The Insight Garden Program (IGP), which has an organic flower garden on the H-Unit yard, relies heavily on establishing outside community partnerships so we can support awareness for our program. For instance, we have established solid relationships with other like–minded service providers, the media, and made numerous presentations to academic institutions, gardening programs, community associations and employees..
We have developed these outside connections to gain support, understanding and raise awareness of our program and the inmates’ predicament. Many of the aforementioned have also visited our program, become volunteers and financial supporters, as well as “Ambassadors” for our program and prison reform.
With community partnerships established between IGP, its class participants and the surrounding communities, those of us in the program have a chance to meet and interact with possible employers and connections with other job placement programs to lay the ground work for a network of post-release support. In developing that continuum of care, these connections help people and potential employers understand prisoners’ challenges to employment after release, and strategies to move through these barriers so men can find work and become successful employees and community members.
IGP’s staff is made up of a group of dedicated and committed volunteers. Beth Waitkus, the founder and director of IGP, designs the curriculum and manages the program and builds many of the community relationships inside and outside of the prison walls. Mark Stefanski, a high school biology teacher, provides the scientific framework for gardening, plant biology and ecological issues.
START GIVING BACK
John Pateros, a process coach, teaches a self-transformation process with an emphasis on the “inner gardener” – helping people learn to heal themselves. Quin Ellis, a professional landscaper and gardener, teaches the basics of gardening and landscaping. And finally, Christi Vaughn provides her essential gardening and administrative skills to help Waitkus run the program.
We’ve also had the honor of welcoming some wonderful guests to our program, including internationally renowned system thinkers, ecologists and authors; perm culturists; landscape architects; directors and producers of environmental documentaries; reentry specialists and staff from local green jobs programs.
With all the community involvement and help from volunteers, IGP wants to start giving back. With a new vegetable garden in the works (see previous article), it will be possible to do just that. When inmates harvest and donate food, it will be given back to the community and non-profits most in need. It will also help us build a stronger sense of community in the prison, helping men gain the skills they need to reconnect to themselves, their communities and the natural world.