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West Tennessee State Penitentiary Garden Project Grows Hope

Thursday, June 11, 2020 | 04:26pm
WTSP Offender Garden

HENNING – At the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) something special is growing behind the walls- a vegetable garden of hope. In Unit 5, offenders who are military Veterans, as well as men who participate in rehabilitation programming as mentors and Peer Support Specialists have a special incentive to supplement their recovery programs, by tending to the garden and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Thomas Corman, Corizon Clinical Director at WTSP, said he thought starting a garden would be a good idea as experiential therapy. “Sometimes, inmates have a lot of down time. By working the garden they can learn how to keep one of their own someday. This is the first year they have had a garden and they have learned a lot about where to plant seeds, what weeds to pull, and how to identify pests. We try to relate all the lessons of gardening as tools for recovery,” said Director Corman. “I think it helps them to bring it back to simple things in life because they have something to do with their hands and be proud of.”

Melanie Hayden, MSED, Corizon Substance Counselor at WTSP, said in relation to the Veterans Unit, they can relate some of the gardening tactics as a way to work through PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). “For example one individual in the program got bad news one day, and he requested to go work in the garden to help him deal with what he was feeling. He came back feeling better because he was able to channel his negative energy into something positive,” said Counselor Hayden. “When it comes time to harvest the vegetables the men worked together to figure out what they would do with it and decided to split it up amongst everyone in their unit- to share, because they are a community and see it as a community effort.”

WTSP Garden

Counselor Hayden said this project also has great nutritional health benefits aside from the therapeutic aspect. Some of the vegetables being grown in the community garden are jalapenos, banana peppers, cabbage, onions, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, and sunflowers, just to name a few. Many of the seeds and plants were donated to the garden project and they have started composting for a garden next year.

“It’s a day-to-day thing and is a lot of work,” said Lucas, one of the gardeners from the Veterans pod in Unit 5. “I grew up around gardens and it requires a lot of patience. Everything in the garden can be an analogy for our recovery too. If you don’t weed out your issues then it will engulf you, just like weeds would do in the garden.”

Another gardener from the Veterans pod named Jake said, “In recovery the bad elements can choke you out just like weeds can do in the garden. Since we have started this project I have learned not only maintenance for the garden but also how to take care of myself.”

On the Peer Support Specialist and Mentor pod in Unit 5 the garden looks much the same, albeit a few different plants. Johnny, who helps maintain the garden said it has been a great experience working in the garden. “It’s good for us to come out here and do something, to put hard work in and see it prosper. It’s good to come work and get away from it all, and it turns into something we can benefit from.”