- Associated Press - Thursday, April 23, 2015

WORLAND, Wyo. (AP) - A partnership between Northwest College and the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office is designed to benefit students, inmates and community members in Basin.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to do good things in our community,” Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn said. “I’ve always wanted to get some community service going for our jail.”

Blackburn added that a lot of projects are not possible due to security regulations, and other restrictions for the federal prisoners housed at the county facility.

He was approached about a service project for the business capstone class and came up with the idea he’d considered for a while - a garden area for the inmates.

There are 15 students involved in the business capstone class. NWC requires that every student complete a capstone project in his/her major. This if the final year for that requirement.

The business students brainstormed ideas, according to Jacob Nicholson of Burlington and Marcos Aguilar of Sidney, Mont. They looked at a variety of projects, including recycling. The class voted and the winner was the project brought forth by KJ Blackburn of Cowley, Sheriff Blackburn’s son.

“We were looking for something that would make the community better and help people,” KJ Blackburn said.

He said the garden project at the detention center, fit everything the students were looking for. “This gives (the inmates) a chance to get out of their cell and do something productive for the community.”

Nicholson added that is gives students the opportunity to serve the community, and Aguilar noted many of the students have ties to Big Horn County, he himself having lived in Emblem.

Danika Haynes of Rawlins said the project is a positive self-improvement program for inmates to ease themselves back into society and become productive and contributing citizens.

The students began the project by constructing six 4x16-foot garden boxes on the east side of the detention center grounds.

Sheriff Blackburn said no county funds are being used for the project. The sheriff’s office helped in preparing the area and donated dirt for the garden boxes.

The students also will install a watering system and provide seeds and a booklet with gardening tips for the inmates.

Once the boxes are constructed inmates will plant some vegetables in hopes of being able to donate the vegetables back to various sections of the community, including senior citizens, Blackburn said.

Nicholson and Aguilar said vegetables include the common items grown in the area - cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes and peppers.

Not every inmate will be able to participate in the program. Blackburn said every inmate who is eligible to work in that type of environment may volunteer but they then will go through a strict screening process established by the detention center staff.

He said the area, which is behind the detention center fence is well secured and any time inmates are working with the boxes there will be a detention officer on duty, as well as the inmates being monitored by staff.

He said of the 70 inmates in the Big Horn County Detention Center, only six to 10 will be able to participate.

The plan is to have the grow boxes ready by May, inmates selected at that time so they can begin to “plant and cultivate,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said there is an opportunity for those with gardening skills to volunteer to assist in the project.

As for the partnership with NWC, Blackburn said, “These kids are top of line. There are a lot of kids from Big Horn County. I commend NWC and the students for the job they’ve done. It’s been a good partnership. I look forward to doing other things with NWC.”

The sheriff said the partnership with NWC accomplishes four goals:

-Gives the inmates something positive to do.

-Provides an opportunity for the inmates to give something back to the community they’ve taken from.

-Helps build self-esteem.

-“We already have inmates who are already pretty good at growing things and this gives them something positive to grow,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said he hopes the partnership and program will be a success and they can expand the area.

Instructor Jan Kraft said it wasn’t easy planning construction of garden boxes and unable to use staples, nails or screws. The plan then called for railroad ties, 108 to be exact, and cut to be laid together similar to Lincoln Logs.

The students paid for the materials themselves, some collecting individual pledges and others planning fundraisers. The material for the watering system was donated.

Kraft said she likes the capstone program because it teaches the students to work as a team.

Haynes added that she likes the capstone program because it has provided her an opportunity to put all of her business skills she’s learned in her two years at NWC to work.


Information from: Northern Wyoming Daily News, https://www.wyodaily.com

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