Some offenders at the Plainfield Correctional Facility now have a way to give back to the community while learning an important skill — gardening.
Philip Slavens, assistant superintendent of re-entry at the facility, said the Indiana Department of Correction gardening program has been reborn.
“Five or six years ago we had a horticulture class here through the vocation program,” Slavens said. “When we lost the horticulture class, we lost the garden. The garden gives the men a chance to get out of the dormitory and spend their time doing something good.”
This spring, Sgt. Bobby Paige restarted the gardening program, with the help of a $300 donation.
“The correctional staff helped to plow and till the ground,” Slavens said. “We got the bedding plants, but we knew we couldn’t get the garden going without inmate help. Bobby has a real passion for this. He’s been a big help. The gentleman that used to teach the horticulture class has also helped out when he can.”
Paige said the garden has been a lot of hard work, but it’s become a great asset to the facility and the offenders.
“It’s definitely been a worthwhile project,” he said. “And it makes coming to work a pleasure. Each day, 15 to 20 offenders come out and carry water to the entire garden.”
Slavens and Paige offered the opportunity to work in the garden to offenders housed in the PLUS Dormitory. PLUS is a faith- and character-based re-entry initiative. It stands for Purposeful Living Units Serve and it offers alternatives for rehabilitation.
Offenders Wesley Cashdollar, Kyle Hart, and James Hodapp are PLUS dorm residents that are working toward a leadership roll in the garden project.
“This really gives people a good, positive thing to do,” Cashdollar said. “It also gives you a sense of pride.”
Hart added, “It helps us get out away from the negativity and do something positive. It also gives us something to look forward to. We can see our accomplishments.”
Hodapp said spending time outdoors is another big benefit.
“Being out of the dorm is the best part,” he said. “Being outside and not wasting all that time in the dorm gives you something to look forward to.”
The produce from the garden has been donated to Sheltering Wings Center for Women, Damar Services, and Gleaner’s Food Bank.
“The food we’ve donated to Damar has gone to guys living in group homes,” Slavens said. “And the donations to Sheltering Wings went right to the kitchen. I think they’re going to teach the ladies how to make salsa. They could even do some canning.”
Cashdollar added, “And it’s nice to be able to help people out on the streets.”
Slavens said he’s hoping to find a community partner that will help them build a greenhouse for the next growing season.
“We would like to start with small plants or even seeds,” he said. “The Master Gardeners will help us with that. We’ve gotten a lot of help from the Hendricks County Master Gardeners. They can’t help us with labor, but they can advise us on what to do.”
The program will soon begin its fall planting of beets and onions.
They will also be receiving some compost from the Putnamville Correctional Facility.
“They have ample manure there that will be great fertilizer for next year,” Slavens said. “We’re hoping to keep the garden here all natural. We don’t want to add any chemicals.”
The garden has a pumpkin patch that is currently maturing its fruit. The administration plans to offer pumpkins to the Plainfield elementary schools.
For information on how to donate to the gardening program at the Plainfield Correctional Facility, call Slavens at 839-2513 ext. 1361 or e-mail him at PSlavens@idoc.in.gov.