Deer Ridge inmates really 'dig' new garden

Growing food to feed prisoners, community

Expanded inmate garden will feed the community

MADRAS, Ore. - There's a new fence going up at Deer Ridge Correctional Institute. But instead of keeping inmates in, this one's designed to keep deer out.

The correctional facility is expanding its inmate gardening program, adding a half-acre garden outside of the security fence and finally making use of a greenhouse.

"Working with others was something I didn't do real well," inmate Steve Palmer said Thursday. "Doing this program has helped with that a little bit."

They've had a gardening program for about three years now. Last year, the inmates produced about 12,000 pounds of food . With the new garden, they hope to at least double that this year.

"Staying busy makes my time faster, gets me closer to freedom," inmate Tim Mock said as he worked on the fence.

Mock has a few months left in his sentences for drug trafficking. A self-described drug addict, he said he's been clean for a year now. And he says working in the garden is giving him skills that will help him when he gets out.

"The diversity of the personalities on our crew really helps me to learn tolerance, and to learn other people's cultures," he said. "It's really a good learning experience, teaches me a lot out here."

Brian Chapman, manager of the Master Gardener Program, said, "100 percent of these guys at Deer Ridge are getting back out into our community.

"So with that being said, we have an opportunity to hopefully give them some skills, so they don't come back in."

The inmates take gardening classes in the morning and spend the afternoon in the greenhouse and prepping for outdoor planting.

The food grown will be served up daily in the prison kitchen.

"It's absolutely a benefit to them -- they get some job skills, (and) the inmates inside the institution enjoy it because they know it's fresh," said Food Service Manger Richard Ladeby.

They're not just growing for themselves, but will help feed the hungry in Madras and Culver.

"The Senior Center downtown will take advantage of it, Meals on Wheels will take advantage of it," Mock said.

It's hard work giving them a hopeful future.

"When people are going through the chow line, I'll be able to say we grew that outside, or we grew that in our garden," Mock said.  "It will be nice, and I'll be able to be proud of what I've done."

The garden work helps ease the troubles of their past.

"We'll be able to give something back, instead of taking stuff," he said.

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