PCDC garden allows inmates to grow their meals and learn skills

Submitted

Inmates at PCDC work in a vegetable garden nearby the jail on Hail Knob Road. Deputy Jailor Gary Cromer said the garden helps teach skills while saving the taxpayers money.

Can the chance to grow vegetables be more about growing the character of those who work in the garden? It is, at least, a chance to grow skills for the inmates at the Pulaski County Detention Center.

The way that Deputy Jailor Gary Cromer talks about PCDC's new program, he seems more excited to see the workers learn from the experience than worried about the way a week's worth of rain may affect the plants.

It is, after all, an opportunity to see those inmates learn a skill that might just break a cycle of getting out and returning to jail.

"We want them to get some skills, so that when they get out they don't come back," Cromer said.

"By the time they leave, they're going to know who to grow a garden."

Which is, as Cromer points out, brand-new knowledge for some. He says he has had 40- and 50-year-olds come in who didn't know how to use a tiller, much less how to plant a seed and care for it.

He also sees some who have spent most of their adult lives in and out of the system. Cromer and other deputies hope to help them, boost their confidence and show them they can earn respect by being productive.

The approximately 2-acre field adjacent to the detention center currently has corn, beans, tomatoes and other vegetables growing away. Cromer said that during the first week of preparation and planting, inmates were out every day. Since then, they have been out two days a week, spraying for bugs or hoeing out weeds.

All the food being grown is going straight to the plates of all the jail's inmates. Cromer said the vegetables are sold to the facility's kitchen "at market cost," which not only means the inmates can show off their hard work come meal time, but they save PCDC - and taxpayers - money. Cromer estimates that it will save around $8,000 to $10,000, depending on the yield.

The first crop of around 700 onions have already come in, and have been used. Cromer expects that by July harvest-time, they will end up with around 35 bushels of potatoes, 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, 2,500 ears of corn and 200 cabbages.

It isn't the same inmates working every week, either. Cromer said that they are trying to switch people out throughout the season so that everybody who wants to gets a chance to work.

"It's a challenge, but in the end, I think it will be very well worth it," he said of the program.

This is one of several programs Cromer said Jailor Anthony McCollum and deputy jailers wanted to implement in hopes of improving inmates' skills.

Cromer said that the jail hopes to help inmates with other work-related skills, and offers recommendations to those who look for jobs when released, earning them employment in areas like labor and factory work.

It's all in a hope to keep them busy and out of crime, Cromer said.

"If someone's out working, they don't have time to get into trouble," he said. "We're trying to keep them busy and occupied."