(Photo Courtesy of the Westville Correctional Facility)
The gardens at Westville Correctional Facility (WCC) are producing thousands of pounds of vegetables for donation to local food pantries as the harvest hits the midway point.
Offenders can be seen carrying boxes of picked peppers, cucumbers, zucchini squash, cabbages and onions, while the tomatoes, potatoes, watermelon and others are still ripening for a banner year of produce. It is all part of an effort throughout the Indiana Department of Correction facilities promoted by Commissioner Bruce Lemmon.
At WCC, the inmates are in competition with each other maintaining five different gardens. Each has a different combination of vegetables and harvest schedule.
In May, offenders began the effort by tilling the soil where grass had predominated for years. Offenders used their backs to remove the sod and break up the soil beneath. Trucks of rich top soil and fertile loam were brought in to prepare the gardens. The recreation department provided the seed and young plants for the first planting.
As of this past week, 2,124 pounds of vegetables had been harvested before the gardens had even reached their peak. An estimated 500 pounds a week should be harvested over the next several weeks.
According to Superintendent Mark Levenhagen all the produce is donated to local food pantries. “This is truly a dividend that benefits many needy citizens throughout our communities,” he said.
Offender Damarlan Norris said, “It was great to work the garden from the start and see the fruits of my work.” Indeed, officials note that the labor seems soothing to offenders and the gardening has a positive impact. Norris said it felt good to work the earth by hand and create something that had not existed before.
Offenders whose first wish was to simply get off the dorm or get exercise soon found themselves involved in an on-going and very satisfying endeavor. Like Norris, they could see positive results from their work.
This was particularly gratifying to offenders who had never done gardening before. Offender Willis Peavey said, “It has been a learning experience that has taught me a lot.” Offender Rusty Land, proudly holding up a two feet long zucchini, said he was impressed with what he could do.
Meanwhile, nearly a dozen pantries in the community have been the beneficiaries of the garden produce. LaPorte Fellowship and Good Shepherd Food Pantry in Westville, St. Paul Lutheran Soup Kitchen and First Presbyterian in Michigan City and other community pantries in Knox, Rolling Prairie, Valparaiso and Hanna all have been receiving regular deliveries.
“For some inmates,” said Levenhagen, “the local food pantry is crucial in helping them get back on their feet when they get released. They can relate to the need on a personal basis.”
About Westville Correctional Facility:
Westville Correctional Facility was converted from a state mental health hospital to a prison in 1977. It is situated on over 700 acres in La Porte County, and contains minimum, medium and maximum security units. Nearly 3400 offenders are housed at WCC, and over 2400 are retuned to the community annually from WCC.
About the Indiana Department of Correction:
The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) employs over 8,000 staff and houses nearly 28,000 adult and juveniles in 20 adult and 5 juvenile facilities. About 1,000 more are housed in contracted facilities or contracted county jail beds. An additional 10,000 adults are monitored by 9 parole districts. IDOC collaboratively funds community corrections programs in 78 counties. Our internet home page can be found at: http://www.in.gov/idoc. Our Re-entry Site can be found at: http://www.in.gov/reentry.
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