News, Culture & Society

Florida zoo under Stock Island Detention Center is run by inmates

Stock Island Detention Center in Key West is a jail with a difference – not all the inmates are human.

Underneath the prison is a zoo brimming with exotic snakes, a 2,000lb bull named Angus, and cuddly farm animals staffed by four volunteer prisoners.

Zookeeper Jeanne Selander said the zoo was great at rehabilitating inmates and helping them re-enter society with a good work ethic.

Inmates Lawrence (left) and Patrick (centre) work at a zoo underneath Stock Island Detention Centre in Key West under the direction of zookeeper Jeanne Selander (right)

Patrick feeds goats and sheep at the zoo which also has exotic snakes, a 2000lb bull named Angus, and cuddly farm animals

Patrick feeds goats and sheep at the zoo which also has exotic snakes, a 2000lb bull named Angus, and cuddly farm animals

‘The animals give them the unconditional love they may never have experienced before and the animals don’t judge,’ she said.

‘They don’t care that you’re wearing an orange outfit, they just know you’re the person who loves them and cares for them.’

The unique setup started by accident in 1994 when a gaggle of lost ducks wandered in and and were cared for by the landscaper.

Word got around the small Florida island and more animals started being dropped off to live around the stilts that protect the jail from flooding.

Lawrence and Patrick pose with a lizard and a tortoise that live in the zoo under their cells

Lawrence and Patrick pose with a lizard and a tortoise that live in the zoo under their cells

A 2000lb bull named Angus is the biggest animal their pair look after and has a big yard to walk around in

A 2000lb bull named Angus is the biggest animal their pair look after and has a big yard to walk around in

Lawrence pats a kinkajou as it cuddles up to Ms Selander near one of prison's support columns

Lawrence pats a kinkajou as it cuddles up to Ms Selander near one of prison’s support columns

The zoo almost closed down 12 years ago after numerous Agriculture Department violations, and Ms Selander was brought in to save it.

Twelve years later the zoo has 150 animals including a 10ft python, alligators, a sloth, ferrets, goats, llamas, ponies, peacocks, various birds, a lemur, kinkajous, exotic snakes and lizards, rabbits, ducks, geese, and pigs.

The zoo is funded entirely by donations and is self-sufficient enough not to need any public funding. 

About 300 people visit every weekend to see the animals after they’ve been preened a fed by four non-violent inmates who love their jailhouse jobs.

‘It’s therapeutic and takes my mind off being in jail,’ Lawrence, serving two-year sentence for battery and bodily harm, said.

‘Its nice to get away from the drama and stress upstairs.’

The unique setup started by accident in 1994 when a gaggle of lost ducks wandered in and and were cared for by the landscaper (zoo pictured in the very early days)

The unique setup started by accident in 1994 when a gaggle of lost ducks wandered in and and were cared for by the landscaper (zoo pictured in the very early days)

A dozen people visited in the early days (pictured) but now 300 come every weekend

A dozen people visited in the early days (pictured) but now 300 come every weekend

Patrick, who is waiting to be sentenced for burglary, said many inmates wanted the job just to get outside but he loved the animals

Patrick, who is waiting to be sentenced for burglary, said many inmates wanted the job just to get outside but he loved the animals

'It's good to get outside and get away form that jail mentality. It's helping me be a better person,' he said

‘It’s good to get outside and get away form that jail mentality. It’s helping me be a better person,’ he said

Fellow inmate Patrick, who is waiting to be sentenced for burglary, said many inmates wanted the job just to get outside but he loved the animals.

‘I grew up with snakes so i’m a big fan of all the reptiles. I’ve connected with this injured turtle so I often take him out to look after him,’ he said.

‘It’s good to get outside and get away form that jail mentality. It’s helping me be a better person.’

Ms Selander said she occasionally had bad experiences with inmate workers over the years as they might start a fight, but she was watched by cameras at all times.

‘A lot of jobs I get bored and move on but I’ve stayed here 12 years because I’m challenged every day,’ she said.

Patrick said he'd bonded with an injured turtle who he paid special attention to

Patrick said he’d bonded with an injured turtle who he paid special attention to

Zookeeper Jeanne Selander said the zoo was great at rehabilitating inmates and helping them re-enter society with a good work ethic

Zookeeper Jeanne Selander said the zoo was great at rehabilitating inmates and helping them re-enter society with a good work ethic

The zoo is funded entirely by donations and is self-sufficient enough not to need any public funding

The zoo is funded entirely by donations and is self-sufficient enough not to need any public funding



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.