Friday, June 16, 2006

Flowers power prison reform

By John Davis
Montgomery Advertiser

Elmore Correctional Facility inmates are growing flowers that go to nursing homes, VA hospitals and the Family Sunshine Center in Montgomery.
-- Contributed / Alabama Department of Corrections

ELMORE -- A state corrections facility in Elmore County is participating in a rehabilitation program coordinated by volunteers that gives inmates an opportunity to sow seeds of hope throughout the community.

Inmates at the Elmore Correctional Facility are cultivating a new garden, and they plan to send the flowers to nursing homes and local agencies that provide services to the elderly. Volunteers and prison officials said the project is a reform tool that keeps inmates busy and helps build morale.

William Kizziah couldn't agree more.

"I've never really started something and carried it all the way through," said Kizziah, an inmate at the facility. He is one of several who work in the garden, which was blessed Thursday by Sam Shippen.

Shippen, who lives in Prattville, has worked with inmates for years through the prison ministry group Order of St. Dismas. The order has helped Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka start a prison garden and plans to spread the program to Staton Correctional Facility, which also is in Elmore County.

Shippen is making a statewide push for more community-based rehabilitation programs like his, which are free and have received high marks from prison staff members.

"The flower project simply gives them (inmates) something to keep them occupied so that they can give back to the community," said Willie Thomas, warden at Elmore Correctional Facility.

SunBridge at Merry Wood, a 124-bed nursing home, will be one of the first places to benefit from the beauty of the prison garden. Corrections officials plan to send bouquets of flowers to SunBridge residents.

"The garden you see outside ... is the first fruits of their labor," said Bob Scheffler of Prattville, a master gardener who donates time to help inmates learn how to cultivate.

Shippen said it's difficult to find volunteers like Scheffler, and more are needed in Alabama's prisons.


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