Incarcerated gardeners beautify Pelican Bay State Prison

A garden thrives at Pelican Bay State Prison.
The gardening program at Pelican Bay State Prison is giving the land, and those who work it, new purpose.

By Lt. Kenny Price
Pelican Bay State Prison

Artwork and murals aren’t the only ways to improve prison grounds, according to those involved in the innovative gardening program at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Level II Facility.

“The garden is a living and thriving environment. It is symbolic of the positive changes and successes of this place,” said gardening program participant Jose Contreras.

Contreras has been in prison for 28 years, serving a life without parole sentence. When Contreras was sent to Pelican Bay, he said he didn’t know what to expect.

When the gardening program was started in June 2018, the program participants used buckets to grow their plants but it was eventually expanded. They now grow fresh produce and flowers in small garden beds.

“What is more amazing is the fact that I planted and harvested the very first watermelon that has ever been grown in the prison,” Contreras said. “This was a monumental occasion. It speaks volumes as to the power of positive change, determination, and the collective spirit of likeminded people.

“Staff, health care employees, and many more who visited and toured the garden grounds were completely surprised, no one had ever thought that the beauty of a garden would happily flourish here. I’m proud to be a part of this, and it has helped me tremendously in my rehabilitative progress.”

The gardening program is expanding as Facility D constructs a new main recreation yard. A large area has been dedicated to expanding the gardens.

Pelican Bay State Prison inmate Jose Contreras holds a watermelon while surrounded by works of art.
Jose Contreras displays his own work of art — believed to be the first watermelon grown in Pelican Bay State Prison.