Paris, TN – Henry County Tennessee Sheriff's Department supervises inmates taking rehabilitation into their own hands. They grow vegetables on three small plots of land around the Community of Paris. The produce is primarily used for the jail cafeteria though a few weeks ago they began giving away produce to local residents. Paco Long-Mendez has the story.
It's three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon at the Henry County Municipal Court House parking lot. About forty people mill around. Four Henry County inmates unload hundreds of pounds of fresh produce from an idling truck and trailer. Captain Rod Frey, who supervises the inmate garden, jumps right into the work. With the produce assembly line in place, Captain Frey asks the Henry County residents to line up to receive free produce.
Residents receive plastic shopping bags full of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and slaw.
The Henry County Sheriff's Department started growing produce next to the jail three years ago. Within a year's time they saved the county 15,000 dollars by supplementing the cafeteria with their own produce.
The second year we expanded to two plots and that was last year saved the county 30,000 dollars, this year we expanded to three plots and we expect to save the county 45 to 50,000 dollars this year.
Having grown up on a farm, Captain Frey says that it's natural for him to supervise the inmate garden crew. He says the crew loves getting out and doing the work.
A lot of then have never grown a garden, they plant the seed and see it mature all the way up til you get the fruit off of it like tomatoes, plus it gives them there proud to give back to the community something they've taken that's the reason their incarcerated.
Inmate Jeremy Buie agrees.
It's been real enlightening I mean besides the fact we get to get out and work hard and together with each other we get to give back to the community and that feels really good, especially they way the economy's going its real helpful.
-Buie's mother and Grandmother canned vegetables when he was a child and now he's in charge of canning for the jail. The inmates also make sweet tomato relish and salsa.
Jeremy tells us how the healthy produce benefits his fellow inmates.
They're loving it, I mean all the fresh vegetables, if it wasn't for the garden we probably wouldn't have them, you know it would all be out of a can or a bag or something, but their really enjoying the fresh vegetables.
Captain Frey says residents don't mind the inmates gardening around the community because they're always properly supervised. Robin Whitt stops by after picking her son up from elementary school.
Oh I think it's awesome, gives them something to do, it's better than sitting inside a cell. You know I love fresh vegetables, it'll help my food bill and I'm planning on doing some fried green tomatoes in fact.
Whitt is one of over a hundred people who took advantage of the free produce. In forty-five minutes the inmates gave away all but one crate of tomatoes.
Determined to give away all the produce they came with, the crew waits for one more person. They'll take their produce to different locations around the county every Wednesday until the end of September.