Reaching Out - Growing & Learning at the Community Corrections Center

In the fall, I worked with a lively group of people at the Community Corrections Center in Pittsfield, MA. At the CCC, the Co-op offers a program that focuses on health, meal preparation on a budget and gardening. Participants play a role in meal planning for the following week and a lesson is created around their choices. From spring to late fall, participants help select seeds to plant in the raised beds we built, maintain the beds and prepare meals with the bounty. We have guest lectures that have taught them about herbalism, how to use SNAP at the Farmers Markets and more.

After a lecture, we often divide into small groups and work on different recipes that make up a meal at the end of the class. As we worked on a stuffed tomato recipe, the new guy in the group engaged in conversation about his knowledge of the Co-op. At one time he was in Great Barrington often as he worked as a carpenter on a local project. He would come into the Co-op for hot coffee and our house-made chocolate chip cookies. As the class concluded for the day, we went outside and composted our scraps. At the time, we were using a worm bin. Worms can eat half their body wait in compost a day and are quite the procreators so we had had rich soil quickly thanks to them. Participants have taken worms home in the past to create their own bins.

Upon seeing the small bin, the new guy suggested we build a rotating composter. He shared how he had made one before and offered to write up a plan for the next class. The following week, he presented me with a written plan. The plan became a reality as we found materials that could be repurposed for the project. Thanks to Peter Fasano in Great Barrington who gave us the big black barrel.  A big thanks to Steve Seward, the job development counselor on staff at CCC, who is also a carpenter. He oversaw the project and also lent his tools and expertise.

Despite being at a difficult crossroad in his life, this participant found a positive way to connect and give back to those who will follow him at this program. I have found few people who are actually happy to be in this program. They are mandated by the court system to be in the program due to a drug or alcohol related crime. Many have been incarcerated in the past or become incarcerated if they use drugs or alcohol while in the program. CCC works to help participants find healthier choices in effort to reduce the risk of recidivism. This participant saw that the program had a need.

This experience taught us that there were so many resources within our group of 20 people. We learned that other people had interest in learning more about carpentry.  We learned that people had tools at home received permission to bring  them for the day. As the staff looked out the window, they were  surprised to see a group of people who didn’t get along…get along! They saw a guy who kept to himself shine. They also saw guys show respect to a guy they often gave a hard time. This all happened while working on a project that will reduce waste we throw in the trash as well as helping our garden in the springtime.