Utah County Jail Gardening Program Helps Improve Inmates’ Outlook

May 23, 2019, 10:21 PM | Updated: 10:30 pm

SPANISH FORK, Utah — The Utah County Jail is one of the few in the nation to offer an industries program, placing inmates with businesses around Utah Valley.

Before many of those inmates get the green light, however, they often have to prove they have a ‘green thumb.’

That’s where the jail’s greenhouse and garden come into play.

“Some say ‘I’ve never seen anything through my entire life’ and it gives them a chance to start something and see that through,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Jarvis.

The low-risk inmates plant the seeds and then see them through to maturity, helping to produce flowers for the jail and county buildings and anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 pounds of food.

About half of the food gets donated to the local food bank, according to Sgt. James Baldwin, who oversees the jail industries program.

On a day in late April, inmates Derreke Nelson, Brandon Robbins and Jose Calderon all maintained the program was therapeutic and reformative.

“The freedom is what I like,” Nelson said. “We get to work a lot of the day and feel like we’re not in jail.”

Calderon said working in the greenhouse has helped him improve his feelings of self-worth and it has also helped him realize he can make a difference in his community.

He said depression about an eye condition led him on a path to alcoholism and retail theft.

“It’s called keratoconus,” Calderon said. “It’s a rare eye condition. I can’t have glasses.”

Calderon said he’ll always appreciate the perspective the program has given him, and he’s looking up to starting up a taco truck business when he is released.

“Life gives you lemons, but you can make lemonade with it,” Calderon said. “I made a mistake but realized it and (I’m) moving on and (I’m not) going to make a mistake again.”

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Utah County Jail Gardening Program Helps Improve Inmates’ Outlook