Sowing seeds of hope

Roosevelt County Detention Center inmate Grant Clark grabbed a garden hoe and began to shuffle around soil in the afternoon sun behind the detention center.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Five Roosevelt County Detention Center inmates were asked by detention center officer to participate in the growing of a vegetable garden at the center. Detention officer Kelly Richerson said the inmates involved are required to journal about their gardening.

"Being outside is definitely one of the perks," he said. "We have something no one else in jail has, which definitely makes you smile."

His four gardening counterparts nodded their heads in agreement.

The five men have taken care of the detention center garden for about two hours each morning for the last four weeks.

Detention center administrator David Casanova said the idea for starting a vegetable garden at the center began as a joke when officers and administrators were discussing ideas for new inmate programs.

"The conversation turned serious and that's how it started," Casanova said. "We're trying to turn it into a life skills program by using the garden to identify some of their problems."

Casanova said inmates chosen for the program spent an eight-hour day preparing the outside ground for the garden and planting squash, okra, pumpkins, tomatoes and more.

Detention officer Kelly Richerson, who supervises the program, said the inmates not only keep journals of their gardening endeavors and ideas, but they also strike up conversations about life while gardening.

"One time, we might talk about someone's childhood and another day, about time lost during drug use," Richerson said. "What's really incredible is not just what's coming out of their mouths but what's going into their minds."

She said she has talked to the participating inmates about comparing the breaking up of tough dirt and the planting of new seeds to their own lives.

"It shows us we can break ourselves up and plant our own seeds," said inmate and gardener Brandon Garza. "Mistakes happen all the time and we come back and plant again."

The oldest inmate of the group, Nick Baca, said he has been in and out of jail his entire life but this is the first time he has ever gardened.

"My grandmother always wanted me to plant her a garden and now she sees I'm doing it in jail," Baca said. "I've got people out there who inspire me to go out there and do something in my life, who believe in me."

Baca said he wants to inspire younger inmates, such as the 20-year-old Clark, to turn their lives around sooner than him.

"It's brought up a lot of good conversations in the group," Clark said of their new-found passion. "It's really made all of us have a different perspective."

"Them (officers) giving us the benefit of a doubt to be out here and giving us the responsibility boosts our self-confidence," added inmate Brandon Hightower.

All five men agreed the gardening project has helped them view life differently and believe they're capable of doing good things.

"They're more laid back," Casanova said. "It's almost like it's peaceful for them."

"It's nice they gave us the opportunity to do something," said inmate Randell Jones.

The inmates said caring for the garden together has made them like a small family.

"I look at it as a team effort," Baca said. "When I was selected for the program, I was excited and I still am."

Casanova said this summer is the pilot for the gardening program, so the jail administrators and the gardeners will know what they want to do differently next year.

"The inmates' performance and enthusiasm has gone beyond what I could have imagined," Richerson said. "They have done a great job. It's my favorite part of my day."

Richerson said when the vegetables are grown, they will be donated to a non-profit organization.

"I think it makes them really proud to know they can give to people," she said.

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