On March 30 and 31th 2017, Rise & Root Farm partners Karen and Lorrie visited Stockton and San Quentin Prisons in California. The following is Karen's reflection on her experience.
I visited a prison today, struck by immense steel doors and barbed wire that surrounds an edifice of brick and mortar. As you pass through gate after gate, the sound of slamming steel behind you is a silent reminder of fences that keep you out; gated communities that want you out, and now schools with metal detectors and locked doors completing a closed system of oppression.
I visited a prison today, to meet those who have been forgotten by the outside world. Men mostly black, old and young, lifers and soon to be paroled, all dressed the same with similar stories. Stories of Just One Mistake, Just One Mistake, Just One Mistake!
I visited a prison today, struck by the laughter, giddiness, the chatter that filled the room. These men were here to share their stories about gardening and we too there to share similar ones. Each person talked about how transformative it was to work in their garden. Tales of nurturing, culture, long forgotten while on the outside now being recaptured and cultivated here in prison, in a garden, who knew!
I visited a prison today, and saw faces of humility, forgiveness, but most of all faces of people, not labels, nor numbers, or lost memories; but someone’s husband, father, uncle and son. Flesh and blood, a human being, a person you could touch, see, breathing in life.
I visited a prison today. We talked about the power in growing food and flowers. Our connection to the earth; the agrarian DNA that flows through our bodies. Our ancestral lineage from kings and queens cannot be denied.
I visited a prison today and saw men finding peace and solace in a garden, they created, with their hands, reflecting back on a mother’s love, grandma’s garden, a father's strong but tender hands, tilling the soil. Understanding the power of planting a seed, the labor of sweat, the joy of the harvest.
I visited a prison today and was told that these wall might imprison a body, but not the spirit. “As long as I have my spirit it can soar beyond the prison walls and touch the face of God”.
Today I visited men who were in prison, and left with my spirit soaring high beyond these walls, no longer afraid of what I have been told, or what I have read, or what I perceived to be. I too left transformed and saw the grace of God!
By Karen Washington
I want to thank Beth Waitkus, Amy Boyer, Amanda Berger from the Insight Garden Project for their unselfish dedication to healing lives through gardening. Lorrie Clevenger my Lil Sis who accompanied me on this journey and also was transformed. Lastly Rachel Schneider for providing the resources to do this work.
Finally, let’s end mass incarceration, torture and the death penalty as forms of punishment. #CloseRikers
Karen and Lorrie are part of a new collaboration with Hawthorne Valley Farm, Soul Fire Farm, Bard Prison Initiative, and Insight Garden Project. Together they focus on creating access and opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women to explore careers in the movement for building a just and sustainable food system.