Busy with bees: Faribault prison inmates abuzz with new program

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With 2,000 inmates, the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Faribault is the largest prison in the state. Now the facility’s population is growing thanks to tens of thousands of tiny additions.

“It was definitely something different,” Ashanti Watson, an inmate, told Fox 9. “I like nature stuff anyway so it kind of piqued my interest.”

Watson is one of less than 100 men housed in the facility’s minimum security wing. And he’s one of a half-dozen taking part in their new beekeeping program.  Many more were interested, but had to be turned away. It's the first hands-on beekeeping program for any prison in the state.

Yes, when it was first suggested, it did strike the warden as odd. But as she thought about it, it made perfect sense.

“So there just seemed to be all upside to it that this was a learning opportunity,” said Warden Kathy Halvorson. “It was a connection with the community and it was an ability for these offenders to learn something that they might never have had exposure to.”

“To me at first, I thought bees were just going to sting you all the time, so it was kind of different to actually be able to pick them up and play with them and they don’t really sting you,” said Watson.

The program, which is a partnership with the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab, began in May when the two hives arrived at the prison.

“So we’re just going to look in here and see if there’s eggs, larvae and pupa,” said Jenny Warner from the U of M, while directing the program participants. “We don’t have to find the queen today. If we find eggs we know she’s still laying.”

Bustling around with the tens of thousands bees, they did find the queen inside the hive. And they experienced the first sting of the program, when inmate Eric Pauna took a stinger to the hand.

“It’s been very educational,” said Pauna. “I might possibly get a hive when I get out in the world. It’s nice how tame they really are. This is my first sting today and we’ve been out here four or five times.”

The facility already donates the produce from their gardens to a local food shelf. The hope is to do the same with the honey.