In December 1995, when I was 16-years-old, I committed two robberies in inner-city St. Louis. I was charged with 17 counts and sentenced to 240 years in prison. Three years later, at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, MO, I signed up for garden duty to get out of my cell. To my amazement, I found peace of mind in the prison garden. Being in prison can make a person feel dirty, and here I was picking weeds from the dirt. But with every weed I pulled out of the garden, I felt like I was pulling out an old part of my criminal self. Weeding became my therapy. I looked at the dirt and wondered how something so beautiful could grow from it. My criminal street life was a life of doing dirt, a hard life, like a garden when it is in a drought and does not get watered or weeded. A garden can look ugly at this time, but when it rains and the weeds get picked, the garden turns into one of nature’s beauties. As I worked in my prison garden, I wondered: how could I turn my dirt-filled life into something beautiful? I determined right then and there that I would turn my troubled life around. Surrounded by hardened criminals, I would rehabilitate myself and, like my garden, make my life beautiful. The prison garden provided proof that something beautiful can indeed grow from dirt. And it is in that garden where, 17 years ago, I went vegan. Being vegan in prison is difficult, but I manage to survive strong and healthy. With my strength now at my core, I hold hope for the day I get released: I will grow my own garden at my home, and I will continue to heal myself in the process.
Here are 5 life lessons I have learned in my prison garden:
1. Gardening is artistry
You create your garden in slow motion, like a painter trying to get the colors right. A sculptor tries to chisel his work exquisitely. A gardener does the same thing with his or her garden. The serenity in the garden sings to your soul.
2. You never stop learning when gardening
The garden teaches you. If your mind poses a question to the garden, it will not give you a direct answer. Rather, it will challenge you to discover every dimension of the answer. Once you finally figure it out, the discovery will be of a miraculous nature.
3. Gardening takes hard work
When you see a breathtaking painting, you know that someone put countless hours of work into its creation. A garden requires even more labor. You have to work with the raw elements of nature. Insects can become either the garden’s enemy or its friend. As the steward of the garden, you try to balance it all out.
4. Weeding must be painstakingly done by hand
One has to be diligent while constantly pulling weeds, making sure that they do not attempt to choke the life out of the growing plants. Each row has to be nurtured, watered, and carefully spaced at intervals. Seeds have to be carefully planted. The garden has to get the right amount of light and sunshine.
5. A gardener is an engineer
Designed from scratch, a garden’s blueprint is constructed on a parcel of earth. It’s construction requires the gardener to take on many roles. A gardening school could never really teach you every facet of the art of gardening; a lot of it is learned through trial and error. Most of what you ultimately discover will be self-taught. After you make your mistakes and learn along the way, you will become a master of your garden. Like it did for me, the process of creating, growing, and tending to your garden might just change how you show up in your life.
When he was 16, Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 240 years in prison. Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that juveniles who were under the age of 18 when they committed crimes cannot be sentenced to life in prison and must get a new sentencing hearing. “So now I have a chance for freedom, as well,” Bostic says.
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