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Garden teaches inmates skill, develops self-esteem

Like many area farmers, Kenyan Maxwell tends to his garden every day.

However, unlike most Butler County farmers, tall fences, barbed wire and armed security surround Maxwell’s farm.

Maxwell’s farm is located at the Butler County Correctional Facility.

About four years ago, the Butler County Correctional Facility started a garden to give inmates a chance to become active.

Since entering the jail, Maxwell has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the garden and making it his own project.

“I came down here and watered it until we got the watering system set up,” Maxwell said. “I come down here and just like old people would tell me, talk to the plants. We had enough to feed the whole jail until (the plants) stopped bearing.”

Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden prepped the area for the garden and then left the rest up to the inmates.

The year-round garden produces a variety of vegetables to help feed the inmates including collared greens, turnips, watermelons, tomatoes, okra, squash, cucumbers, beans, black-eyed peas, butter peas and pole beans.

“This year was a great year,” Maj. Albert McKee said. “We had five-gallon buckets of it. They take the okra and do a flash freeze and put it in the freezer along with the peas. Sometimes with the peas or beans, the female inmates will take them out and shell them.”

McKee said this is just another way to keep the inmates active and busy, while also helping them gain self-esteem.

“Initially the Sheriff said he wanted fresh vegetables,” McKee said. “The benefit is creating something for them to be hands on with and be productive. Out there in the criminal world, they’re doing alleged criminal acts. They didn’t take any time to do any gardening or anything like that. This is a correctional facility. That is one aspect as far as corrections.”

The hope is that the garden will expand by next year with the addition of new land acquired by the county.

“With the room we have, we don’t have room to start anything else that would be outside,” Harden said. “The county has another piece of land that we have acquired and (McKee) was going to take inmates down there to get it cleaned up. Maybe we can have the garden a little bit larger next year.”

For Maxwell, he hopes one day to have a garden of his own at his own house.

“It was just a great experience,” Maxwell said.

“It taught me that I could really do things the good way instead of doing bad things. This is the first garden I have ever grown on my own and tended to on my own. It just taught me a lot of different things, and that I can be a better person. It’s just really enjoyable to come down here and watch things grow knowing that I put my heart and soul into it.”