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Inmates learn skills and responsibilities while cultivating and harvesting the Garden of Hope at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, the jail commander said recently.
Twelve inmates tend to the garden during the spring, summer and fall, Commander Guy Goff told members of the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association who toured the garden at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Robert Arnold initiated the Garden of Hope last year in hopes of teaching inmates how to cultivate crops so they could provide for their families. Sheriff Arnold hopes the project will reduce recidivism.
Goff told educators the detention center books about 15,500 inmates annually. It costs $14 million a year to staff and provide for the jail.
“We have a 61 percent recidivism rate,” Goff said. “We’re looking for different ways to reduce costs.”
Mimi Keasling, environmental education coordinator for Rutherford County government, said members toured the Garden of Hope for the association’s annual conference.
Inmates guided the educators through the garden, explaining the crops and care and their individual responsibilities.
They learn through classroom instruction with Deputy Arthal Minter, hands-on experience and consultations with Dr. Nate Phillips, an MTSU agribusiness assistant professor.
When released, Goff hopes the inmates will apply the skills and responsibilities to obtaining a job and caring for themselves and their families.
“Your hands can make something productive,” Goff said.
Minter told the educators some of the inmates have never touched the soil before. She teaches topics from seeds to pollination to plant diseases. Inmates who don’t have their GED must enroll in the class taught at the jail.
She hopes inmates can take the skills for life and apply those skills in the workforce.
“They’re never going to forget this,” Minter said. “This is positive for morale.”
Since the jail’s kitchen is being rebuilt, the food produced in the garden is donated to community organizations such as Journey Home, Room in the Inn, Greenhouse Ministries, the Salvation Army and groups to feed the homeless.
Cutline: Produce grown by inmates in the sheriff’s office’s Garden of Hope is displayed while inmates give tours to members of the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association.