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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mindful Gardening in Prison.

Nelson Mandela may have started it all when he was in prison—"A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control," he wrote in his autobiography. "Being a custodian of this patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom." But the idea probably rose to national fame only earlier this past decade, when the Garden Project of San Francisco started selling fresh produce to Alice Waters's acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant.

Catherine Sneed, the woman who in 1992 founded that project, which is a post-release program for ex-prisoners, did so because she had already seen such
success with the Horticulture Program at the San Francisco County Jail, where she would go out on a daily basis with prisoners to work on the farm within the boundaries of the jail. The vegetables they grew were donated to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Her moment of realization of a need for a post-release program came when one student of hers asked the visiting sheriff for permission to stay and work on the farm; Sneed recalled, "he had nothing on the outside."

James: One of the failures of our justice system is that we don't rehabilitate prisoners very well. This can be seen in how often prisoners come out of prison a better criminal than going in. These prison gardens, which offer a chance for inmates to practice mindfulness via caring for vegetables is wonderful rehabilitation. It teaches them patience and focuses the brain to make it harder for the mind to chase dangerous thoughts down the rabbit hole. It gives them the tools to release less skillful energy and transform it into something wonderful such as vibrant, life-sustaining food.

It gives them hope that their lives can still have some meaning despite having committed horrible crimes, and thus, unfortunately treated as no longer having a benefit to society. I think it's wonderful that the food they grow is used in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It is a way for these prisoners to do some good instead of causing harm. It is a way for them to feel like they can pay some of their debt to society, and reduce less skillful karma. I know that it's very difficult for victims' families to think anything positive should happen in the lives of these prisoners. However, if anything good can come from such horrible events then I would hope that they could take some comfort in such programs. Especially one that helps feed the homeless. If it weren't for these gardens that these inmates grow, who knows what crimes some homeless might commit to feed themselves. What a wonderful thing to think of inmates helping people potentially stay out of prison.

Sadly the U.S. prison system is structured in a way as to build up tensions between inmates and offer few programs to help them release that emotion in a more positive way. It is my hope that these prison gardens will become a trend and that mindfulness will help relieve some of the problems in our prison system. I know it can if given a chance.

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VoyageVixen said...

Not only do prison gardens offer rehabilitative and training opportunities the produce can improve prison diets. This article discusses the role of poor prison nutrition on violence, and physical/mental health of prisoners:

David said...

I find our American prison system very unfortunate. It doesn't really accomplish anything, and as the article says, only perpetrates further criminal activity. Though there was a trend to try and rehabilitate in the 60s, our prison system is mostly designed to punish or remove criminals from society, which creates a great financial burden and only prevents the problem for a short time. It doesn't solve it.

Of course, the criminal problem obviously develops before prison, and that needs to be desperately addressed too, but every step of the system needs serious revision. It's stories like this that sometimes give me hope. Thank you for sharing it.

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

generic viagra said...

Hey that's an impressive the work inmates are doing, they look like real farmers working on the ground.

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