Benton County Inmate Garden Changing Lives In The Community And The Jail

BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) -- The Benton County Sheriff's Office started a new program to help the community and give inmates a second chance at life.

Female inmates have planted a tomatoes, potatoes, squash and other vegetables as part of the Inmate's Garden. They've been harvesting several boxes of fruit and vegetables a day. All the food is being donated to the St. Andrew's Food Pantry in Rogers.

The program is similar to work detail or heavy labor jobs -- this is a way for the inmates to work outside, contribute to society and potentially earn an earlier release date.

The garden is entirely the inmates' responsibility. They prep the ground, plant the vegetables and harvest the produce.

The program is already making a positive impact on the women involved. Margie Stellwagen is an inmate at Benton County and she said she thinks working in this garden is a blessing.

"We're giving back to the community," said Stellwagen.  "Whereas we took from the community when were out there doing things we never should have done."

The program is making a difference.

"We've seen a decrease in disciplinary issues with female inmates," said Sgt. Shannon Jenkins of the BCSO. "The better behaved they are the more of an opportunity they may have to actually be one of the ladies put on this crew."

The program has been on Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway's radar for a while, so he asked a jail chaplain who gardens to lead the project. In addition to him, three master gardeners and several volunteers help teach the women everything they need to know.

"Some of them have never even had the opportunity to do any kind of gardening work, so they're actually learning something," Jenkins said. "They're learning some life skills and they're also learning how to give back to the community, because what they're working on, it's going to be in food pantries."

The inmates are now responsible for keeping up the grounds at BCSO.

All the supplies used in the garden are donations from the community.

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