Ged Cann.

These pris­on­ers are more green thumbs than light-fin­gered, re­ports

The Dominion Post - - News -

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.

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