There I was in prison facing the possibility of a parole and wondering what to do with my life. I had a good job lined up and a good place to live but what were my goals for the future? My initial thoughts were to try and work as much as I could like having a second part time job. I’d have to support myself as well as get things like clothing, a vehicle and tools I’d want. Staying busy has always been a priority and specially now it would be important to keep active and productive, if nothing else to stay healthy and earn money I’d need. Something else I’ve had my eye on for years is volunteering in the community I lived in. I’ve been involved in several different projects in different prisons and really liked it, my actual job classification has been “Community Service” at times. If you’ve ever volunteered you’ll know what I’m talking about. From the mundane hours of just physical labor to the completion of a project or sometimes actually seeing the good you brought into someone else’s life. There’s nothing like it, a certain satisfaction and a sense of purpose that can’t be found anywhere else except when you help others. There’s all sorts of community activities that need volunteers and a few that I’d be geared towards, “Habitat For Humanity”, local food banks and The Red Cross always needs people. I know I’d be an asset to groups building homes – I’m a worker, can operate equipment and I’m good with tools and my hands. And food, just like a place to live is a basic necessity and both are good places where I could make a difference. Oh, and honestly, those are the kind of people I’d hope to be around. I’m also picturing myself being in treatment programs with other felons and going to AA and NA meetings, those are my people too. They are my family and friends I grew up with and the kind of people I spent over three decades with in prison. Then an idea began to form on how I could bring all of these things together. I mean I was going to have to make it all fit into my life anyway so why not interconnect them into a bigger plan? Here’s what I came up with.
Say you have a good sized community garden or more like a small community farm located on the outskirts of town or city. Maybe an abandoned industrial area or a couple lots in a rundown neighborhood. Somewhere out of the way but where people had reasonable access to. Nothing fancy, just growing vegetables like tomatoes, onions, beans, potatoes, e.t.c. and all or at least a large portion would go to local food banks for distribution. Once it got set up and going it’d be worked by local volunteers but hopefully a certain kind of volunteer. Now combine this with a community composting project like the ones already happening in places across the country. Leftover compostable food scraps from stores, restaurants and households that’d be collected on a weekly basis from the provided receptacles by people from the community garden center. This site would serve as a base of operations where a main garden would be, compost piles, storage for the needed equipment and supplies as well as a meeting place.
Okay, now pause…. That’s a big idea that would take a lot more then someone like me to get going and at several stages the professionals would have to take over. Even before monies could be acquired through state or federal funding (possibly private support) a solid plan or proposal would need to be put together. Cost estimates, a location (s), budgets, timelines and a cadre of community leaders dedicating their time and effort. There would be unpredictable snags, changes and hopefully better idea’s and improvements.
Still with me? Now for the tricky part. It’s one thing to find availabe funding and community backing but who’s going to put in all of that time and effort? This would be a place needing to be facilitated and managed every single day not to mention all of the physical labor. Here’s where a couple radical idea’s come into play. What if there were some people like me doing it? Some people coming out of prison who’d be on parole for 3-5 years and entered into a contractual agreement to be a part of the project. They’d be vetted and trained before being accepted and leaving prison. They’d have to maintain a full time job as well as share responsibilities at the center and reside at a halfway house type of place monitored by a parole officer. They’d be the integral core working with oversee’ers and other members of the community. Another thought would be to get local people from outpatient recovery programs to volunteer. Also could be a diversion program for people convicted of minor offenses as an alternative to incarceration. How about juveniles after their first scrapes of trouble? You see where I’m going with this right? Build a place that is productive and meaningful that has a good purpose within the community but that involves mostly the kind of people living on the fringes of society. Those that have done and seen the worst and want a better life. The alcoholics and drug addicts who got lost in whatever world they were in and are trying to find their way back. The youths who have yet to discover who they are and need guidance. What if there was a place they could go and mix with their own kind as well as decent people of the community to work, learn, live and grow food together? And what if after this place got started more and more people got involved? What if it grew into smaller gardens being grown all over and a system of people of all kinds coming together to help each other? … I know, a lot of ” what if’s” and it’s a crazy idea that people might laugh at and wouldn’t consider.But what if it worked?
I know it can’t be me, just not in the cards. But it could still happen if the right people saw things the way I do. I’d like to share more idea’s and a closer look from my view. Til next time,
Categories: Mark Gildemeister