The men at California Medical Facility have turned a prison yard into their own personal Eden.
The program in Vacaville is a product of Insight Garden Program (IGP), which exists to rehabilitate prisoners through horticultural education. Prisoners learn the basics of environmental responsibility, as well as practical permaculture gardening skills. As they work together, men learn to maintain healthy relationships with each other.
In an environment that often creates a sense of isolation, the garden allows these men to regain a sense of respect for themselves, their community, and the world around them.
“Being that I’m a ‘lifer,’ committed murder, this made me respect life more—it really did because the plants grow and help feed people. This is going to the shelter in Solano County. It gives me a sense of giving back,” California Medical Facility resident Cornell Bevans tells KCBS Radio in San Francisco.
For IGP executive director Beth Waitkus, this garden is the tangible reality of a vision for new life. According to The (Vacaville, CA) Reporter, Waitkus is confident that IGP will continue to foster restoration in the prison community and beyond. “It’s changing the culture of prisons,” she says, having seen IGP blossom at a handful of prior locations since its inception in 2002.
In Vacaville, men like Tracy Collier never imagined they might become avid gardeners. Now, they see the beauty of the world more clearly, and they learn to participate in nurturing that beauty. “I’m thankful for this program,” says Collier. “It gives me a chance to pay restitution to the community for the crimes I’ve committed.”
IGP boasts a 10 percent recidivism rate for ex-prisoners who have gone through the program. Men at prisons like California Medical Facility are rooting themselves in a new sense of purpose, and the future of these gardens is a hopeful one. Through an act as simple as gardening, people can connect with each other in a fresh way. In learning to care for creation, they can be pointed to the Creator who cares for them deeply.
This is the kind of restorative approach that Prison Fellowship aims to take, allowing prisoners the opportunity to actively make amends, sharpen skills, and experience personal transformation. Prison Fellowship supports the creation of a more restorative prison culture through programs like the Warden Exchange. This program equips wardens with transformational leadership skills, aiming to create safer prisons through the moral rehabilitation of prisoners. To learn more about how you can support the Warden Exchange, visit https://www.prisonfellowship.org/warden-exchange/.