Putting inmates to work is not new, just refined. For centuries, hard labor has been a form of re-payment for bad deeds. When most think of inmates working, images of people busting rocks with sledgehammers or plowing fields come to mind. But in Manatee County, the concept of working inmates reaches a higher level.

One tractor, one pick-ax, and one deputy - that's how the first inmate work farm located in the northeast corner of Manatee County was born. The Sheriff assigned then Lieutenant John Potts to the project of growing vegetables for the jail. Quickly, the farming operation grew to include more staff, more inmates, and eventually chickens and cows.

By 1995, the Sheriff's Office was raising some 4,000 chickens and close to 900 cows: a major supplement to the corrections food budget.

A vocational training center opened in 1996. Located adjacent to the Manatee County Central Jail, both sentenced and non-sentenced inmates learn skills while gaining school credit. An arrangement between the Sheriff's Office and Manatee Technical Institute provides first-class training in a correctional setting while maintaining security. Later that same year, the inmate work programs were reorganized under the name LIFE, an acronym for Leading Inmates to Future Employment.