Chaplains, Division of Juvenile Justice

Youth plant garden of hope at Ventura facility

Four incarcerated young men stand in a garden.
From left, Leonardo E., Adrian E., Johnny M., and Miguel R. enjoy the fruits of their labor.

In the heart of the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) chapel complex is a courtyard garden that has served through the years as a beautiful outdoor sanctuary of flowers, plants, fruit trees, and water fountains that is refreshing and renewing for all who find it.

Cared for by VYCF’s chaplains, the garden has brought encouragement and comfort to the many youth, staff, and visitors who have enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of this special place.

Acting Superintendent Maria Harper believes that the rejuvenating and redemptive impact of this idyllic oasis in the midst of VYCF serves as place of solitude and reflection for religious services, as well as a place in the sun for contemplation and relaxation for youth, staff and visitors who venture there.

“This beautifully manicured and curated space is essential to VYCF’s overarching objective of making California safer through the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model,” said Supervising Case Work Specialist (SCWS) Karette Fussell. 

SCWS Fussell notes by providing spaces of solace similar to those in the community, youth can cultivate and maintain a connection with nature as they develop critical thinking skills to reinforce better decision making with positive reinforcement during incarceration. 

As with all gardens however, the natural wear of years and the constant change of seasons can leave its mark and the chapel courtyard was recently in need of some tender love, care and attention. Fortunately, a group of youth were up to the task to restore the space to its full potential so that everyone could appreciate the beauty of the garden again. 

VYCF’s youth construction crew, under the supervision of Youth Correctional Officer Miguel. Lopez, regularly take on a variety of jobs throughout the facility, from assisting with landscape maintenance to washing facility vehicles.  At the invitation of the chaplains, they jumped at the chance to take on the project to restore the courtyard to its full potential. Over the course of two months, youths Adrian E., Leonardo E., Johnny M., and Miguel R. worked diligently alongside Chaplain Jacob Matchak and Chaplain Lulu Santana to return the courtyard into the beautiful oasis many have come to enjoy.

The youth carefully sanded all the benches and tables before putting on a fresh coat of paint. When it came to the overgrown or dry-looking plants, they were tempted to pull out everything. However, they learned to give plants another chance by pruning back dead growth.

They then planted a colorful assortment of new plants such as geranium, coleus, salvias, and gerbera daisies. After laying down mulch and carefully watering both old and new plants, the youth stood back and were rightfully proud of their work and in awe of the fresh transformation the courtyard had experienced.

“Never done something like this before,” said Leonardo E. while Miguel R. reflected that it was a “good feeling” to bring life to the chapel.

As he sat looking at the garden, Johnny M. remarked, “It’s been a good experience to learn something new and help make a difference. It’s crazy what water can do! I love the smell of the garden as we walk into it.”

“I had never really paid attention to trees and flowers the way I have here,” said Adrian E.

As Youth Correctional Officer Miguel Lopez surveyed the work his crew accomplished.

“It’s nice to see their excitement for something that they have put their hands into and see the results. It’s great to have their work appreciated,” he said.

Now that the bulk of the project is complete, other youth and staff have returned to visit the courtyard and have expressed their appreciation for the crew’s hard work. They are amazed at the fruit they can pick off the trees, the brightly colored flowers, and the hummingbirds and robins that splash and play in the water of the fountains.

The courtyard is a place of sanctuary and renewal, a tangible reminder that what may have seemed beyond repair can be restored with a little sweat and hard work as well as a lot of patience and hope.

By Chaplain Lulu Santana

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