CRANSTON—Despite the sentences they face for the crimes they have committed—life in prison without the possibility of parole—the ten men clad in matching tan prison-issued uniforms had a sense of calm and peace about them as they entered the garden.
Filled with enough lettuce and tomato plants to feed a salad to each of the 400 men incarcerated behind the high walls of the maximum security facility off Rte. 95, the prison garden, given the green light by Rhode Island’s Department of Corrections, has become a source of hope for those serving life sentences with little to be hopeful about.
Last Thursday, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin visited the approximately 50-foot by 100-foot garden, hewn of a plot of land between inmate housing units jutting off the main recreation yard, to dedicate a new storage shed.
“I’m very impressed. It’s a nice project. We’re glad to provide this shed for you,” Bishop Tobin told the men and volunteers gathered for the dedication.
“While you are working here, I’ll be thinking about you and praying for you,” Bishop Tobin added.
When the garden program, which is administered by volunteers and led by Martha Paone, diocesan coordinator for Catholic chaplaincy at the prison, asked for help in building a storage shed to house equipment needed to maintain the grounds, the diocese responded with $800 from the Diocesan Emergency Assistance Fund to make the request possible.
The bishop was moved by the generosity of the inmates, who created a card to thank him for the gift of the shed.
One inmate, “Ray,” spoke on behalf of the group as he read from a letter outlining his thoughts on how their lives have been impacted by the garden. “It lets us accomplish something as a team together. It’s a positive note of accomplishment,” Ray said.
“We have a sense of creating life through living plants and a sense of accomplishment through their growth.”
Roberta Richmond, assistant director of Rehabilitative Services, said the garden represents an important part of what her department is trying to do.
“There are folks that will never leave prison. We’re thinking about the quality of their lives and giving them a purpose for living,” Richmond said. “It creates an environment where inmates see people doing good things.”
Captain Jeff Aceto, of the facility’s security detail, credits Paone’s determination with taking the idea of a garden and making it a reality.
“We needed to find something for these men to do, they’re serving life without parole,” Aceto said. “Martha has been very aggressive and really got this going from the beginning,” he said.
State Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall said the garden project was designed to give those serving life sentences something to look forward to while they serve their time.
“Everybody needs hope and the possibility of redemption,” Director Wall said. “This garden signals that to these men, and the bishop’s support and presence is a visible sign that God does good work here.”