Cultivating their future

"It has given me peace of mind," wrote Sylvester Lewis, 41, from East Baltimore, due for release in 2009.

"The horticulture program gives me pride in the work I have done," wrote Tyrone Bryant, 26, from West Baltimore, due out next year. "I can go into a project and complete it like a job on the street. "

A lot of these men never had real jobs.

"I never did," said Wayne Gross, 41, from East Baltimore. "I never planted flowers. I feel good, being part of something like this."

The unofficial foreman on the project, Colin Freeman, and other inmates said they are likely to go into the landscaping business or horticulture when they earn release from the Department of Corrections.

"The horticulture program has helped me with job training, hands-on experience and good work ethics," wrote Ronnie Hopkins, 27, from South Baltimore, due for release next year.

"It's had a positive impact on me, and it could help others coming through this place find peace of mind," Freeman added.

The assistant warden hopes the opportunity to sit and meditate in slightly greener surroundings inside the big, old walls will help some inmates shake the thug-think. Some are hellbent on a return to street life, no matter the risks of violence and death. Others are in their thinking somewhere between the old ways and a desire for a better life. "They want to live," Atkins said. "They just don't know how yet."

Maybe a little time on a wooden bench, with flowers and grass growing nearby, will help them figure it out.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com
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