Two organizations partner to plant garden at former Wagram prison

By: Jael Pembrick - Staff writer

WAGRAM — Imagine being trapped in a box, six by eight feet wide, 23 hours out of the day. The U.S. incarcerates thousands in cells like this everyday.

Jackie Summel, artist and organizer for Solitary Gardeners in New Orleans, and Noran Sanford, executive director and founder of Growing Change in Wagram, set out to inform many that it is time for a change.

Solitary Gardeners is a Louisiana-based organization traveling up and down the East Coast to spread the word about isolation cells in an effort to start conversations. GrowingChange teamed up with Solitary Gardeners to make Laurinburg a pit stop on the East Coast tour — in the hopes of beautifying the old Wagram prison with a garden before the group leaves.

The two organizations spent the better part of two days building a unique garden in the shape of a solitary cell. The cell garden will hold flower plants in the shape of a bed, toilet, and desk, with flowers going up one side. What makes the team’s actions so distinct and peculiar are the motives behind it.

Solitary Gardeners send letters and drawings of the layout of a flower garden resembling an isolation cell to incarcerated individuals, and the prisoners write back where they want certain plants placed in the garden. Then, once the garden is completed, the inmates are sent the updated pictures.

“On Death Row, you do 23 hours confined, one hour outside,” said Rodricus Crawford, a current Death Row exonerate who volunteers for Solitary Gardeners. “Letters get you by, that’s what got me through. We send them pictures (of the personally designed gardens) to expand their minds.”

Crawford shared that, because of his personal experience, he knows that it will give others hope who are confined.

”It’s reclaiming space that was once used to torture to create possibility, and reproducing them to create conversations about cruel and unusual punishment which is a provision that alleges to be protected by the eighth amendment,” Summel added.

For its part, GrowingChange works with local troubled youth to show them another way of life other than making bad choices.

“We are working on trying to help youth who are troubled in our area, and give them a different outlook on life,” said Terrence A. Smith, youth director for GrowingChange.

”It’s amazing to be this young and be able to do something like this,” shared Jerald Jacobs, a youth leader for GrowingChange. “The younger generation is gonna be the ones who take over.”

“The United States locks up more of our population than any other nation in the world,” Sanford said. “Either we are the worst country in the world or we could be doing something better. Personally, I love America, (and) I believe it’s time to do something better.”

GrowingChange will continue to work on the Wagram plot after Solitary Gardeners leave and add it to the list of gardens they help in the county.

“Focusing on our plot at the site as well as our high tunnel at the Laurinburg Community Garden,” reports Sanford, “we do help out with other community gardens — like the one in Maxton.”

With eight more stops to go, some of Solitary Gardeners’ trips include a speaking engagement at YaleUniversity; building more garden beds in the lower East Side Girls Club in New York City; and stops in Brook Park, Pennsylvania; South Bronx, New York; and Providence, Rhode Island.

Jael Pembrick can be reached at 910-506-3169 or [email protected]

Jael Pembrick

Staff writer