Updated 08/01/2012 08:31 PM
Garden grows behind bars
A new community garden blooms in an unlikely place. Inmates at the Tompkins County Jail now have the chance to get their hands dirty growing their own food. Tamara Lindstrom tells us what the sheriff hopes to achieve through the rows of leafy greens.
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TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- The neat rows of green, thick with ripening vegetables, display the results of weeks of hard work.
"We have peas, we have tomatoes, we have squash, we have zucchini, we have beans," said Sheriff Ken Lansing.
The wire fences built to keep out thieving rabbits are dwarfed by the secure perimeter of the Tompkins County Jail.
"It becomes a necessary thing sometimes to give the inmates something more to do and have a feeling of worth," Lansing said.
The sheriff, along with two corrections officers who volunteered their time and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, installed the garden this spring. The rest is up to the inmates.
"Everybody was glad to do it," Lansing said. "And we don't make anyone do it, that's for sure. They have to volunteer and make sure they're on their best behavior."
With more than 80 inmates housed at the jail, there's no shortage of hands to work the garden. And the sheriff says even on the hottest days, they're eager to volunteer.
"It's been rewarding for me to watch them come out here and I've even questioned them before - It's awful hot out here, I'm sorry. But no, we'd much rather be out here enjoying the weather than inside," Lansing said. "So it does have some value and maybe gives them something to take back when they leave here."
As well as something to take back to the kitchen.
"It's been neat. They've been able to use everything. I can't wait until the tomatoes are done," Lansing said.
But the sheriff hopes the work will achieve something more lasting than a tasty meal.
"The people who are in here are not bad people by any means. They made a mistake somewhere along the road and they're looking to correct that. And we want them to know that we're behind that," Lansing said. "I always joke with them, you can come back any time you want, but you come through the front door."
The money to start the garden came from the jail's commissary funds. The sheriff plans to expand the gardens next year.