Prisoners donate pumpkins
There’s a lot of orange popping up around the Steele County Detention Center, and it’s not the jumpsuits.
On Oct. 4, detention center employees and volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters loaded up hundreds of pumpkins that inmates grew to donate to the organization for their fall festival.
The pumpkins were grown in the center’s garden maintained by prisoners on work release. The garden is roughly three fourths of an acre large, produces between 500 to 600 pumpkins a year, and was established back in 2004.
Cindy Fowler, the center’s system program coordinator, has been working at The Steele County Detention Center for ten years, and helps oversee the prisoners who work in the garden. She said that prisoners who have work release can work in the garden in their time off, and it gives them a chance to utilize their skills.
“I think it’s huge for them to give instead of take,” Fowler said. She says it a chance for them “to learn from what they’ve done.”
Two prisoners can work in the garden at a time, and up to six inmates are usually a part of the project.
Other vegetables are also grown in the garden. This led to one odd occasion of crossbreeding when a watermelon cross-pollinated with a pumpkin, which Fowler chuckled at as one of the weird things that can happen when you go into business with Mother Nature. The other vegetables are used as a healthy addition to the inmate’s meals.
“It’s another great reason to take pride in what they’re working on,” Sheriff Thiele said. He was also onsite to help the volunteers collect pumpkins.
The volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters are happy for the arrangement. Eight members of the organization came out that day to accept the center’s donation, Michelle Redman, the organization’s executive director, was among them.
“It’s nice that the center faculty can collaborate with us,” Redman said. This collaboration has been going on for seven or eight years.
The pumpkins are used at the organization’s fall festival on Oct. 25, where they’ll be given to the children, known as “littles”, who are part of the organization. The littles then get to decorate the pumpkins and take them home. Roughly 120 people usually attend the festival, where the littles and their “bigs” come in costume to celebrate Halloween.
“It’s a highlight for the kids,” Redman explained. At the end of the night, many of the littles clamor to take home the spare pumpkins to give to their own siblings. Redman thinks it’s an important opportunity of “paying it forward” for the inmates.
This year’s pumpkin pick-up ran smoothly with several volunteers thankful there were no small creatures lurking around the pumpkins. Redman remembered less than fondly last year when she lifted up a pumpkin only to have a chipmunk startle and scurry up her leg.
Luckily, this year the only concern was how they were going to manage such a large donation.