Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Wooten And His Horses Speak To Each Other - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Wooten And His Horses Speak To Each Other

Alex Wooten doing what he loves

Alex Wooten was 44 years old when he completed a 20-year sentence for armed robbery, a conviction he insists was a case of mistaken identity for a crime he did not commit. Upon his release from the Maryland prison system, he faced the potentially overwhelming issue of how to restart his life as a middle-aged man.

The answer proved to be the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program — and regular conversations with horses. He works as an exercise rider at Laurel Park after initially beginning his career there as a hotwalker and groom.

Wooten, now 47, does not worry so much about reconciling the past as he does about finding the best path forward. Nothing about his life has been easy.

He was born in Philadelphia and grew up an angry young man. His parents, Stella and Alex, abused drugs. He fought an attempt to place him in a foster home and found himself on his own way too soon. He trained at culinary school and began working as a sous chef. He was barely making enough money to support his family as a single father of two sons. He wanted more for the three of them. He could have that by selling drugs.

“A lot of my associates back then, people I called friends, they were making very good money doing it,” Wooten said. “I figured I'd do the same thing, and it worked for a while.”

As readily as he admits to a second job he was not proud of and other crimes that he describes as “minor,” he is vehement in saying he was in Arizona when a younger brother who bore a striking resemblance participated in an armed robbery of a bar-restaurant in Baltimore.

He speaks freely about it now. He maintained his silence when police questioned him.

“The whole not snitching thing was part of my culture. Because I was living in the criminal world, I believed you should not tell on someone else,” Wooten said. “I stuck to the code of the street. Whether it was right or wrong, I stuck to the code of the street.”

He never imagined punishment would be so severe.

“At the time, I was not living the cleanest life,” he said. “But I had never been in that kind of trouble before. I figured it was the first time. It wouldn't be as bad as I thought it was going to be. But it was worse than I thought it would be.”

He possessed uncontrollable fury when he was first incarcerated at age 24. He said he was determined to rise in the inmate hierarchy that exists in each system. He fought often to prove himself and to release pent-up emotions. His life began to turn when prison officials suggested he read “Cage the Rage.” Then he read it a second time. He began to look at his loss of freedom differently.

He said of his two-decade sentence: “For the type of life I was leading, it was a wake-up call. If it was not for me getting locked up, I would not be here right now. I was living a very dangerous life. I wasn't using drugs, but I was selling them. I was dealing with some very powerful people in the drug world.”

As the end to Wooten's two decades behind bars finally came into view, he began to ponder his future. He was already familiar with horses through his involvement with VisionQuest's Wagon Train, a program for troubled teens. He was drawn to Second Chances at Central Maryland Correctional Facility in Sykesville, Md.

He quickly emerged as a top student.

“He took a lot of pride in connecting with those horses and developing relationships with those horses,” said Sarah Stein, then the program director.

Stein encouraged all of her students to speak to the horses they cared for.

“I think it's remarkably powerful,” she said. “It's a way of learning how to communicate and how to hear yourself talk about the things that are hard for you.”

Wooten does, indeed, find the experience to be powerful.

“I'll have a knee in the ground and, if I'm working on their feet or doing something with their legs, I'm talking to the horse,” he said. “People usually hear me and think I'm talking to them and I'm like, 'No, me and the horse are having a conversation.' It allows me to express and get whatever is on my chest off.”

He swears that Thoroughbreds talk back.

“If I'm having issues, I talk to them about it,” he said. “If they're having problems, they talk to me about it.”

Wooten will never forget his association with Dear Charlotte, trained by Dale Capuano.

“She would actually grab your shirt and pull you over and stand you in front of wherever she was hurting,” he said.

He is remarkably upbeat for someone who lost his freedom for so long. He learned to gallop horses last winter at Bonita Farm in Darlington, Md. He said he avoids anyone from his past who is still involved with drugs or crime. He intends to continue to work in the racing industry as part of a 10-year plan he developed.

“His attitude about that extent of incarceration is also how he approaches life. He knows it doesn't always work out the way you think it's going to,” Stein said. “He's set some goals for himself and he's doing what he has to do to reach those goals. He's not skipping any steps.

“We could all take a page out of that book.”

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