Spending a day doing backbreaking labour in the hot Caribbean sun may not seem appealing, but for the inmates of HMP Northward, it’s a welcome educational tool while doing their time behind bars.
Under the guidance of Farm Manager Raul Gonzalez, the inmates spend their days tending to the variety of crops that make up the 282-acre Wilderness Farm in North Side, said a GIS press release.
A group of about 20 inmates regularly participates in the farming programme, which handles the day-to-day needs of the site.
At present, there are 2,700 mango trees; 5,000 plantain trees; 2,000 banana trees; 5,000 pumpkin plants; and countless tomatoes, peppers, cassavas, papayas and sugar-cane plants. The men are also responsible for orange groves, which this year enabled them to raise money for the farm during the Cayman Islands Agricultural Show.
‘This year we sold out of our oranges and orange juice,’ said Mr. Gonzalez. ‘The orange juice went so fast, and we sold out of our entire stock of sugar cane. For next year’s event we plan on doing even better.’
The farm’s produce is generally not available in the local markets. Almost all the fruits and vegetables are used to supply the prison kitchen, to feed inmates. If more is harvested than can be used, the items are distributed throughout the community to rest homes, hospitals or wherever there is a need.
One of the farm’s biggest community contributions is coconut trees. ‘After Hurricane Ivan wiped out so much of the natural vegetation around Cayman, including almost levelling our stocks at the farm, we decided that it was imperative to assist by supplying coconut trees for replanting,’ explained Prison Director Dwight Scott.
‘We have grown more than 1,500 coconut trees here at the Wilderness Farm and sold hundreds of them at the Ag Show to help re-beautify the Cayman Islands.’
This initiative came from prisoners and staff, who recognised the need to replant the Caribbean staple. But the idea itself also demonstrated the inmates’ commitment to do something for their community.
‘The men who participate in this programme learn the value of hard work and self sufficiency, while working the fields and participating in courses learning about crops, pesticides and other aspects of farming,’ said Mr. Scott.
‘After Ivan, this site seemed almost unsalvageable, but the men committed themselves to rebuilding. They’ve made this farm better than it ever was.’
The inmates have also been hands-on with regards to getting an education in farming while doing this labour, the release said. They built a small classroom on site which enables professionals in the farming industry to give lectures on a variety of topics such as the proper use of pesticides, horticulture and planting techniques.
‘That these men are seeking to better themselves while behind bars, and learn valuable skills and work ethics, is commendable,’ Mr. Scott said. ‘When the time comes for these men to reintegrate into Caymanian society, we hope that this experience on the farm will help them to be better citizens and contributors to their communities.’