Division of Juvenile Justice, Rehabilitation

Insight Garden’s installation at Stockton DJJ facility is the largest yet

Two youth offenders lift bricks.
DJJ OH Close youth build a garden.

By Mike Sicilia, Deputy Press Secretary
Division of Juvenile Justice
Photos by Clarissa Resultan, Television Specialist
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications

Six months in the making, youth, staff, and community volunteers dedicated the construction of the largest of nine community gardens built on CDCR grounds and the first at a juvenile facility.

Work on the half-acre garden at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton began last October with a core of eight youth which grew to 15 over time, said Tylee Sewell, the lead organizer from Insight Garden Program (IGP), which first installed community gardens at San Quentin in 2002.

Man in suit shovels dirt while young offenders watch.
DJJ Director Chuck Supple shovels dirt at the Insight Garden project.

“It was a mess,” said Ms. Sewell, who spent a minimum of a day per week overseeing and training the youth, who cleared tall grass out of the 22,000 square foot yard that is visible from the O.H. Close’s Johanna Boss High School classrooms, “but look at it now.”

Sewell worked with youth to design the garden, developing plans to use the land as-is in order to plan for drip irrigation systems and composting.  “This is clay soil, so we need to amend it,” said Sewell. “We use cut branches and grass clippings to create mulch.” It’s an organic process known as “huglekulture”, which Sewell likens to making a layered lasagna. “In a year, it will break down and become great soil for spring plantings.”

Sewell works closely with a formerly incarcerated co-facilitator, German Yambao, who served 28 years from the age of 16 as a youth. Yambao gives back through IGP and mentors the youth to divert their path from adult prisons and help them be successful upon their release from O.H. Close.

Twenty-two fruit trees, raised beds of wood and galvanized steel (to dissuade gophers) grace the site, and tomatoes and other sun loving plants were placed with care by youth and volunteers in a three day final installation effort.

“It’s been pretty fulfilling because I’ve learned about different plants, many I’ve never heard of,” said Jacob Ciuriuc, a youth at O.H. Close, who lauded the program’s group approach. “I’ve also learned to care about things other than myself.  I normally like working alone, but this has helped me learn about team work.”

Under a brilliant spring sun, a dedication ceremony on April 26 was attended by more than 30 youth, staff volunteers and dignitaries including Division of Juvenile Justice Director Charles Supple and Northern California Youth Correctional Center Superintendent Linda Bridges.

A rose bush was ceremonially planted by Supple and Bridges, using a shovel gifted to the youth by IGP staff. The spade was forged from metal that had been melted from guns. “This garden will last long after you have gone from here to live your lives safely in the community,” Director Supple told the youth.

Several poems were read at the dedication, including one read by youth quoting the late rap artist Tupac Shakur, “long live the rose that grew from concrete.”

Learn more about IGP. (May not be accessible from a CDCR computer).

Youth and staff pose for a photo.
Insight Garden project participants.