Prison farm donates turnip greens to food banks

Part 1: Prison farm donates turnip greens to food banks (Reporter: Amanda Brannon)

TILLERY, HALIFAX COUNTY - The Food Banks of Central and Eastern Carolina receive donations from all types of people and companies, including Caledonia Correctional Institution in Halifax County.

The prison farm harvests acres upon acres of turnip greens, collards, sweet potatoes, corn and squash every year. Not only does it feed the inmates at the prison, but it also feeds prisons across the state.

"It's been a challenge, but a fun challenge," farm manager David Inscoe said.

This year turnip greens served as a bumper crop. The farm had so much that it was able to donate a portion to the Food Banks of Central and Eastern Carolina.

"We have 6,700 pounds that we have donated already. And it should be 3 more loads of greens that I'm going to donate to [the food banks]," Inscoe said.

This all comes in the wake of the government shutdown. Many food banks lost key donations during that time. This is a way the state is giving back.

"You know in a lot of places foods get thrown out and don't go to the proper places. But being this food is going to homeless people, people who are trying to rehabilitate I think it's a good thing," inmate David Cox said.

Cox, who used to work on the farm, is doing a five year prison sentence for possessing drugs. He said his drug habit cost him between $150-200 per day.

"When you spend 15 years of life and do things of that nature and you become accustomed to it. It becomes a way of life. And eventually it catches up with you," he said.

Cox started at the bottom literally pulling weeds and spraying chemicals before he drove the tractors.  Now, he works in the office. He said the work gave him a sense of purpose and helping his fellow man was an added bonus.

"When I came into prison I had lost all my determination, all my sense of pride in myself. And coming out here and being a part of this it just does something to you inside. It makes you feel good," he said.

Inside the prison sits the cannery. It has been around since the 1950's and is in operation 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

"You have inmates that come in here with this attitude 'I don't care. They just made me come down here.' Not all of them, but some with that attitude," cannery manager Jeffery Lassiter said.

The program helps prisoners gain valuable work skills.

"You got to be independent at some point, you know, so if you need help this is the place that will help you," inmate Marquez Barr said.

The men working in the cannery don't just work together. They live together in a special section in the prison. It's a privilege they said they don't take lightly.

"Here it's a little laid back. You can do your time and you don't have to worry too much about getting into trouble," Barr said.

"It's helping me burn up these 18 years. Without it, I'd probably be on the yard somewhere getting in trouble probably doing something I wouldn't need to be doing," inmate Alonzo Robinson said.

Not only does the cannery help rehabilitate the prisoners, officials said it saves the state nearly $2,000,000 a year.

"I believe if you try hard good things will happen so I'm ready," Barr said.

"It's a sense of pride for me to see some of these guys. If I could, I would hire some of these guys when they leave here because their work ethic is outstanding," Lassiter said.

Depending on the prisoners' qualifications, they are paid $0.13-0.26 per hour. Typically, each inmate works three days a week for 12-14 hours per day.

North Carolina's Department of Public Safety has committed to deliver nearly 27,000 lbs. of turnip greens this fall.

The prison hopes to deliver three more shipments of turnip greens. Officials said one entire shipment is expected to go to the food banks in Eastern Carolina.

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