Orange is the New Green
In an uplifting article by the WPSD Local 6 news, a Vienna Correctional Center program by the name of Orange is the New Green, explains their efforts of preparing incarcerated people for life after prison while helping the community. It is open to inmates who have a high risk of recidivism or are veterans. During the first half of the 11-month program, prisoners complete a gardening course – including botany, fertilizer, hydroponics, irrigation systems and more.
“We take students through the University of Illinois Master Gardener curriculum. So, that takes us about six months to get through. There’s a lot of book work and a lot of lectures,” explained Nathan Ryder, Orange is the New Green’s lead instructor and coordinator. “We talk about everything from soil and how to have healthy soil out on your farm or in your garden plot, all the way up to how to grow different fruits and vegetables. We talk about lawn care and how to propagate grass. We really take them through a lot of different aspects of growing plants. It’s not just focused on flowers and vegetables.” Ryder states that once the inmates earn their master gardener certificates, they can transition into the business section of the program.
“For about six weeks, they learn marketplace literacy skills, basically how businesses and consumers interact with each other. Then, we take that, and they write their own business plans. So hopefully, if they get out of here and they want to be an entrepreneur, they want to employ themselves, they’ll already have that business plan written. And they can take it out in the real world and get financing for that,” said Ryder.
Many inmates are enjoying the program. Robert Parker says that it gives him a sense of achievement, and that he turned a bad situation into something positive while learning a new trade. He believes that the program really involves teamwork. They help each other repot plants or answer each other’s questions. “We’ve got a really good teacher, but it’s more like a community. It’s like a little brotherhood huddle.”
Philip McDowell, another inmate participating in the program, says he is excited to take what he’s learned in the program and apply it to a new job outside prison. “I want to give myself the most opportunity. In this instance, I think that by doing this I’ve learned several things, even about greenhouse operations, irrigation systems, and pesticide applicators. These are all the things that are incorporated into this class above and beyond just growing a particular plant,” said McDowell. He also agrees that the program involves teamwork, and really improves social skills. “It is some teamwork and how to get along with other people. Because obviously we’re not social being in here for so long. I’m just trying to give myself the biggest leg up to try to get something going on for myself.”
The Vienna Correctional Center partnered with Shawnee Resource Conservancy and Development and with the University of Illinois Extension to make this program possible. This is the second year for Orange is the New Green and they are thriving. Classes include about 40 inmates and they have plans to continue classes next year. Most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs the prisoners are growing will be delivered to the dietary department for food preparations at the prison. The rest is donated to local food pantries.