Wednesday, April 11

Inmates create their own garden

Written By: William Johnson (The Daily World)

St. Landry Parish Jail trusties work land Tuesday near the airport where a
 vegetable garden is being planned by parish officials. - Photo by: Milagro Berhane
A project designed to teach prisoners responsibility, while putting healthy fresh fruits and vegetables on their table is taking root near the parish airport.  "This is a win-win-win for us," said St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot, who was out at the roughly one-acre garden Tuesday morning. "This is an opportunity for Southern (University) to teach, for our parish government to save some money and for our prisoners to rehabilitate themselves," Fontenot said. Behind him. about a half-dozen trusties planted long rows of tomatoes, green peppers, peas, parsley, sweet corn and hibiscus.

"The tomatoes will come in first, then the peppers. We should have corn by the first week in July," said Yemane Ghebreiyessus, with the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, which is overseeing the project. "We are modeling this on the garden at the Lighthouse Mission. We would like to duplicate that here," Ghebreiyessus said.
He said the garden should produce more than enough food for the jail's roughly 250 inmates, with enough left over to sell. "The major purpose of this garden is to give them hands-on experience. They are developing skills they can use to look for a job," said Ghebreiyessus, who pointed to local nurseries and farms that can always use extra help. Fontenot said all the workers volunteered for the project. "This gives me something to do," said inmate Stacy Levier, who said his family had a small garden when he was growing up.
Helping him plant a row of tomatoes was inmate Jeremiah Johnson, who said all this is a first for him.
"I'm happy to learn something I've never done before. It will be interesting to watch all this grow," Johnson said. "There is a joy in planting a seed and watching it grow," Ghebreiyessus agreed. "This can give the workers a lot of self-satisfaction and it helps reduce stress."

"A garden is a good teacher about the value of hard work and the reward it brings," Fontenot said.
Fontenot gave Opelousas City Court Administrator LaVonya Malveaux much of the credit for the effort, though Malveaux said all she really did was help connect the dots.

Malveaux serves on the St. Landry Parish Adult Reentry Coalition, which seeks to help inmates find jobs once they are released. "We wanted to see that our inmates get some skills so they can create their own businesses. I'm excited to see the jail, parish government and the sheriff's office all connecting with a university," Malveaux said. The garden is located in Councilwoman Fekisha Miller-Matthews' district and she said she supports the initiative.  "Anything that will save the parish a little money will help out. Anything that is not taking money away from something else is good and our inmates are learning skills they can take with them," Miller-Matthews said.  Mila Berhane, a sustainable agriculture specialist with the AgCenter, said the garden will be a year-round project. "In the fall, we will be planting mustard greens and collard greens, broccoli and green onions, which are very popular around here," Berhane said. "We are growing what the inmates want to eat." Fontenot said if the project works out as well as he hopes, the parish may even add a greenhouse, so the work can continue through the winter months.

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