By Beth Ward
In the predawn hours of a chilly Tuesday morning, master beekeeper Julia Mahood drives north up I-985 toward Alto. She’s headed to teach a class at Lee Arrendale State Prison, a high-security facility that houses more than 1,500 women—including 55 serving life sentences.
At check-in, Mahood surrenders her cell phone and driver’s license. As she’s escorted to the prison’s vocational school, each of the imposing steel doors she walks through gets manually bolted shut behind her. Navigating a series of narrow hallways where guards stand watch, she finally reaches a heavy metal door with a sign taped to the doorway that reads: “Beekeeping is the New Black.”
Mahood’s is the first female class in a statewide inmate beekeeping program that began in 2012, when an inmate and former beekeeper at Smith State Prison requested to teach a beekeeping class for his fellow inmates.
Though this would mean prisoners convicted of violent crimes would have access to live insects, smokers, lighters, and sharp, metal hive tools, the Georgia Department of Corrections approved his request. The DOC then helped solicit donated supplies from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. With more support from the Georgia Beekeepers Association and the University of Georgia Master Beekeeping Program, the operation blossomed into a multifacility program.