HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – For seven years now, a group of inmates at Hutchinson Correctional Facility have grown green thumbs, thousands of pounds of produce and a way to pass the time behind bars.
HCF’s “garden for good” program allows inmates to grow and tend to their own produce in a two acre garden. The vast majority of the output is taken to the local soup kitchen or given to non-profit agencies that feed those in need. Remaining produce is sold to other inmates and staff.
“You could be here, and have nothing to show for it the whole time you’re here, or you can say, I was a part of this donating 10,000 pounds of vegetables that year,” inmate Kevin Gunby said.
Gunby is incarcerated for murder in the first degree. He says he helped his mother tend to her garden a little bit when he was younger, but never imagined he would later become president of the “garden for good” in-prison organization that meets weekly to discuss the garden and its output.
All 30 of the current inmates who have been through the program have completed Kansas State’s master gardener program as a requirement.
“That’s a trade, you can take that and apply for a job when you get out,” Gunby said.
Most inmates not involved with the program pass the time by reading, watching TV and hanging out in the dorms. Gunby said, time moves much quicker out in the garden.
“It’s fresh air, it’s sunshine, it’s hard work, it’s breaking a sweat and all that, which is good,” Gunby said.
Another perk of being involved with the program is maintaining your own personal plot of whatever produce you want to grow. Gunby grows pinto beans, peppers, and sweet potatoes in his.
The program is totally self-funded and sustained, explains Robert Vieyra, Deputy Warden of programs.
“If there’s any money that’s left over, and most years there are, those moneys are donated again to Boys and Girls Club, First Call for Help soup kitchen, those things. Everything comes back again, is used again, and the program sustains itself,” Vieyra said.
Along with feeding the community, it provides inmates the opportunity to rise to the challenge.
“It’s an incentive to modify their behavior, maintain good behavior, to remain in the program,” Vieyra said.