Gardening Behind Bars
Where plants have the power to transform

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When Ellen Baron goes to work each day, she goes to prison. A Michigan state prison. Not as guard, but as a horticultural instructor. Her students have robbed convenience stores, bought and sold drugs, and gotten caught.

prison garden, plant therapy, horticultural therapyAnd though these women are behind bars, they get a taste of freedom by working with plants. Thanks to Ellen.

Ellen Baron is one of my heroes...

Women are the fastest-growing group of people going to prison. Some say the system is broken. Christina Rathbone, author of A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars, says "The U.S. incarcerates more people each year than any place in the world other than China. The fastest-growing group within those incarcerated is women. Women who are mothers, primary care givers between the ages of 15 to 25, all there due to a non-violent offense, usually drug use."

Rathbone spent five years conducting interviews and writing the book, which places the system under a microscope. "Women in general are affectionate people, and they take that away from you [in prison]," said Mrs. Smith (not her real name) who spent nine years at the Framingham penitentiary. "They choose to medicate most people rather than help."

Many state legislators around the country have spent years trying to fix the system. Change comes slowly, but it does happen.

As a horticulture instructor at Huron Valley Complex (a minimum security women's correctional facility, in Ypsilani, Michigan), Ellen Baron knows all too well that change comes slowly. Through classes and training, she prepares inmates for rehabilitation back into the community. The community that includes us. In the process of working with plants and caring for their own garden plots, Ellen has witnessed amazing transformations in the lives of incarcerated women.

garden blogI interviewed Ellen in the spring of 2006. During our 2-minute interview, I learned how plants have, as Ellen puts it, "the power to transform."

Don't miss this opportunity to be inspired. To listen to the interview (it's easy!), simply click here to visit my Acorns blog where the original article is posted. Scroll down to the mp3 file at the end of the article.

The story of Ellen's work has already touched people's lives. Ellen sent me this note, soon after I posted her interview:

Hi Marion,

Just wanted to give you a little update on what has happened as a result of your segments about our class. I was contacted by lady in Alabama that has been working for two years to set up a horticulture program for a maximum security prison for women. She states that my interview was just the type of thing that she needed to convince the local community college and wardens that it was an important program to have at the prison. So, thank you for the interview it has been a wonderful experience to help them in any small way that I can.
-- Ellen B.


Source for Rathbone information: Marblehead Reporter: "A look behind the bars," article by Kaitlin Melanson (article may have been archived) but her book is available in book stores and at

American Horticultural Therapy Association
The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) is advancing the practice of horticulture as therapy to improve human well-being.



Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!

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