Growing to Give Back

by Sandie Zazzara Inmates at Johnston Correctional Institution are learning horticulture as part of their rehabilitation.  Taught by Johnston Community College horticulturist Phil Beaumont, they also learn what it means to give back.

JCI is one of the Food Shuttle's largest donors to Plant a Row for the Hungry, bringing in over 1,200 pounds this year.  Recently, Lindsay Perry, IFFS Local Produce Coordinator, caught up with Phil to ask him about the program and what it means for the community, both inside and outside the walls.

Realizing the importance of giving back is a part of the rehabilitation process, and being a part of something bigger than themselves.  "The idea of giving back to the community is really a hit with them. They’d much rather it go back to the community than to feed the unit", says Phil.

“I’d rather work and do something productive by being in here to help somebody else on the street," said inmate Michael Greene.

Learning basic skill sets in a variety of vocations, inmates are being challenged, and gaining a sense of confidence and pride in what they're doing.  With that confidence comes an air of peace and serenity in being surrounded by and working with plants.  "Being incarcerated is always there, but they’re not so mindful of it when they’re working in the garden; all that stuff fades away. It’s an oasis in many ways. A green oasis, and a mental health oasis," remarks Phil.

Flowers are planted around the grounds; herbs are used in anger management classes; inmates can enjoy a fresh tomato sandwich, something most of us take for granted.  They have something to care about while they’re being detained and their families can appreciate the work they’ve done.



Beyond inmates' contribution to hunger relief, this program has a broad social impact. Phil points to statistics that show that inmates who are successful in vocational training programs in prison are less likely to return to prison.

"We have to challenge them to see beyond the here and now," says Phil. "Every day we make choices, and hopefully we’re teaching them to make the right choices. So when they get out they make the right choices. That’s how we’re gonna impact society."

IFFS is so grateful for all the fresh healthy produce JCI helps to provide to communities in need. What a difference they are making in these communities. It's amazing what giving can do to the soul, and how it can transform a life.