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Howard Co. Inmates Cultivate Produce, Purpose

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Stephen Hughes at the Howard County Department of Corrections vegetable garden.
Jessica Gould
Stephen Hughes at the Howard County Department of Corrections vegetable garden.

With his bulky build and shaved head, Howard County Detention Center inmate Stephen Hughes looks pretty tough. But ask him about his vegetables, and a wide smile creeps across his face. 

"Right through here was mixture of the squash, the cucumbers," he says. "You’ve got the zucchini all through here. We had red peppers, green peppers and habanero peppers." For months, Hughes and a dozen other inmates have been growing their own produce on detention center property. 

Jack Kavanagh, Director of the Howard County Department of Corrections, says the garden also gives inmates some relief from the monotony of life behind bars. 

"This keeps them occupied," says Kavanagh. "They’re not thinking about doing things that might get them in trouble. You know, the idle mind is the devil’s playground. Our days are very structured. You get up, you have count. We count at each shift. Then they mostly sit around and watch TV when they don't have things to do."

Plus, he says, the vegetables add some spice to inmates’ meals. "Mostly what they get is canned stuff, so when they get fresh stuff it's always better," he says. 

Hughes is serving a six-month sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol. "It’s very draining once you get through the first month and you actually realize the severity of what you’ve done and how you’ve jeopardized and hurt your family," he says. 

He says tending the garden feels like a break from all that. "You get to breathe again," he says. "You get to live again." 

But even the garden has come with some setbacks. When the hurricane tore through the region last month, it took many of the crops along with it.  "The back last row was about 20, 30 corn stalks that were growing pretty good. With the hurricane coming through it wiped it out before we could get to the corn," he says. 

Hughes says it was sad to see all that hard work get destroyed. But he's ready to plow ahead. "Life shows up. You know, you just have to adjust to it. We just have to grow and till for next season," he says.  These days, he's used to preparing for second chances.

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