From east coast to west coast, gardens are flourishing in prison yards. “We believe that everybody has a heart and everybody has a chance for transformation,” said Beth Waitkus, the director of the Insight Garden Program that started 10 years ago at San Quentin prison. Waitkus has taught inmates how to plant flowers, take care of the soil, and to prune plants.
This program has given inmates a feeling of self worth and accomplishment. For the skeptics, we know that the program works. According to the 2011 Annual Recidivism Report, the national recidivism rate was 60 percent. At San Quentin, one of the toughest prisons in the United States, the recidivism rate for the gardeners was less than 10 percent. In Connecticut, prison officials have reported a zero recidivism rate for their garden graduates.
The gardens are economical for the prison systems and do not cost the taxpayers any money.
For the last three years, all 18 state prisons in Connecticut have had garden programs. None have cost taxpayers any money. In 2012, Connecticut inmates produced more than 35,000 pounds of produce and saved taxpayers $20,000 since the produce was used by the prison’s kitchens. The prisons and the inmates also donated additional food to charities.
The act of helping others was important to the inmates who participated in the garden programs. One inmate, Bernard,commented, “We give 25 percent of what we pick back to the community and that’s the most fulfilling thing, that I’m helping someone, because in my life I have taken in trouble so, to me, it’s almost like paying back a debt to be able to pick something and be able to give back to others.”
Instead of just warehousing the inmates, this innovative program rehabilitates inmates by teaching basic gardening skills that can be used for employment The act of gardening gives an inmate a time of peace in a hostile environment and individual self worth. More prisons should think outside of the warehouse box.