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Chicago Botanic Garden involved in boot camp programme

26 November 2009

A 2006 graduate of our International Diploma Course in Botanic Garden Education, Susan Morgan, has sent us news of the Cook County Sherrif's Boot Camp Programme in the US, which sees involvement from the Chicago Botanic Garden in an urban agriculture programme.

boot camp inmates

boot camp garden
inmates and carrot cake
 Inmates harvsting carrots
 The Boot Camp garden
 Carrot cake for sale!


The Boot Camp program is a highly structured alternative prison program for incarcerated men (ages 18-35). Their motto is "rehabilitation through education and discipline." It works essentially like a military boot camp with inmates organised into platoons to do physical training and run drills. The inmates have the opportunity to take vocational training, anger management and substance abuse classes.

About 18-20 inmates from one of the platoons, Delta, works in the urban agriculture program where they grow vegetables and learn about plants and growing food. It's a brand new program, about two months old, but so far is having brilliant results.

With guidance from staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the cadets tend a large-scale garden on the grounds. From sowing seeds to harvesting crops, the young men are doing it all.

"We're working with 20 guys right now and all 20 of them are enthusiastic. They want to learn more. They ask for homework. They're interested. They want to know," Angela Mason, of the Chicago Botanic Garden, said.

The 17 to 35-year-old cadets serve 18-week sentences with an additional eight months of supervision for crimes that are non-violent and non-sexual. Director Frank Johnson was instrumental in getting the gardening program started. He thinks the lessons learned will be a metaphor for life.

"When these guys start out with nothing and then grow something, it takes away from that whole idea of immediate gratification and it gives them a chance to see if they start out slowly and build upon something that they can be successful," Johnson said. 


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