24 Jul

Posted by admin in the Prison archive
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon

4 Apr 2007.
Hello Dr. Helphand,

Our daughter is incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, here in Oregon. Just one thesis paper away from a law degree before her sentence was handed down last August, she now distributes and collects inmate clothing. The job is an promotion because for months, she worked her way up in the kitchen feeding 1300 prisoners exactly the same proportions, three times a day, so riots wouldn’t break out. It’s another world. But you already know this; your research has revealed it through the gardens you studied, planted and tended during times of war or imprisonment.

T he recent review in the WSJ, caught my eye and I ordered your book. I sent “Defiant Gardens” to our daughter at the prison. Spoke with her today - your book is an inspiration . Thank you. Women, other inmates, are lined up to read it after she’s shared passages out loud with them…

Nelsons Mandela’s words,

“To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”

Or from the ghettos and camps,

“These defiant gardens were an attempt to create a kind of peace in the midst of madness and order in the prevailing chaos.”

You have hit the mark with your insight. I would love to meet you someday and so would my daughter. She is sending the book back to me after she completes it this week, so we can keep it as a humbling reminder of lesser times. (Books sent to prisoners are stamped upon inspection with a blue approval seal on the inside cover; the inmate’s name and SID# make the book unique.) I am ordering a another copy to be donated directly to the prison library so your words can be enjoyed by those who might appreciate it the most.

Congratulations on your success.

Thank you,

Heidi Sause

9 Apr 2007

Dr. Helphand,

Coffee Creek has reinstated a garden just this year. It was
discontinued previously because the garden failed a security audit.
Inmates were secreting in drugs - or the audit team felt the
opportunity to do so might be enhanced with the prison garden present.

The administration has selected five inmates (out of 1300) to be the
gardeners of this new plot. I believe they were chosen randomly by
lottery?? My daughter hopes the prison will eventually use the ‘Joy
of Gardening’ as a good behavior incentive, so more women can enjoy
the peace and she too can earn the right to dig in dirt - watch seeds

At least one other inmate has raced through your pages - Cory says
the woman has passages memorized and quotes them to other prisoners.
What a gift you provided and the timing was perfect in anticipation
of this year’s garden. I do hope you can follow up with the Oregon
prisons to potentially develop gardening as a type of reform and
correction to very NEEDY individuals. The prisoners have so few ways
to promote positive behavior and learn a hobby or skill to use in
their lives post incarceration. Maybe gardening could become a link
to a healthier lifestyle?

Please feel free to contact me any time. I don’t want to interrupt
you on such a busy schedule. Thanks for writing back!



April 20, 2007 Sandpipers, Crows & Wilbur

Earlier this spring the women in Minimum had “pets” for a brief period. Those fleet footed, spotted sand pipers, who squeal and divert possible predators way from their nest by acting hurt, settled at the Creek. Last year, the birds built a nest in an inopportune area without success of perpetuating the family line.

This year the ladies noticed the nest in the same location so they decided to move the clustered twigs, bit by bit to a ‘better’ spot. They’d push the nest a few feet toward safety each day. 400 women shared similar and hopeful anticipation of little chicks hatching. Warning signs were posted and orange traffic cones established a safe-zone perimeter around the fragile nest. Lawnmowers stayed well away from the batch of eggs. The nesting birds even made the prison’s newspaper; they were all the rage. Inmates became so attentive some women began feeding the pipers with small chunks of people food, which attracted the crows, who then found the piper eggs…

Disappointment is second nature on the other side of Graham’s Ferry Road.

After the next generation of birds died, Cory’s treasured ‘pet’ is now a puny begonia plant named Wilbur. She inherited the living thing from G’Ma, the granny put in prison for identity theft. The plant resides at Cory’s work place, Inmate Processing and enjoys six-hour trips outside to absorb sunlight to do its photosynthesis routine. She’s hoping for blossoms, curious to know what color the plant will offer. The mini-garden gives her a sense of satisfaction to see growth and life, instead of capture and death.