Recovery sprouts from jail garden
JANESVILLE For many, assimilating back into society after drug or alcohol arrests can seem like an impossible task.
One way some inmates at the Rock County Jail are beginning that journey is by digging into Mother Earth.
Sure, the inmates need to take various coursework and work on getting their high school diplomas if needed, but gardening is one way they learn about life while giving back to the community.
“A lot of the participants have never worked in a garden,” said Jason O’Connor, Rock County Education and Criminal Addictions Program site supervisor. “They get to see something grow from seed to plant.”
As the volunteers tell it, the first garden was planted about 1997. Cooks for the county planted vegetables to be used in their cooking. As the food became more institutionalized, the garden changed hands, and soon became a testing ground for rehabilitation therapy.
The RECAP residents, both male and female, prep the land, plant, weed, cultivate and water the myriad of vegetables sprouting up on the property butting up against U.S. Highway 14. They also harvest the bountiful crops and donate a majority of the produce to nonprofit organizations such as food pantries and nursing homes.
Volunteer Jim Haseman, who has been tilling this soil for about eight years, plans and directs the residents in the garden. They’ll test new gardening techniques or introduce the old classics. Grape vines, flower boxes, tubs of herbs and “French intensive” are some of the various innovations. Walking through the garden invigorates Haseman as he proudly shows off the beautiful vegetation and brags about his helpers.
“It’s really been a blessing for me. These are some really smart kids. They keep me on my toes,” he said with a smile. “When they’re sober, they’re great. One kid, we talk a lot about the different religions.”
O’Connor admitted that some inmates aren’t kids anymore, and some are not so enthusiastic.
“Some have run away, walked off. Eventually they come back,” O’Connor said. “This program is all about choices. We give them the tools to go out and live drug-free, alcohol-free lives.
“Yes, when people are sentenced, they could sit in jail and do nothing, or they can take advantage of these programs.”
Haseman, who has little time for his own garden, won’t put up with attitude.
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