Growing time at Washington Parish Jail

Published 7:46 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It’s early April in south Louisiana. Birds are scoping out prime nesting areas, azaleas and wisteria are blooming, and, despite the unusual weather, people throughout Washington Parish are preparing soil and inserting seeds or young plants that will grow into nutritious fresh vegetables.

Besides the health benefits, there are cost savings associated with homegrown produce, and that all sounds good to Sheriff Randy Seal, who has set up a garden at the parish jail.

Even before parish government was left reeling by the failure of a sales tax initiative Saturday, he said the garden was just one example of what his office has “taken on” to help the bottom line.

“We are doing all we can to effectively utilize inmate labor, whether it be picking up litter from our roadsides, handing out food to needy families, repairing our own vehicles or growing vegetables for the jail,” Seal said. “It is good honest work that benefits the citizens of Washington Parish and helps to keep our inmates involved in meaningful activities.”

Lt. Jim Miller came up with the idea to save the parish some money while offering inmates the opportunity to work in the fresh air. He noticed grass growing in patches behind the jail and figured, with proper attention, vegetables could do the same.

“Jim is a country boy (Mt. Hermon), so his thoughts in spring naturally turn to a garden,” said Chief Deputy Mike Haley. “He saw some patches of grass with garden potential, so he made the suggestion.”

Haley approved.

After soil preparation enabled by Dickie and Lee Dillon and Ace Hardware in Franklinton, inmates took up hoes and rakes and took over the care of the growing space. The fruits, or vegetables, of their labors will be used in the jail kitchen to help reduce the cost of feeding those who are incarcerated in the facility.

That is expected to lower the parish grocery bill, but since this is the first Washington Parish Jail garden, nobody is quite sure how much savings there will be or what percentage of the inmate diet will be covered by the homegrown crops.

“Since this is the first time we have done this, we are not sure of the level of production; thus, not sure what proportion of the inmate diet will be fresh vegetables,” Haley said. “However, all of the vegetables grown at the jail will be consumed by the inmate population. No vegetables will go to home freezers. 

“We hope the addition of fresh vegetables to the menu will provide some cost savings for parish government, which is responsible for the cost of feeding inmates. And this is being done at no cost to the taxpayers of Washington Parish.”

The inmates are excited about the opportunity to work the soil, he said.

“We have plenty of volunteers, female and male, who enjoy working in a garden and consider it a great privilege to do so and to be able to get outside in the fresh air more often,” Haley said. “Sheriff Seal is pleased to be able to offer a healthier diet to the inmates while at the same time giving motivated inmates an opportunity for more exercise doing meaningful garden work.”

Now outside the barred windows, small tomato and pepper plants absorb the sun while the beginnings of corn, okra, cucumber and potato plants rest in the fertile soil in preparation of poking through the surface and reaching for the sky.

Inside, inmates and jail staff supervisors are rooting them on with the pride of personal involvement.

There are reportedly already discussions under way for a fall garden.