College Students and Incarcerated Women Work on Garden Together

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MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa— An interesting partnership is yielding big results for two groups of the population needing real world experience.

Iowa State landscaping architecture students worked in gardens on the grounds of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women over the summer. "We got to see everything from the drawing board to the construction," ISU Senior Jake Oswald said.

They did the work alongside incarcerated women. "I've learned how to build this. And, the plants, I've learned the names of those," inmate Mami Kirk said.

The partnership began in 2011 when the ICIW started renovations. "The idea was this prison environment could be more therapeutic, and it could also offer vocational and educational training opportunities," said ISU Landscape Architecture Assistant Professor Julie Stevens.

This summer, five students worked with eight women on a new healing garden for prisoners with special needs. "This is a space just for them. There are all kinds of different types of seeding out here, and the planting was designed for the women who have to stay behind the fence. It's kind of this painted mosaic on the grounds," Student Jacob Brouillette said.

The students and women also worked on food production gardens this year. The vegetables are used for meals. Last summer, the ISU students designed and built a garden in front of the administration building. It is meant for staff to have a place to meet and relax. The group isn’t finished.

"This fall and winter, we're going to be writing some curriculum," Stevens said. "So, we'll actually be doing some course work with the women. They're going to be developing the curriculum with us. So, they'll be creating guides for composting and watering and harvesting and how do you handle your produce between the garden and kitchen."

The goal is to teach life skills to the incarcerated women while providing hands-on experience for the students. "For us to get out here and do all the designing and building, see how things have to adjust. That has been a real learning experience to prepare us for the real world because that's the way it really is,"  Oswald said.

Grants and donations from landscaping and gardening centers made the gardens at the ICIW possible.