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Lewis sheriff re-establishes jail garden

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s sheriff is hoping to grow both vegetables and inmate character through a re-established jail garden program.

“They like it,” Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli said of county jail inmates.

“I don’t have any problem getting anybody to volunteer each night.”

The first-year sheriff a couple of weeks ago established the garden within a fenced-off area behind the county Public Safety Building off outer Stowe Street.

“The inmates not only planted, but they also did the tilling of the ground, preparing it, raking it and weeding it,” he said. “They’ve done it all.”

Sheriff Carpinelli said he heard that a jail garden had been done in the past — one was established about 20 years ago by then-Sheriff Gary L. Jock as part of a more extensive trusty work program — and also read a much older newspaper article about logging camps on Tug Hill at which inmates worked.

“I said, ‘Let’s start on a small scale, start with a garden first, and see how that idea is accepted by the inmates,’” he said.

The sheriff chose tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green peppers and squash, using donated seeds and starter plants, for his initial garden plot. “Things people can use. Stuff that can be canned,” he said.

The vegetables, when ready for harvest later this summer, will be used in the jail kitchen, with any additional yield donated to a local food pantry, Sheriff Carpinelli said.

“We’ll see how it works out,” he said. “If it goes good, we’ll go bigger next year.”

The garden also affords inmates an opportunity to gain some self-worth and “earn their keep,” Sheriff Carpinelli said.

Volunteers learn a little about agriculture and responsibility, and the manual labor tires them out and promotes better sleep at night, he said.

“There is less anxiety, which in turn makes it better all around for everybody,” Sheriff Carpinelli said.

The sheriff said he has been personally taking two to four inmates to the garden each evening, weather permitting.

“I don’t take the guards away from their jobs,” he said.

A makeshift irrigation system was installed on the fence next to the garden to make it easier to water the fledgling plants.

Over the past month, the sheriff also has used inmate labor for lawn maintenance within the jail yard, freeing up county buildings and grounds workers for other duties.

Sheriff Carpinelli said he hopes soon to have some of the more trusted inmates handle trimming duties in front of the Public Safety Building, as well as do some snow removal during the winter.

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