Garden Work Program helps Inmates and Community

By: Erica Rakow Email
By: Erica Rakow Email

Panama City-- Inmate work programs aren't very common in county jails because inmates are there less than a year. But Bay County jail inmates are getting the opportunity to work, and it's benefiting them as well as taxpayers..

Behind the jail sits two gardens and a greenhouse built and run completely by inmates.

"Our goal here is for everybody to work. You just don't come in and lay up in jail," said Sheriff Frank. McKeithen.

Jack Dean is serving 180 days for passing bad checks. He says working in the jail's garden is therapeutic and gives him something to look forward to.

"Five days a week we usually come out here. Start in the morning and it really does help the day go by," said Jack Dean, an inmate.

The inmates also plant and grow a lot of food. Right now they're working on winter crops. They've got turnips, carrots, onions, collards and a lot of other food growing, too. All of the fresh produce goes straight to the jails kitchen to be served daily to the 900 or so inmates.

The warden estimates the program is saving the county at least $5,000 dollars a month in food costs.

"It's a good incentive for these guys, it's a good incentive for us and everybody wins," said Sheriff McKeithen.

"Our goal is two-fold. It's to teach and give them something to do here that helps them have something productive to do but it's also to teach them when they get out they can grow their own food," said Vocation Instructor, John Nalls.

"I think I’ll be able to use it out here. My family bought some land out here so I’ll be able to put their land to use and see what I can do out there," said Dean.

The program is funded with inmate welfare funds, not tax dollars. The jail donates excess crops to the Panama City Rescue Mission and local food banks.


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