Delighted by bees: SOU Beekeeping Program

By Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for MCC-SOU

Note: please be aware that some individuals featured in this story have victims who may be re-traumatized by seeing their image; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

Happy and healthy bees thrive in an SOU hive. Photo by Kathy Grey.

In the spring of 2018, the Monroe Correctional Complex Special Offender Unit (SOU) embarked on a new and exciting sustainability program, beekeeping. It was a leap of faith to start such an endeavor with a group of mentally-challenged, incarcerated men and a couple of staff members who knew absolutely nothing about the world of beekeeping. Luckily, we were able to partner with Kurt Sahl, an experienced, community beekeeper and a patient and benevolent teacher. Kurt taught the 2 staff students and the 5 inmate students the basics and soon we were donning our suits and installing our bee packages and queens.  

Graduates from the first class show of their certificates in 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

SOU had chosen to use 3 Top Bar hives and it was thrilling to see those bars transformed into comb-covered receptacles for honey and brood. We all delighted in watching our bees return to the hives packing pollen or witnessing the amazing waggle dance as one bee conveyed vital information to other worker bees. The more we learned, the more all of us became enthralled at the magic and mystery of nature. The bees had many lessons for us as well. They taught us about industry, teamwork, and selflessness.

The men treated the bees with such care and gentleness, always strategizing the best way to help them, and the whole program, succeed in our joint quest to make honey, increase brood, and stave off predators.   

More proud graduates pose in December, 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

When we weren’t working in the hives, we were studying; first, for the Beginner Certification, and then on to the Apprentice Certification. The men devoured the manuals cover to cover and read all the beekeeping books the lending library had to offer. The studying paid off. Over the past 2 years, 9 out of the 10 SOU men attained their Apprentice Certification. 

Additionally, those same men have since gone on to fulfill a vital part of our mission: to talk to others, as long and as often as possible, about the present plight of our pollinators. They found a receptive audience and now SOU is a buzz with bee talk.

As one of the beekeepers said to me

I thought coming to prison was going to be the end of me. Instead I was given this gift and it has changed me in ways I never thought possible. 

I guess that kind of says it all.

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