Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here is a sweet story out of Topeka about prison inmates getting involved in the outside community.  Inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility grow pumpkins.  Then in the fall, they travel to local schools and distribute those pumpkins to kids who otherwise might not get a pumpkin. 

There are a lot of things to like about this story.  I think prison gardens are a great idea, giving inmates something to feel proud of, providing them a connection to their community when the product of those gardens goes to schools or hospitals or soup kitchens.  Not to mention it's always a good idea to teach inmates skills, especially a skill as profound as growing their own food.  I think there's also tremendous value in showing guys who will likely be released eventually, or even soon (these guys are all minimum security), that they are not total pariahs, outcasts who will never find a friendly face on the outside.

In a time of state budget cut after budget cut, I feared that programs like this one would be the first to go.  There just isn't enough money to house all the inmates we insist on imprisoning in our "no sentence is too long" culture.  But cutting out the programs that allow inmates to feel like humans, with skills, the ability to contribute to a community, and a connection to good  people, is pretty darn counter-productive since we can't actually keep every offender in prison forever.

I was also pleased to see that, for the most part, the comments on this story were not of the sort I would have expected.  Some were downright positive.  I was worried that more people would see this as something to be outraged about (inmates near children?!  inmates on a field trip off the prison grounds?!  inmates breathing fresh air?!  Outrageous!).   There was some of that response on other newspaper websites, but still less than I would fear.  It's good that at least some people recognize the value of a program like this.

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