PHENIX CITY, Ala. (AP) — The Russell County Sheriff's Office has turned a half-acre of jail property into a thriving summer garden, tended to by a group of female inmates, with the crops going to area shelters, food banks and churches.
The garden got underway about six weeks ago, in a lot behind the jail that had before been bare grass. Now that space is lined by rows of peas, okra, tomatoes, melons and squash.
Nine female inmates, overseen by a jail employee, till, plant, pick and maintain the garden for a few hours each morning. It's a chance for them to give back to their community, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said. But it's more than that.
"Part of the problems that I was seeing was that my female inmates don't ever get a chance to get out of the jail. They're in (the jail) just about the whole time," Taylor said. "And so I was looking for something to give them an opportunity to get outside and do something and I thought, Why not let them do a garden?"
Taylor said his office consulted with the Russell County Extension Office in the beginning, who provided invaluable advice.
With equipment and seeds either donated or purchased from local vendors, Taylor said the inmates then tilled the land with a tractor and got to planting. The plan is to grow the garden year-round, with new crops each season. He said the whole project required a minimal monetary investment, and that it really is something to see the amount of growth in a few weeks. If community demand is high enough, and everything goes as it should, Taylor said they are eyeing another piece of jail property which could be planted with corn.
"It just seems so healing. Maybe it's a little crazy, but it just seems that (the garden) really has helped these girls and I think it's wonderful for them to feel like that they're giving back and not just wasting time while they're here," he said. There hasn't been a single issue with the inmates since the garden started, officials said. Taylor said he doesn't know how big the first crop of squash will be, but that the Russell County battered women's shelter has already expressed a standing interest in accepting whatever is available.
Jody Norwall, 27, is one of the nine inmates who work in the garden. She's been incarcerated for six months, and she said she looks forward each morning to working. Growing the fruits and vegetables, knowing they will be donated to those in need, helps her conscience.
"We feel like we've done wrong already. We're grateful to say, 'Hey, we're doing something good now, we're giving back,'" Norwall said. "We just can't say 'thank you' enough."
Norwall, who wasn't a gardener before gardening at the jail, said the experience has taught her a number of things, like how far apart to plant peas. But the most important thing the garden has given her is what it lets her give others.
"You reap what you sow and it's amazing to see it," she said.
Information from: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, http://ledger-enquirer.com
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