For those of you new to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s Maintenance Collaborative blog I want to introduce myself.  My name is Ferriss Buck Donham and I teach Horticulture to 8 minimum security inmates every Wednesday at the Boston Pre Release Center (BPRC) in Roslindale, MA.

All other weekdays throughout the year the men work in the Emerald Necklace Parks in Boston and Brookline.  The idea for the program began in the 1980s when then Governor Michael Dukakis saw the need for jobs for inmates or soon to be released men.  Dukakis also witnessed the condition of the parks and recognized a need for maintenance to make them safer and more pleasant as well as preserving a piece of American History.  The Emerald Necklace Conservancy started the collaborative about 8 years ago.

At the BPRC we have a classroom and we have gardens on site.  We have vegetable, herb, perennial, bulb, cutting and fruit gardens.   The goal is to teach job skills to men who are about to leave the prison for good.  I am a Master Gardener as well as own my own residential gardening business where I design, install and maintain perennial gardens.  I teach the men using the Master Gardener Curriculum that I have altered to fit the needs of the program as well as many of the business skills I have acquired over the years owning my own business.

While in the parks the men acquire many job skills, from showing up to work on time and managing themselves with others, laboring in all weather conditions, learning maintenance of plants in an historic park and commitment to a job that makes a difference to the many people who safely use the parks every day in all kinds of weather.  In the classroom we learn about soil, seed to fruit production, compost, organic practices, propagation, pruning, pests and we spend time reading aloud, writing and drawing, coloring and painting.  The classroom time is very hands on and structured in an inclusive way to create learning in an experiential and inviting way.

Welcome to the blog and I look forward to sharing the program with you.


The Emerald Necklace Maintenance Collaborative provides maintenance crews to care for areas within the Necklace. Crew members come from the Department of Correction Boston Pre-Release Center, where, as part of our program, they also receive vocational training in landscape maintenance and horticultural skills. Due to the success of our program over the past few years, the MA Department of Correction has asked The Conservancy to increase our program from one to two work crews in the Emerald Necklace. An important component of this initiative is the education and training program adult males receive as they anticipate release from the MA Department of Correction Morton Street Pre-Release facility. With new leadership at the state level, the Department of Correction has made a commitment to provide significant vocational training so the residents have a portfolio of as many certifiable skills as possible when they return to their community. The training offered through our program is especially practical and desirable and our program commitment to providing participants with new skills has become a model approach to rehabilitation and is recognized by the Department of Correction.

Two crews of 8 minimum-status inmates from the Boston Pre-Release Center in Jamaica Plain participate in a bi-weekly horticulture and landscape skills training program, and work in the parks four to five days a week. The Program Instructor, including occasional guest lectures by landscape professionals, teach the crew basic horticulture techniques, plant and soil sciences and maintenance skills. Additional hands-on-training includes landscaping around the Morton Street facility and cultivation of flowers and vegetables (which are harvested and eaten by crew members) in a garden on the grounds of the Pre-Release Center. Program participants also receive an overview of the history and unique design of the Emerald Necklace parks, their creator, Frederick Law Olmsted, and how they are contributing to the renewal of this historic park system.

Daily supervision of the crew’s work in the parks is shared by the Boston and Brookline parks departments depending on work location. Additionally, Brookline has been providing a van for crew transportation as well as secure tool storage, while Boston provides the location for lunch breaks and restrooms. The MA Department of Correction has provided crew supervisors and built a teaching garden at their facility for participants to continue their hands-on-learning about plant growth and maintenance.


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