As a drizzling rain fell Friday afternoon, Patrick Sweeney stood in the courtyard at Lemon Creek Correctional Center and talked about the flower beds he neglected when he was younger.
Sweeney, who has been an inmate at the prison since 2014, said his father had gifted a little property to him when he was 18, which included flower beds. As he looked over the marigolds and cosmos growing in the prison’s garden, he thought back to that property.
“When I come out here,” Sweeney said, “I always wish that I would have taken advantage of those flower beds I had before.”
Starting last fall, LCCC partnered with Frenchie’s Floral Studio to grow flowers in the courtyard and supply the flower shop with fresh flowers. About 40 times this summer, Sweeney and two others have gone out into the garden to tend to the flowers and the soil, along with LCCC Education Coordinator Kris Weixelman.
Frenchie’s owners Jeremy Bauer and Jason Clifton started their shop last year and have made an effort to source their flowers locally. Bauer said he was talking with Teri Tibbett — who works with the Juneau Reentry Coalition as well as multiple state departments — one day last year about finding local sources when she suggested he reach out to the prison. Tibbett had been involved with LCCC’s Prison Garden Project, which had used the greenhouse and courtyard to grow potatoes and other vegetables.
Bauer reached out to Weixelman, who has been managing the prison’s greenhouse since the Rotary Club donated it in 2012, and the seed of the idea began to sprout. Last fall, just after the floral shop opened, they supplied the prison with all kinds of seeds, including many that Bauer had just brought back from the Netherlands.
There are only three inmates involved with the flower program, which they’ve dubbed the Eden Garden Project. Many people have expressed interest in getting involved, Weixelman and Sweeney said, but people have to be on their best behavior to be eligible to join.
This spring and summer, Bauer and Clifton have come to the prison once every couple weeks to cut the flowers. Bauer and Clifton walked into the courtyard Friday with Sweeney and Weixelman, ready to harvest a few more.
“This is our garden,” Sweeney said to them.
The flowers have shot up in the past few weeks, they all agreed, and Bauer rushed forward to a group of marigolds bursting with bright yellow and red colors.
“These marigolds, they’re incredible,” Bauer said.
Bauer and Clifton came Friday and left with heaping portions of those marigolds, rudbeckia, sweet peas and more.
They said they were planning on incorporating many of the flowers into bouquets later that day, and said they’ve gotten a warm reception from people around town when they tell them where the flowers have come from.
Sweeney, who turns 30 next year, has been at LCCC since 2014 and said he’s set to be there until 2022. He said he’s been convicted of eight felonies, but hopes to start attending the University of Alaska Southeast full time when he gets out. He also hopes to have a garden of his own.
His mother is a florist, he said, and has a private garden at home in Kodiak. Sweeney grew up helping her out with it, he said, and getting back in the soil at LCCC brings him back to those times.
“It’s almost nostalgic,” Sweeney said. “I feel like I’m hanging out with my mother and we’re back home and I’m gardening, doing the things that are familiar.”
Bauer and Clifton were elated to hear Sweeney’s story and see the impact the project has had on him. They were glad to see the program is doing some good for those raising the flowers in addition to those receiving the arrangements.
Sweeney showed them a drawing he had made of cosmo flowers that he hopes he can turn into a mural in the prison. Sweeney already helped paint one mural, which is a nature scene with mountains and water.
The garden has already brightened the mood among some inmates and staff, Weixelman said. Sometimes, Weixelman said, they grab a flower if a staff member at the prison is having a bad day and hand it to them.
“Flowers are nice,” Weixelman said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re at.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.