In the 1970s, I was a part of a team that taught a one year intensive certificate program on Landscape Development and Maintenance at a community college near New Paltz, NY.
I was a young instructor but was very earnest and devoted to teaching. Then one day the president of the college called me in and told me that I, alone, would be teaching all my courses at a men’s correctional facility 44 miles away.
What??!! all my classes? away from the campus? in a prison?
After much protesting, I was sent ‘away’ to teach the entire program at a men’s prison. Well, as often happens, it was one of the best experiences in my life. I taught full time there for 2 years and still cherish the memories.
I have a lot of fun stories. We installed walks, plant beds and even a solar greenhouse (it was donated by a friend who had it on his property) where we grew organic salad greens. I was not backed by any grants or organizations – I just forged ahead.
I taught college level classes on plant identification and usage, horticultural techniques 1 and 2, soil science, landscape design, greenhouse management tree and shrub pruning, small engine repair and turfgrass management.
The best thing was to hear from my students later (mostly black and Latino from NYC) who got out and got jobs based on their hort. training and their knowledge of landscape plants. One student got a high position with the Parks department, he wrote such a wonderful letter thanking me.
I left after 2 years and I never found out what happened to our solar greenhouse. Today I hear that similar programs are happening around the country and it makes me so glad.
As a kid from the city, I know exactly how life-changing developing a connection with the natural world can be: I remember being 20 years old when I realized that sunflower seeds came from a real sunflower and not a box. An epiphany.
Today, Kallopeia Foundation is supporting transformative prison programming (see their multi-media website here: www.beyondprison.us) including a project called the Insight Garden Program.
Here, inmates at San Quentin prison in Northern California are offered vocational training in horticulture and are also introduced to holistic practices like mindfulness meditation. I love this approach because it enhances a connection to nature. Click here: http://insightgardenprogram.org/
Please check out their article called Beyond Prison – Breaking New Ground (click on this) from the website. They are doing a great job!
We need to offer more opportunities for all city kids to touch the earth and work with it – not just in prison. Landscape development careers offer the grounding we all need in this screen-dominated age.