AKRON, Ohio — A spring garden is popping up in a place you wouldn't expect and the women tending to it believe it's changing their lives.
Clients at the Cliff Skeen Community Based Correctional Facility in Akron have been participating in a 12-lesson gardening project which includes growing potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, strawberries and beans.
On Thursday afternoon, several of the women received a certificate, garden gloves and a grow kit to take home upon their release from the facility.
The pilot program involves staff from Let's Grow Akron and the OSU Extension Center, as well as staff from Oriana House.
Each session included instruction on gardening principles as well as applying what was learned in the actual garden.
The project contributes to research on the benefits of gardening in correctional facilities, which will be further developed through an innovative partnership with faculty and students in the sociology department at the University of Akron.
Angie Norris, 41, who was sent to facility for what she called alcohol-related and domestic violence charges, said the gardening project has made a major impact on her life.
"Actually being able to see this new life grow, it's gonna help me grow my new life in recovery," Norris said. "Just because we made a mistake doesn't mean we are a mistake. We are a creation just like these are creations and we deserve that chance."
A key point of the project is to show the women how to spend their time productively and that gardening is a way to spend more time with family and away from trouble.
"We worked together as a team and we built teamwork," said another client, Amanda Hayko. "Teamwork really does make the dream work."
Rebecca Erickson, a professor of sociology at the University of Akron, said students will continue to observe the process, be part of an interview process, and look at ways to grow the project moving forward.
"The goal is to be able to apply for grant funding potentially from the USDA to really make this a best practices model for the state," Erickson said.
The Cliff Skeen CBCF is a 70-bed facility for female felony offenders in need of long-term rehabilitative programming up to 180 days. The program also accepts misdemeanor offenders convicted of city of Akron municipal ordinances who need similar programming.