and it absolutely (helped me) get the job I got.”
After spending his time in prison studying for an interdisciplinary degree in environmental science and entrepreneurship, and maintaining a 3.94 GPA, Keefauver also built his resume by developing a database for a local school.
But the time he spent with OTTB mare Big Interview gave him the opportunity to earn the love of horses and the respect of superiors in a setting that would give him hope.
“She had a bowed tendon and needed to have cold therapy every morning. And she had to be hand-grazed because her injury required her to have limited movement,” he says. “ Everything I learned about horses, she taught me. I worked with her for 16 months, and was able to work myself up to work in the 2-for-7 program,” a farm detail granting special inmates the opportunity to work on the horse farm, unsupervised, on weekends.
“I remember this one specific moment when we were going out into the pasture catching horses, and I was training for the 2-for-7 position at the time, and I just stopped. In that moment, I stopped, looked at all the horses all around me, and it was just very quiet and peaceful.” It was a taste of freedom he never forgot.
Coming out of prison in search of a professional job, Keefauver knew he was at an “extreme disadvantage” when a friend suggested he apply for a job. “When you first get out of prison, you feel like an alien everywhere you go. I hadn’t been to a Starbucks or seen Facebook. But I had great references; especially with the work I did for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
“The Second Chances program gave me the ability to get up and go to work everyday, and work unsupervised at times, building trust. I had responsibility, and I cared about the job and about the wellbeing of the animals,” he adds.
During his interview, he spoke candidly about his various jobs and responsibilities in prison. Though several other candidates were said to have applied, Keefauver says he spoke with the confidence that horses helped him build. He accepted the position, and hasn’t looked back.
“I couldn’t have asked for better. I couldn’t imagine being in a better situation,” he says. “I was very lucky. I had a lot of support from family and friends, and people who were looking out for me. And because of the horses, I walked into that first interview with confidence!”