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When Utah-based photographer Kim Raff was in Key West as an artist-in-residence, last year, she heard about an exotic animal farm in a jail just four miles from the iconic leisure-space Duval Street.

“It’s a pretty remarkable place,” says Raff who popped in to see what was happening on one of the two days each month the farm opens to the public.

“[My work] is not an investigative piece but just an uplifting slice of life inside a jail,” adds Raff.

I think we can be certain that petting zoos don’t hold the answer for the many rehabilitation and decarceration measures we’re needing, but there’s no doubt that for many prisoners, contact with animals bears positive results. Jailhouse cats, seeing-eye dog training programs, Puppies Behind Bars are the obvious examples. I’ve known prisoners to care for, and tame, birds. Jail birds.

There’s not many bright spots on the yard, so to speak, in America’s prison industrial complex and ones like these at the Monroe County Stock Island Detention Center are always well-covered by the media.

Tellingly, the farm is entirely volunteer-run. No taxpayers money goes toward it. So while we can clap Monroe County Sheriff for hosting the program we can as easily wag our finger at the predictably conservative attitudes of lawmen who refuse to help fund a program that has clear benefits for all.

Ultimately, as Raff puts it, here’s an example of a program that is “unconventional, interesting and actually working.”

Read Inside the Florida Jail that Doubles as an Exotic Animal Zoo to get Raff’s full account and see the images large.

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Kim Raff is a documentary and editorial photographer based in Salt Lake City, UT. Connect with Raff on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked In and Tumblr.

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