The solution to prison reform could be hiding in a garden

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018

This is the California State Prison at Solano. From the outside looking in, this looks like many other prisons in the US, but within these walls is an oasis of green. This small corner of nature was established by the Insight Garden Program, an initiative that utilizes Horticultural Therapy for cognitive and emotional reform.

"Before I came to Insight Garden, I still had a chip on my shoulder. When someone would speak to me in a very loud voice, I would assume in my mind that they were being abusive towards me. So I would become angry. But inside garden has taught me that I'm responsible for my actions, so I have to treat others the way I would like to be treated." 

But by incorporating nature, meditation, and hands-on gardening skills, the Insight Garden initiative provides an opportunity to channel fresh mental pathways, and plant new seeds. The program first started in San Quentin prison in 2002, with the simple goal of establishing a place within the prison walls that allowed the men to connect with nature but after seeing the profound affect the garden had on those who participated, founder Beth Waitkus started thinking bigger.

"Over time our vision changed from just building a small garden on a prison yard to really ending ongoing cycles of mass incarceration, and creating safer more connected communities both inside and outside prison walls."

And for many of the program's participants, gardening provides a chance to physically and mentally eliminate negative thought patterns.

"My favorite part that I love in the gardening is the pruning aspect…. One is I can help nurture this plant to either cut off some fungus, something that will destroy the plant, and I can watch it grow. And I can apply it to my life for things that I need to prune out of my life also. Whether it be people, situations, or things like that." 

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