Many people ask me the question – “Is it hard to teach inmates horticulture?”  I am always surprised by this question. To me, teaching the inmates is easy; peppered with challenges but filled with unexpected enjoyment.

Today, the men and I checked out the garden, took stock of chores and split off into groups to begin our work.  It’s important for me to work closely with the men. By doing so, we can have great conversation and I can answer any questions they may have.  And they do have questions – they ask them non stop! It reminds me of an article from the Sunday Globe Ideas section.  The article explores the importance of questions.

In reflection, this article has helped me form some insights about the men. Their constant stream of questions is fantastic! Even if we don’t know all the answers to their questions at least they are seeking the knowledge. Questions highlight their budding interests and I am honored to be included in their curiosity. I feel so lucky to be there.

I get questions about the work I do from friends and questions from the men about the work we are doing – two worlds are included in the questioning!  I have glimpsed a rainbow, a connection between two parts of my world.  It gives me such hope.

– Questions are gifts. –

In the meantime, since the bearded iris were heavy from the rain and burdened by their weight…

We cut them to give away to visitors.

This is a laundry bucket in the visitor area in which the guys placed a handmade sign inviting visitors to take a flower.

The Siberian Iris are what is left.  I love the succession of plants, first the bearded iris now these, next the peonies!

The men also weeded, composted, and planted more peppers and 8 different types of tomatoes.  They harvested herbs including mint, garlic, thyme, sage, marjoram and rhubarb.

Next week I look forward to the blooming peonies, the first ripe strawberries and more questions.


“Good Time” vs. Having a Good Time

The workers get “good time” for taking my class. For those of you who may not know what “good time” is, it is the amount of deducted time from a given sentence, rewarded for good behavior and/or involvement in programs such as the Maintenance Collaborative.

From time to time, classroom conversation will get off topic and get into discussing “good time.” When I find this happening, I always nip it in the bud – for various reasons.  I want these men to see that this class is an asset to them whether they get good time or not.  They are learning fantastic skills, even if they don’t love flowers or the specific work that they are doing.  I would like them to understand that they all have something to learn whether they think they do or not.  And from what I can see it seems like the men actually have a “good time.”

Recent Happenings:

We realized this fence was too tall to hop over. As a solution one of the guys fashioned a gate and he was very proud of his end result.

The potatoes sprouted up in a crooked lines! We all had a chuckle about the planter of the lopsided potato plant rows.

The raspberries have the most delicate blossoms but they are hard to catch because they are not in bloom for very long.  It always astounds me that the men never seem to understand that in order to get a fruit you first need a flower.

One worker didn’t think much of this huge strawberry patch until he bent over and counted 13 strawberries on one stem! We do nothing for the strawberries, no water, no fertilizer, nothing.  And yet we still must divide them every few years and plant yet another patch – they grow like a weed!


Like the strawberries, I try to act and work in ways that helps the group and gets positive results: compliments and constructive criticism; real conversations, listening to their input; trusting their honesty and sincerity. I also like to letting them work out solutions on their own (Like the gate for the fence).

They are a pleasure to be with and as usual we have a good time, learning as we go.

May in the garden….

May in the garden is perhaps the most hopeful time of all.  Plants are budding and the anticipation is rich.

The men’s talents really come out when we are working outside.  We meet and access the garden, break up into groups and go to the areas that best fits each team.  Different workers have different jobs and skills. For example, one will use a pitchfork and turn the compost piles while another who is especially strong and capable may go and finish the fencing. There always happens to be a student who will want to weed with me and chat which is really nice.  Each time it is someone different, allowing me to connect and hear about the workers’ experiences.  I like talking to them about what they want to do upon release and how they might do it.

Take a look at our findings in the garden…

The peony buds are swelling and shiny and the stems are tall and reaching for the sun.

The strawberries have white fragrant blossoms turning into green fruits, there must be a thousand strawberries.

The raspberries are growing quickly!  This will be our first year harvesting raspberries.

We added more onions between the rows of the existing seed onions.

The newly planted roses are leafing out and the dahlias have started to put up their green stems.  Fencing is up, the compost is turned and the Nepeta plants have been divided and transplanted to make a hedge around the new rose garden.  The men were surprised and delighted by the smell of the strawberry plants.  It was fun to watch the men discover the pleasant smell of their tiny white flowers.