Inverness Jail inmates tend gardens to help the needy

Find out how this new program helps the community, and about the benefits it provides offenders in custody …

Steve Wright, of the MCSO Fiscal Unit, takes a look a planter box full of carrots produced at the Multnomah County Inverness Jail garden, which is tended by inmates.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Having inmates tend a garden, outside jail walls, helps both the community at large as well as the offenders, said Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Sheriff (MCSO) Sheriff Dan Staton, as he showed off the garden boxes just outside the razor-wire fence of Multnomah County Inverness Jail in outer East Portland.

In starting the program last fall, inmates constructed a dozen raised garden beds just east of the jail’s security fence, and planted a cover crop.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton says that this garden is part of an overall “Sustainable Jail Project”.

“MCSO inmate work crews planted crops, and have been cultivating their first crop this spring,” Staton told East Portland News at a June 20 media event at the mid County jail.

“This also provides an educational tool and a reentry tool for our inmates,” Staton continued. “And, it is something that they enjoy. Plus, these crops go to help feed the hungry, by way of the Oregon Food Bank.

“In all, there is no loss here, everyone wins,” Staton added.

Steve Wright, with the MCSO Fiscal Unit, and a member of their Sustainability Team, explained inmate participation. “People who are incarcerated must earn the privilege of working outside the jail, by behaving well. In a way, this activity tests the character of the individual.”

The hoped-for result, Wright told East Portland News, is that “it gives the inmates another way to look at what they might do, once they are released from jail. They may want to do this as a vocation, or even adopt as a hobby. And, this program also gives them meaningful work, which helps them give back to society.”

With the garden crops – ready to harvest – in the foreground, community members come to learn more about the jail’s garden project.

Tyffani Zirk, an inmate who is serving a five-month sentence for fleeing from a police officer in a vehicle, told East Portland News, “I’ve had the opportunity to come out a couple of times.

“It’s great,” Zirk added. “Actually, it’s ‘like heaven’ coming out here to work and enjoy the weather. I’m happy do something productive for the community. Working in this project, I’m doing something that makes a positive difference.”

Oregon State University Extension Gardener Volunteer Alice Hull Master and Oregon Food Bank Learning Garden Coordinator Ali Abbors speak with Multnomah County Board Chair Jeff Cogen.

Oregon Food Bank Learning Garden Coordinator, Ali Abbors commented, “We are thrilled to be able to get all of this produce from the jail, of course.  But perhaps even more excited about the partnership, and being able to provide gardening educational programming to the prisons, to a vulnerable population.”

Called “The Sustainable Jail Project”, it’s an ongoing partnership between MCSO and Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton looks pleased with the hand of radishes he’s just picked, that are donated to the Oregon Food Bank.

“The Sustainable Jail Project is intended to recognize current sustainable actions within the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office jail system, and direct the Sheriff’s Office toward future efforts in providing Multnomah County citizens with sustainable and cost-effective jail operations,” remarked MCSO Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander.

Efforts are also underway, Alexander said, to reduce the human costs of incarceration. “This includes the addition of a new ‘Seed to Supper’ class offered in the jail, utilizing curriculum provided by the Oregon Food Bank that promotes healthier, active lifestyles through gardening.”

> On our Front Page: Multnomah County Board Chair Jeff Cogen praises the work of his bureaus and staff, for creating the “Sustainable Jail Project”.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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