Ex-Cons Helping the Environment From Sustainability In Prisons To Advocacy On The Outside

Credit: Jake Gard, Unsplash

There are an estimated 20 million Americans who have had a felony conviction in their past. Ex-convicts often get stereotyped or pinned into certain corners when it comes to gaining people’s trust, landing a job, or even reintroducing themselves into society.

But, many ex-cons simply want a chance to push the reset button and start over. Thankfully, there are programs throughout the country dedicated to helping those convicted of felonies get back on their feet. There are even organizations, like the Lionheart Foundation, that assist convicts with re-entry into society so they can find jobs, have a support system, and learn how to transition back into the real world.

There are also programs that are giving ex-cons a chance while doing something positive for the environment. It’s no secret that our planet is at risk. Phrases like climate change, global warming, and carbon emissions get thrown around on a daily basis for a good reason.

So, why is it important to make everyone — including ex-cons — more aware of environmental health, and what are things like urban farming programs for ex-cons doing to combat these serious issues?

The Need for More Environmental Awareness

It’s important for everyone in the country (and the world!) to do their part when it comes to helping the planet. So many everyday pastimes have an impact on the world:

  • Boating
  • Driving a car
  • Air travel

Surprisingly enough, crime itself is often linked with environmental issues thanks to the carbon emissions associated with it. A study published in Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology found that in 2011, crime committed throughout England and Wales contributed to 4 million metric tons of CO2. Burglary was the worst emission offender, mostly due to people having to replace damaged or stolen goods after being robbed. Both criminals and victims of crimes probably don’t think much about the environmental impact of such things, but it’s obviously a big problem.

Thankfully, the interest in environmental awareness can actually start in prison. Groups like the Sustainability in Prisons Project have educated thousands of prisoners across the country in different environmental topics, including:

  • Conservation
  • Sustainable operations
  • Community contributions
  • Restorative nature

It teaches these prisoners how to live more sustainably, and how to take that knowledge into the world to make it a cleaner, greener place.

Over 4,000 incarcerated students have been a part of this program since it began in 2009. When these individuals are released from prison, they have communication and job skills, and they have a deep desire to encourage sustainability within the career paths they choose. That’s why it’s so important for there to be outlets/programs for ex-cons who want to do more for the planet.

Sustainable Solutions and Programs for Ex-Cons

One such program is called Gangstas to Growers, based in Atlanta. While the program isn’t strictly limited to ex-cons, it’s designed to change some negative trends in the country by getting gang members off the streets working on an active farm.

Programs like these can give ex-cons a source of revenue and something to keep them occupied. There are often many collateral consequences to criminal charges, so giving ex-cons a place to work and be a part of the community can help to eliminate some of those issues.

Another program, Planting Justice, is open specifically to provide environmental education and jobs to ex-convicts. Planting Justice is an orchard based out of California and their motto is “kale, not jail.” Of the 25 ex-cons that have worked for the company since 2009, only one has returned to prison, showing just how well programs like these can work to give former prisoners an outlet while doing something beneficial to the planet.

Sustainability for Mental Stability

While so many might be quick to judge ex-cons, it’s important to recognize what they have to go through on a personal level to re-enter into society. In 2005, more than half of all those incarcerated in prisons and jails of all the country had some kind of mental health problem. That included 78,000 inmates in Federal prisons. Some of the most common mental health issues among those in prison are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mania
  • PTSD

Working with programs that promote sustainability and environmental activism can actually help ex-cons to deal with some of these issues, which will make them even more prepared for their re-entry into everyday life. They offer ex-cons a healthy, stable environment, which can improve their overall mental health, especially if they don’t have access to a healthy environment elsewhere.

Because anxiety, including social anxiety, is often a problem for prisoners and ex-cons, working in horticultural practices can be beneficial to their mental health, as well. Plants can be very calming and easy to work with, and when you’re working on a large farm, there doesn’t have to be a lot of social interaction.

There are so many positive reasons to get ex-cons more involved in environmental programs. It helps to spread awareness and education, gives former convicts opportunities they may not otherwise have, and creates action for actively helping the environment, the climate, and the planet.