CUMBERLAND, Md. — When Warden Jon P. Galley orders flowers, there is no escaping his message: Prisons are too grim.
For 25 years, Mr. Galley has been brightening Maryland prisons and jails by having flowers planted on their grounds. His latest project, at Western Correctional Institution (WCI), also is his most ambitious: a meditation garden where inmates can sit beside a gurgling fountain amid marigolds, yellow lilies, white roses and scarlet snapdragons.
“I believe absolutely that the environment need not be as stark and austere as they typically are in these institutions,” Mr. Galley said at a June 16 dedication ceremony. “I believe in color, and I believe in anything that can help soften this environment for both the staff and the inmates.”
Mr. Galley, 61, also has left his mark at two prisons near Hagerstown — Roxbury Correctional Institution and the Maryland Correctional Training Center — and at the Montgomery County Detention Center, where he was warden from 1993 to 1998.
The flowers, orchards and ornamental trees planted at his direction are tended by inmates under a prison horticulture program with counterparts in other states, including Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Vermont. In San Francisco, a horticulture program that began in the local jail in 1982 has grown into the Garden Project, a program for newly released inmates that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department says has reduced the re-arrest rate of participants.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services makes no claims that flower gardening reduces recidivism, but Secretary Mary Ann Saar said Mr. Galley’s newest garden is bound to produce benefits.
“It offers a quiet, reflective area for staff and inmates at WCI. And, through the upkeep of the garden, it provides a constructive, creative activity that helps foster an orderly atmosphere,” she said.
The circular garden, 50 feet across, was privately funded by grants of $49,000 from the Annapolis-based TKF Foundation and $1,200 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Built and maintained by inmates in a horticulture class taught by a Frostburg State University professor, it is a lush, inviting space in a corner of the 43-acre compound.
The garden contrasts less with its surroundings than one might expect. The blooms and shrubs harmonize with the greenery on the Appalachian ridges flanking the prison. And inside the institution’s razor-wire-topped perimeter fencing, the garden is one of 44 colorful plots.
Many of the plantings were designed by inmate James T. Carter, 50, a Baltimore County landscaper before he was sentenced to 20 years for armed robbery and a weapons violation. Like the 10 other WCI inmates now certified as master gardeners, he hopes to work in the field after his release.
“This has been a learning process for me,” Carter said.
Inmate Kevin S. Haughton, 35, also foresees good things from the horticulture program: “It’s a trade that a lot of men could use when they get back into society.” Haughton is serving 39 years for arson and attempted murder.
The prison also has a 20-by-40-foot greenhouse where inmate David Crouch, 51, can name each type of plant as he walks past rows of begonias, zinnias, pansies and lavender. But it is in the tranquil garden, with its wooden benches and sundial, where he retreats from his 1,880 fellow inmates.
“It’s something I can look forward to if I need somewhere to be alone,” said Crouch, serving a life sentence for homicide, burglary and larceny. “Lots of people in this institution have nowhere to go to have some peace and quiet, somewhere they can study or somewhere they can go if a member of their family dies. Somewhere to get their head together.”
Inmates get access to the garden through the prison chaplain, who issues passes allowing them to stay for as long as they wish except during periods of restricted activity, such as security lockdowns.
Mr. Galley said he would like to do away with the pass system, if practical.