Cultivating Relationships with Garden Projects

The 5-C Criminal Justice Network (CJN), a group of student activists, recently helped create the California Institution for Women (CIW) Garden Project, a sustainable organic garden.Although the CIW is located just 35 minutes from the 5Cs, few students or faculty were even aware of its existence until an group of Scripps students founded the 5-C Criminal Justice Network three years ago. As a student chapter of the LA-based non-profit Women and Criminal Justice Network, whose mission states that “individual and social transformation occurs when people on the ‘inside’ and people on the ‘outside’ have an opportunity to meet and share a common experience, reflect together on it, and discern the next step together.”

In the past three years, the CJN has organized a number of “cross-over experiences” with a group of incarcerated women, ages 18-30, who are all members of the Young Adult Networking Group. While these were successful, student leaders saw the need to create a more sustainable program that would cultivate longer-lasting relationships. Hence the Garden Project: a unique collaboration with the goal of nurturing the Earth as well as personal relationships.

The five leaders all bring different skills and contribute in different ways to the project. CJN co-leader Hannah Segal SC ’09 communicates with the warden and administration at the prison, and plans and leads most of the trips to the garden. The other co-leader, Adrian Hodos SC ’09, raises awareness off-campus and is also looking to recruit new members to take over the project after she graduates. Physics major Cassandra Gamm SC ’11 plans to design, implement, and maintain the garden’s irrigation system. Halley Everall SC ’10 contacts local businesses to secure donations of supplies. Samantha Meyer PO ’10, an environmental analysis major with construction experience and an interest in sustainable agricultural practices, oversees the garden’s building projects, such as constructing a composting worm-bin, furniture for the green house, and garden beds.

“This project addresses so many different issues, from health to the environment to criminal justice,” said Meyer.

Project organizers say that women inside of California’s prisons have limited access to healthy food, exercise, and outside communities. The garden will provide the women fresh fruits and vegetables that can supplement their diets, and a therapeutic and meditative activity that can help their mental well-being. The group hopes to add a structured gardening therapy program to the project, so that gardening can be part of abused women’s recovery. This hand-on approach to therapy is based on the idea that transforming your landscape can help transform your life—a potentially important message to send to those looking to break out of a cycle of incarceration. The Garden Project is also deeply rooted in organic and sustainable practices, and addresses environmental problems at a grassroots level.

“This project is important to us because, as a group, we have built a relationship with the women at CIW,” said Meyer. “We consider the Garden Project to be a culmination of our past efforts to connect our campus community with the women of CIW, and the most promising means of creating a sustainable partnership between these two communities in the future.”

For the past two months, students and the women at CIW have been working side-by-side, weeding and digging beds. While the project has built up a solid foundation, much work remains to be done. Within the next year, they hope to start producing enough food to be used in the prison’s kitchen. They hope to create a lecture and workshop series on climate change and sustainable living that will bring people from the Claremont Colleges to share their knowledge with the women in the prison. However, the project currently lacks the necessary funds to complete all of these ambitious goals.

But the project is now one of ten finalists for one of five $10,000 grants in the Mountain Dew “Energize Your Community” contest. Project sponsors are encouraging students to vote online at The group says they will use the money to expand the greenhouse, rent tractors and delivery trucks, and buy fruit trees, an irrigation system, seeds, compost, and various gardening tools. Voting takes place from Apr. 15-29, and each person can vote once a day.

If you’re interested in getting involved beyond simply voting, the CJN meets weekly on Tuesday at 9 p.m. at the Grove House, and always welcomes new members. They currently have an active membership of 12-20 students from all the 5Cs seeking to raise awareness about prison-related issues through film screenings—including “900 Women” and “What I Want My Words to Do to You”—information campaigns, and collaborative efforts with community organizations and criminal justice advocates in LA County. Last weekend, they held a craft fair in Seal Court and made organic marmalade, and they have also been selling donuts to increase funding.

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