Avon Park Correctional Institution

The Avon Park Correctional Institution's "Therapy Through Plants" program has continued to grow in knowledge and popularity. The FFGC members have supported the nursery and Parrish Island Botanical Garden. It is now the first botanical garden listed and established in a prison. The first Standard Flower Show was held at AVPCI on March 6, 1999, the second Standard Flower Show on April 27, 2002 and the third Standard Flower Show on February 26, 2005.

The State of Florida stopped funding prison nursery programs in 1992. The program is the only one still in existence. It is supported by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. through donations of materials and funds.

The Nursery Story 

by Officer D. Springsteen

OUR GOAL is to help men grow mentally, physically and emotionally so when they are released, we will never see them in prison again.

The Nursery at Avon Park Correctional Institution in Avon Park, FL was established in the early 1960's as a non-profit facility with little State funding and very little expense to the taxpayer. It's primary purpose was to keep older inmates busy and supply plants for the Institution's grounds. With the help of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc., especially District IX, the Nursery has grown to be a training program that supplied over 26,000 plants in 2001 to a wide variety of projects.

Some of these projects were:
Correctional Institutions
Department of Transportation
Cities and counties
Drug treatment centers
Community organizations
Public schools

Since its creation, the Nursery has had six supervisors. Mr. Haywood Williams, who was there the longest, almost 20 years, named the program "Therapy Through Plants". He observed the claming affect working at the nursery and with plants had on the inmates. This theme continues today with a three step fitness training program.

  1. Physical Fitness: the obvious benefits from a good days work and exercise. This also includes the scientific facts of the relationship between green plants and clean air. A healthier environment for all.

  2. Emotional Fitness: the Therapy Through Plants Program attempts to overcome the negative aspects of life which probably contributed to the men getting in trouble. These negative aspects could be a feeling of hopelessness, no positive influences or role models, or just growing up on a street corner with nothing but concrete and asphalt. Something happens to a person when they work with plants.

  3. Spiritual Fitness: This is where values are learned. The value of teamwork. The value of completing a job and doing it well. The value of caring which cannot be taught but is demonstrated through the many volunteers that participate in the program.

Milestones:
Six horticultural Shows
Two Standard Flower Shows
Parrish Island being designated as a Botanical Garden

Parrish Island is being transformed into a botanical garden. This project is being accomplished through the co-operation and support of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. No state money is being used for this project or its upkeep. The goal is for the botanical garden to be totally self reproducing and be a living classroom that can be used by the Nursery inmates and other groups.

The Future

Visitors to the Nursery are surprised to see such a wide variety and quality of plants. Most comment about not thinking something like this could be achieved in a prison program. The present beauty of the Nursery, even though impressive, is not what the Nursery Therapy Through Plants Program is about. It's about the FUTURE. The future being the investment in changed lives. We feel that if the only thing produced at the Nursery is plants, we have failed. Our goal is to see men leaving the program better than they entered.

Resources available to the inmates are over two hundred books on horticultural topics in the nursery library,  classes taught by garden clubs and industry professionals and on the job training. The combination of these resources give the inmate an opportunity to increase his knowledge that would prepare him for a job when he is released. The three step fitness program of Therapy Through Plants prepare the inmate's attitudes for release so that he is ready to use the knowledge he has acquired and deep from returning to prison.

The Facilities

The Nursery is located on five acres that was a military dump during World War II. What started out as a pile of rubble has been transformed into a productive place of beauty. Every effort is made to protect the environment which is evident by the many types of wildlife that can be seen. Deer, wild turkeys, alligators, turtles, fish, armadillo, opossum, many birds, butterflies and other insects wander through the Nursery grounds. Native and sub tropical plants flourish under the ancient oaks that tower over the Nursery grounds.

With the assistance of the Garden Clubs, five greenhouses, two shade houses, a propagation area and a growing area containing landscape plants is in production. Each greenhouse has a primary theme such as: ornamentals, orchids, ferns, begonias and propagation/seeds. Many different varieties require the inmates to do extensive research and on the job training in order to learn what he needs to take care of the plants in his area of responsibility. The Nursery also has two man-made islands. The largest, originally named Fern Island, was renamed Parrish Island after the man responsible for its creation.

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updated 30 July 2017