Prison life more productive
self-help, vocational and educational programmes. Some will work outside the prison in full-time employment, returning only at night.
“I come out to work in the gardens when I can,” says inmate Pete. “Mostly in the evenings, after my main job, or at weekends.”
“We’re forced to,” chips in another inmate, Chris. “They beat us if we don’t!” he jokes, grinning.
So what’s the secret behind the high-quality fruit and vegetables in the kitchen gardens? Northam puts it down to regular rotation and a miraculous blend of homemade compost. “We make it on site from food waste and wood shavings.” The food waste is fed into an in-vessel composter called a Big Hanna. From there the mixture is tipped into a wormery and left to mature. The result is “absolutely amazing compost”, says Northam.
It helps too that one pest is absent. Slugs, it seems, have never managed to scale the prison walls. Yet the pollinators come in: bees, butterflies and ladybirds. Just not as many, and as often, as the inmates would like.
Dartmoor boasts some of the highest rainfall in the country and a couple of washout summers have affected crop yield. “But we’re not defeatists,” says staff member Peter Crockford gamely. “There’s always next year.”
A local residential home in nearby Princetown, an allotment-free zone, benefits from the fruit and vegetables. They have been receiving boxes since the garden’s creation. The inmates get their fair share too. “We make delicious veggie soups,” says inmate Chris.
A ramble across the outer area of the resettlement compound reveals more delights. Small spaces are turned into rockeries, flower beds or enhanced by wooden planters filled with brightly coloured bedding plants. There are two polytunnels to extend the growing season and to grow flowers that are sold to the public in the prison museum shop. “We’d like the gardens to be self-supporting,” says Northam. An initial grant of £15,000 awarded in 2006 from the Bromley Trust, which supports causes concerned with prison reform, has long been spent. Funds are tight. “But our area manager recognises the potential of what we’ve doing and is supportive,” he concedes.
A huge blackened building with boarded-up windows elicits description. “That was the old chapel. It got burnt out in a prison riot in 1990. It’s a listed building now.” Alongside runs a spiky border of ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, hostas, ferns and hellebores, a cheerful splash of colour against the derelict building’s walls.
Crunching across gravel, we arrive at the old dog compound, where the alsatians were kept. Now, in their place are ex-battery hens. Bald and daylightshy on arrival, they are now handsome, fluffy things; pecking around in a vast hand-built run.
“We sell the eggs in the prison shop,” says Northam. “The money goes toward their upkeep. Whatever is left goes back into the gardens.” One hen appears to have escaped and found her way to the composter, where she is clawing at scraps. “That’s our pet chicken,” says Northam. “She got bullied by the others so we let her out of the run and she’s allowed to roam around.” And what of the alsatians? They have long gone. It’s just Rosie, one spoilt pet chicken, that has run of the place these days.
Behind bars: the former exercise yards have been turned into gardens, above and below, while chickens, right, provide eggs for the shop at Dartmoor Prison, far left