She doesn’t mind.
Whether it’s fish, turtles or any other aquatic creatures, McCoy loves anything having to do with water.
She has a degree in biology and works at the detention center, where she teaches the aquaculture class and works with the program through Gadsden State Community College.
The jail’s role in the aquaculture program is to teach inmates about science and fisheries and possibly give them knowledge they can use after they get out.
The program also is taught to interested detainees housed for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It’s an opportunity for them to learn about the fish, primarily tilapia. They learn about growing fish and some plants. They also learn how they can obtain potable water, McCoy said.
Tilapia is the fish of choice because it is hardy. However, the inmates also are beginning to work with catfish because they survive in a colder climate.
McCoy found herself working in the field of aquaculture after she moved to Alabama.
Originally from New Jersey, she went to Pennsylvania State University.
There, she met her husband, Matthew McCoy, online.
He is from this area and she eventually decided to seek a master’s degree at Jacksonville State University.
She focused on turtles for her biology degree. She was almost finished at JSU when she heard about the aquaculture program at Gadsden State. She figured the next best thing to turtles is fish.
“The jobs in this field are hard to find,” she said.
McCoy received a certificate from Gadsden State in the aquaculture program and also teaches there part time.
The aquaculture program trains students to go on to more advanced degrees in fisheries and science, or into the farming and fisheries industries.
The college class includes a lot of hands-on training, and that’s a concept McCoy uses at the jail.
In a recent class, McCoy talked about how the nutrients in fish waste can be used to grow plants.
As part of the class, the inmates will learn first hand the process to remove the solids from the waste so it can be used as fertilizer to grow vegetables.
“We remove the solids and let the nutrient-rich liquid pass through,” McCoy said.
Even though none of the tilapia grown at the jail is used for food, the inmates can take the knowledge of how to grow the fish for food with them.
McCoy said immigration detainees from other countries also benefit.
“Some of them come from countries where they don’t have drinkable water,” she said. “They can learn how to grow fish to get cleaner water or use plants to get the bad stuff out of the water.”
James Lewis went to the class for several weeks and learned a lot, he said.
“It’s something I can do with my kids at home,” he said.
All the inmates agree the hands-on experience is what makes the class worthwhile.
“You can tell me something and it might not sink in, but after you see it one time, it all makes sense,” Shannon Wheeler said.
The inmates also have learned many elements of math and science.
To be included in the class, inmates must be in what is called the “honor” dorm.
Baylor Harp, Matthew Timberlake and Dayton Gibson also were in a recent class with Lewis and Wheeler.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn something that is useful,” Timberlake said.
For McCoy, that’s what the job is about ... passing along the knowledge about fish and their many uses.
“It gives us a chance to make a community impact,” she said. “We can teach them how to get clean water and that provides meaningful information. It also promotes a healthy environment.”
The program does not cost the taxpayer or the offender any money, and some inmates have been able to receive certificates of completion of the program.
“They want to learn more and more,” McCoy said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”