"Anyone for a carrot?"

"Anyone for a carrot?’

Re-greening our prisons from the inside out

insidetime.org | Joannah Metcalfe

Greener Growth is delighted to report that recognition of the impact of spending time outside with our unique therapeutic packages seems to be growing as fast as our gardens this year! So far with the prison estates in the East Anglian & Kent regions and progressing with registered interest at HMP Thameside.

We are being asked to attend more and more meetings with both our normal points of contact – therapeutic units (PIPES and TCs) – but also with Prison Governors themselves. Those with a really progressive approach, such as Sonia Walsh at HMP Wayland near Thetford in Norfolk, and previously Will Styles and now Acting Governor Ruth Stevens at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshirehave been so impressed with the various impacts of the PIPE Gardens, they want us to help “Re-Green” the rest of the prison’s interiors. It has been a pleasure to discuss such real innovations.

We are now happy to report we have 2 projects growing at HMP Wayland with another 3 planned, 2 at HMP Whitemoor with another 3 in development, and 1 at HMP Swaleside with another about to start.

It is so obviously an effective, relatively low cost, high yielding way to change the “abandon hope all ye who enter” atmosphere of some of our prisons, it is not difficult to see why. Making use of the resources already present in our prison estates, i.e. the space, recycling or re-using materials and any resources already on each site, and helping people to help themselves by planting and growing food whilst creating conservation initiatives. Nature does the rest.

We believe that transforming the look and feel of the gardens whilst growing food, creates a more varied range of results than any other initiatives, as there is such a myriad of different benefits from working outside. There are so many reports coming out now regarding the therapeutic benefits of being outside, connecting with the natural rhythms of Nature, the seasons, that the earth itself improves mental health and general wellbeing. Mentally and emotionally grounding, literally, growing food and encouraging Nature back into urban, concrete environments, encourages us to observe that which is “outside of ourselves”, and within these new points of interest comes a calmer capacity to re-engage with the simpler pleasures of life. Growing fresh, seasonal produce, combined with all the benefits of learning how to cook nutritionally-rich meals, how to share again, all these are such valuable life skills. To see more people within the whole prison community getting outside and working, laughing and growing together is such a pleasure. These are exciting times.

It is not difficult to understand how this re-engagement or learning of new skills helps improve mental health issues, general fitness and wellbeing, helps increase employability and hope for the future. Everyone needs something to look forward to. It is vital for us as a society that people leave their sentence in a better state than when they went in – or more unnecessary suffering (and cost) ensues. So much criminality has its roots in mental health issues, if prisons are only about punishment and not about new beginnings, it is a huge failure and missed opportunity for all of us.

For our team, the constant news on what is wrong with the current prison system just emphasises how many opportunities there are to generate innovative new approaches to get things right. Our 8 years work with residents has such a profound impact, we are passionately dedicated to the need to cover more land with “Greener Growth”, and impact more people within our prison communities, both staff, residents and the wider environment alike.

We have finally managed to access some photographs of one of our smaller prison projects to help demonstrate the visual impact of our work. As you take in the transformation of our “Before and After” shots, imagine how it feels to start working outside in a garden like this when you have been inside for most of your adult life, like many of the men we work with in HMP Whitemoor. Feeling the sun on your face, the grass under your feet, to see birds and butterflies close up again. To pop a fresh pea in your mouth, a strawberry, to pull up carrots you sowed from seed. To watch pond skaters on the surface of the wildlife pond, see and hear a dragonfly humming past.

Currently news around prison is all about creating more prison spaces, about locking more people up. With a high re-offending rate, and so many prisons with low staffing levels and men and women in their cells, unable to attend courses and classes that they need to initiate positive changes, our vote would be focusing on a different path.

Our plea to anyone in a position of authority over our prison estates is help us to help residents help themselves. Transformation does not have to cost the earth, literally or metaphorically. Nature is in a constant state of regeneration and renewal. So our prisons could be too – and we believe engaging our low cost, high yielding systems across the wider community and all the land that it encompasses could hold that profound key. Let’s engage with some down to earth, common sense systems that reverse the trends, take back land and people into productive systems for the benefit of all and let’s do it now.

Anyone for a carrot?