2012-06-07 / Local & State

Inmates In Pennsylvania Tend Gardens Within Prison Walls

y Cindy Stauffer



LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – They sold drugs and shoplifted. One hosted a party at which a teen drank too much and died.

Another one is bipolar, and if she's not taking her medicine, her manic behavior gets her into trouble.

What they have done is never far from their minds.

But for a time on this overcast, muggy day, what they were mostly thinking about was onions – onions and peppers and hoeing a straight line in the soft dirt in an enclosed yard surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire.

There is talk of grandma's garden and fresh tomato sandwiches as the women kneel in the dirt. And there is a little dreaming going on.

The Lancaster city Health Department and Lancaster County Prison have teamed up to plant two gardens at the prison.

The first-time program will allow two groups of inmates to grow their own vegetables and flowers, learn a little bit about gardening and nutrition, and share the fruits of their labor with three agencies that provide housing and child care for women and their children in the city.

But there is more going on here than just cultivation, insect control and hoeing.

Kim Wissler, city health officer, said the program grew out of a desire to promote healthy eating.

“Why not have a community garden in the prison and let them experience what the community at large is doing?” she said.

The prison wanted to provide a community service from the program, which is why it is donating the produce to Milagro House, Clare House and Mom's House.

Maj. Edward Klinovski, a corrections officer, helped to oversee the tilling and planting of the gardens, which were funded by a small grant. Some supplies were donated.

Master gardeners from the Penn State Extension program will regularly visit the prison to provide guidance, education and encouragement.

Beck cheered on the women as they planted and she wants inmates to write a history of their gardens – recording rainfall, temperature, growth and insects.

Another part of the garden program will be nutrition education, stressing the value of eating vegetables, provided by Beth Schwartz, a Lancaster General Health healthy weight management coordinator and facilitator for Lighten Up Lancaster.

For the inmates, the gardens are about growing in many ways.

“It's good therapy for me to just get out, and leave your mind and take the stress off your body,” Phillip Murray, 24, said. “

“To be outside, in good weather,” William Collazo, 54, said, “and constantly maintain and see something that we started grow – it's just something different.”

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