Ohio inmates gardening for a difference

Complete community service projects that benefit various nonprofit organizations and community centered businesses of the area

By Joseph Pratt
The Portsmouth Daily Times

PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — Prison inmates of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) have been known to work together and complete community service projects that benefit various nonprofit organizations and community centered businesses of the area. Most recently, the inmates have grown flats of flowers through their agriculture group and donated them to various gardens operated through the Scioto Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

Steve Zeune, activity therapy supervisor and community service coordinator of SOCF, organizes these types of services. He has a growing list of partners, some including American Legion Post 23, Sierra’s Haven, Ohio Soil and Conservation, the Scioto County Homeless Shelter.

The agriculture program at the SOCF helps inmates gain an understanding and eventually certification in agriculture. This year, while starting seeds for their two acre garden on the ground of the SOCF, inmates also started seedlings for all three of Scioto County’s SWCD’s garden projects. Zeune’s gardening project produced thousands of pounds of fresh food last year, which was donated and then distributed at local food pantries.

“The inmates get the same amount of gratification from this program that they do from any of our other programs they are involved in,” Zeune said. “The inmates are receiving the option to give back and helping others and it really is good for everyone all around.”

The inmates grew somewhere around 20 flats of flowers this season, which all started from scratch in the early warm periods of the year.

The three garden projects that the Scioto SWCD were at the Portsmouth Public Library Garden, the 14 Street Community Garden and the Shawnee Nature Park Garden.

Each of the gardens that the SOCF donated to has a unique and beneficial programming for the community. The 14 Street Community Garden has supplied student outreach programs with the means to experience gardening and learn about it at a young age. The garden at the Shawnee State Park’s Nature Center, The Pioneer Garden, involved lessons on history and culture, in conjunction with the Portsmouth Public Library Bookmobile.

“I was told that our work was very helpful to the organizations we donated to. It has been more affordable for them and quicker, since we started them from seeds,” Zeune said. “Our seeds were donated by our community service partner and it was a win situation for all involved, really.”

The partnership that the SOCF has formed with the Scioto SWCD has been through the efforts of Zeune and Kate Sowards, who is the conservation education coordinator. Sowards is available to speak to groups and classes about a number of topics, from native plants, wildlife habitats, butterfly gardens, invasive and noxious weeds and more.

The Scioto Soil and Water Conservation District has been working with Scioto County residents since 1946 and has made education their top priority in their 19 years of service. The organization claims that their mission is to conserve, maintain and improve Scioto County’s natural resources. An official with the Scioto SWCD can be reached at 740-259-9231.

Any organization interested in networking with prison inmates for a service or cause, Steve Zeune says he is open to ideas and encourages interested parties to reach him at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

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