Oh, what a visual delight

Prison plant sale offers beauty with benefits


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Hiland Mountain Correctional Center inmate Jaclyn Baisch, 33, stands in front of the hanging basket display at the prison’s annual plant sale. Participating in the sale, Baisch said, gives her an opportunity to nurture plants while interacting with the public.

CINTHIA RITCHIE

Walking through the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center’s plant sale last week was like walking through a dream. The sun shined and everyone smiled and all around were vibrant flowers in every imaginable color: Reds and whites, blues and violets, dark reds and shy, blushing pinks. And then there were the smells: Deep and succulent, with a lingering hint of sweetness.

Yet, it wasn’t a dream because a few hundred yards away loomed the prison, surrounded by a thick and ugly barbed wire fence.

Perhaps it’s this juxtaposition that makes the annual event so special, and so popular.

According to Officer Dena Yuill, the sale has been going on for over 15 years.

And this year, the plants were practically flying off the racks.

The sale began with 500 hanging baskets. By day two, less than 150 remained.

The four-day event offers inmates a chance to learn new skills while giving back to the community.

Part of the money raised is reinvested into next year’s garden program. The remainder is donated to community outreach. This, Yuill explained, is usually an Alaskan family “adopted” through the prison.

About 25 inmates take part in the planting process.

“We start in the winter,” Yuill said. “We grow from scratch.”

The gardening program offers inmates a chance to practice responsibility, and some work up to 12-hour shifts in the greenhouse.

“It’s a big deal,” Yuill said. “If they don’t water the plants, they won’t grow. It’s like taking care of a child.”

The sale also gives inmates a chance to practice their social skills while interacting with the public.

Jane Jordon, of Anchorage, was busy filling a cart with flowering plants. She shops at the sale each year and appreciates the quality.

“I think their baskets are as good as anything out there,” she said.

Eagle River resident Stephanie Stockhouse also visits the sale every year.

“The flowers are beautiful,” she said, “and they work hard to put them together nicely.”

But for inmate Jaclyn Baisch, 33, who has worked at the sale for the past two years, it’s about more than pretty flowers.

“For me I feel like it’s this gift,” she said. “You plant something and watch it grow and know it’s going to make someone happy.”

It has, she said, to do with love.

Some of the women who work in the greenhouse have very long sentences, she said. Working with plants gives them a chance to nurture themselves.

Basich is serving a felony DUI sentence. She hopes to be relocated to a halfway house soon.

Presently, though, working at the plant sale makes her feel a little better about life.

“It smells amazing, and I get to see little kids happy and picking up flowers and stuff.”

“However.” She paused for a moment. “It doesn’t change the fact that I’m still here in a prison.”

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