The youth prisoners in 4 Santiago, Chile detention centers come largely from barrios where there is a huge extreme of income inequality and a lack of positive role models. This doesn’t matter to a man named Gabriel from Colectivo Sustento, who urged the Chilean Juvenile Justice service to allow him to create an organic gardening/theatre program for young inmates.
Gabriel is called a ‘robin hood’ for many reasons; among them is his ability to explain sustainable gardening and farming methods to many young prisoners who have never even held a shovel, or seen earth worms digging tunnels in the soil. He actively cultivates the participation of the young in his theatre/gardening program when most have forgotten about them altogether.
He trained in organic gardening for only two years before getting involved in the project.
“Colectivo Sustento’s work outside the prison is a constant development towards self-sustainability through organic gardening, community garden initiatives and networking.”
Gabriel aims to expand his community gardening efforts by developing the community garden project in the Calera de Tango Centre. It is here he can give lectures on organic and sustainable gardening and let young inmates get their hands dirty to learn a trade that will sustain them after they have been released form prison.
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Using a novel combination of arts and sustainable gardening as well as social activism, Gabriel is not only turning prison inmates into gardeners, but more importantly, giving self-respect to many individuals whose path may have been influenced largely by the poverty they grew up in.
Other programs in the US and around the world are also using ‘convict cultivation’ to teach sustainable gardening skills to people who have few life-skills. Many prisons even offer liberal arts degrees to inmates but these often don’t translate to usable skills once they leave prison. Conversely, inmates who participate in gardening projects learn to harvest, cook, and grow sustainably in a larger sociopolitical landscape.