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Bees Behind Bars

Austin inmates get a sweet deal learning the art of beekeeping

Bees in the apiary on the rooftop of Trace
Local inmates will learn beekeeping skills thanks to a local nonprofit.  Photo by Bill Sallans
Walter the bee keeper at Trace's Apiary
Walter Schumacher, the "Bee Czar" of Central Texas Bee Rescue, installed an apiary at The W Austin last year. Photo by Bill Sallans
Bees in the apiary on the rooftop of Trace
Walter the bee keeper at Trace's Apiary

On Monday, the American Honey Bee Protection Agency announced plans to provide inmates at the Travis County Correctional Complex with 10 beehives as part of a new training program. Inmates will have the chance to learn beekeeping, both as a rehabilitative activity and as a vocation that could assist them in finding work.

The AHBPA is a nonprofit that works to educate communities about honeybees and protecting them, and through the Central Texas Bee Rescue it saves feral bee colonies instead of exterminating them. The organization has also installed beehives, or apiaries, at various public locations, most notably at The W Austin, where fresh honey is used at the hotel’s TRACE restaurant and AWAY spa.

 "These inmates will get jobs afterwards, either with me or anywhere else," says Walter Schumacher of Central Texas Bee Rescue.  

Leading the new effort at the Travis County Correction Complex is the resident "Bee Czar" of Central Texas Bee Rescue, Walter Schumacher, who teaches the craft of beekeeping while also enlightening communities and property owners about the importance of preserving honeybee populations for the benefit of the environment.

"We formulated a curriculum at Prairie View A&M University, but there are these guys who can't go there who need a second chance," Schumacher tells CultureMap. "We created this program that will teach three-to-five inmates at a time at around four-to-five times each year. The session is 120 hours of curriculum plus about 60 hours of learning practical removal and extraction of bees."

While beekeeping isn't a typical skill taught in correctional facilities, Schumacher says it fills a need for various American beekeeping organizations. "The U.S. brings in thousands of workers from south of the border to take care of hives," says Schumacher. "So there's a need for it here and these inmates will get jobs afterwards, either with me or anywhere else." 

And Schumacher will need the extra help. The AHBPA will install apiaries at Omni Hotels & Resorts, starting in Texas. Similar to what was installed at The W Austin, Schumacher will start with the Barton Creek Resort & Spa and then move on to other Omni Hotels in Texas, the U.S. and across the world.

In the meantime, Schumacher is excited to start working with his first class of inmates and to focus on revitalizing a specialized — and environmentally significant — job. 

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