Prison life more pro­duc­tive

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

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

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