These prisoners are more green thumbs than light-fingered, reports
Inmates working in the Rimutaka Prison nursery are helping replant the country with ‘‘some of the hardiest’’ native plants on offer.
Replanting charity Project Crimson has received nearly 450,000 trees and shrubs from the nursery since 2006, and conservation manager Caroline Wallace said Wellington benefited particularly from the high-quality northern ra¯ta¯ the prisoners grew.
Between a team of eight inmates, the nursery produces roughly 140,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses every year.
You wouldn’t know it to look at the prison from the outside, but at the back of the complex is a potting shed, two large tunnel houses, a 50-metre-long shade house and multiple hardening out areas where plants are prepared for relocation.
To deliver this number, a prisoner’s regular work day runs like anyone else;s, with the 8am breakfast call at the start of the day, and the 5pm lockdown signalling the end of shift.
Principal instructor Wayne Turner said prisoners were taught everything they needed to know, from planting seedlings and quality control to forklift driving – and learning the Latin names of every species was a must.
‘‘Most of the prisoners talk in Latin, because unlike Joe Public they don’t come into it knowing the normal names.’’
Horticultural instructor Chris Hannan said the nursery operated like any other commercial operation, and the quality of the product had to live up to expectations.
Sales were made exclusively to large-scale buyers, and always at market value.
Hannan said as prisoners became more engaged with the nursery, they were prone to get competitive about whose plants grew quickest.
‘‘That can work two ways – it’s good to have them wanting to be successful and to do the work properly, but we can see a bit of sabotage going on,’’ he said.
‘‘We notice when they get more comfortable the banter comes into it. They can joke about the work, joke about each other, point out a few things, set each other up, but they know they’re secure in their knowledge and ability to not take issue at that.’’
Mr H is one of the prisoners working in the nursery, and has recently completed his level three horticultural qualification.
‘‘The experience in the nursery is something that’s eye-opening, because people just look at plants and take them for granted. There’s so much going on in a plant, and it’s actually a living thing,’’ he said.
It’s a welcome escape from the claustrophobic cells.
‘‘It’s the sort of thing I want to carry on when I get out as well.’’
At any one time there can be up to a dozen prisoners working towards level one, two and three horticulture qualifications.
The nursery has also been involved in supplying bird feeders, nest boxes and weta houses for the Treemendous School native garden makeover projects.