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Inmates planting seeds for the future at Oakhill Correctional Institute

OREGON (WKOW) — He’s done time for things like burglary and drug possession, but now Mitch Derrick spends most of his time tending to the plants inside a greenhouse.

“I messed around in gardens as a kid with my mom and grandparents and stuff like that,” Derrick said.

Derrick is an inmate getting horticultural training at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon.

He’s one of 11 men in this vocational training program at the minimum-security prison.

“Some of its pretty complicated. Some of them scientific names are in Latin. It’s a lot to get the hang of,” said Andy Bergeron, one of the inmates in the program.

David Markle is the prison’s horticulture instructor helping prepare inmates for life on the outside.

“One of the big jobs that we’re training for is pesticides. Being able to work for landscaping companies that spray,” Markle said.

Inmates at Oakhill help to produce things like lettuce, carrots and garlic. In 2017, the garden at Oakhill harvested more than 42,000 pounds of produce.

The food helps feed the inmates, but a portion of the produce also goes to local food pantries around Madison.

“This is a baby for them that they get to care for,” Markel said.

The work inmates are doing at Oakhill also has an impact at places like Troy Gardens in Madison.

Children from schools and community centers come to the Kids Garden to learn about horticulture, cooking and

Oakhill Correctional Institute donates many of the plants.

“I think the benefits go both ways,” said Ginny Hughes, the Education Director of Community GroundWork, which oversees the gardens.

“To be able to provide an outlet for inmates to grow things for kids and then the kids to be able to recognize that there’s value in all of us regardless of where we are or what choices we’ve made in life,” Hughes said.

“You feel like you’re making a difference,” Bergeron said after spending part of the morning in a horticulture class. “Making up for some of the stuff we did in the past to get ourselves here.”

Derrick expects to get out of Oakhill early next year. He hopes the foundation he’s planting here will help.

“We’re going to be better people because of this program when we walk outside of this fence,” Derrick said.

George Smith

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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