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'A sense of freedom'

Greenhouse, garden get inmates out of cells

Greenhouse, garden get inmates out of cells

June 25, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

HAGERSTOWN

shappell@herald-mail.com

The greenhouse maintained by Jesse Harris and Judson Frampton has yielded a vibrant array of marigolds and snapdragons, among other flowers.

And they say their summer garden boasts tomatoes up to 163/4 inches in circumference.

The garden and greenhouse aren't flanked by houses and picket fences, but are inside prison walls.

In late May, flowers and plants grown by the two medium-security inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown were planted around areas of the facility, said Kandi Mills, volunteer activity coordinator at the prison.

Harris and Frampton have been working on this year's crop since late in 2003.

"I think it gives them a sense of freedom, working the land instead of being cooped up in their cells," Mills said.

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Harris and Frampton said working about 30 hours a week on the greenhouse gives them a feeling of normalcy.

Harris said he was born and raised on a farm, while Frampton said he worked for years for landscaping companies.

"It's relaxing," Harris said. "It's a great experience seeing something come from nothing."

The greenhouse project has been funded for three years, and the garden for two years, through money raised by the Community Corrections Services Committee, volunteer president Carl Howe said.

The volunteer committee has functioned at MCI for more than 20 years and has started other programs to help inmates deal with anger management and esteem issues, Howe said.

Howe said money for the greenhouse/garden project came from fund-raising events and a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

"We got to thinking it'd be great if there was a greenhouse program to teach master gardening. They could become certified in the state and would be more likely to gain employment upon their release," he said.

Mills, who was among the prison employees who declined to comment on the offenses for which Harris and Frampton are serving time, said the crimes for which inmates are convicted generally are not considered when determining who can take part in the program.

Officials determine who can participate in such programs based on their behavioral records at the prison.

The talkative Harris and the more reserved Frampton said the long-term planning that goes into the greenhouse helps the time pass more quickly.

"In here, it helps you become more of a leader and to think in advance," Harris said.

Frampton becomes animated when talking about the garden they maintain during what is the down season for the greenhouse.

"You're all over the place in this," Frampton said. "It keeps you constantly going."

Vegetables grown in the 55-by-75-foot garden include beets, carrots, lettuce, giant tomatoes and more. Correctional officers consume much of the produce in their dining area, Mills said.

There's an added bonus to working in the garden.

"If I get a migraine, I eat one of these, and it goes away," Harris said as he picked leaves off a fresh basil plant. "It's better than the aspirin we have."

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