The Garden Brings Us to a Peaceful Place

Personal reflections from students on the importance of a garden at San Francisco's Juvenile Justice Center.

The Garden Brings Us to a Peaceful Place

Since November 2011, a garden has been thriving in the most unlikely place — a concrete courtyard in San Francisco's Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), where "youthful offenders" are incarcerated 24 hours a day. (See full story here.) Every year, more than 3,000 troubled teens go in and out of these doors, charged with the full range of criminal offenses (from running away from a group home to murder).

Teachers at the JJC's in-house school, Woodside Learning Center, overcame significant obstacles to make the garden space a reality. With ongoing support from the Center for Ecoliteracy, this humble patch of green in Living Unit #8 is becoming a sanctuary of solace, hope, and life for many students. "Nobody would ever think of a garden in juvenile hall," says 18-year-old Renecia. "I feel like when we come in here, it brings us to a peaceful place." In a state with an 80-percent recidivism rate for youth, even the subtlest changes in their inner lives can have profound implications.

We offer some personal reflections from the students themselves:

Dear Sunzilla

Dear Sunzilla, please hear me out,
I speak with love, so my intentions, please do not doubt.
My hope is for you to grow tall, healthy, long & strong
Therefore I give thee advice and wisdom by song:

Look to your mother for guidance and support.
stay clean from weeds, thorns, pests, and things of the
sort, for they do not want you to thrive as I do, instead
embrace the rain that will turn into morning dew

Reach to the sun, don’t be afraid
for that is the purpose from God you were made
Some nights may be long, and some days
may be rough, but do not fret, you are built from
Strong stuff…
By: Ashton

This phenomenal opportunity to acquire this miniature garden is more than appreciated. It’s more of a blessing to those of us that have taken advantage of the little wonders in life. Plants are one of these wonders. Since I’ve been incarcerated, I have been more appreciative of the little things in life such as these plants. These plants give me a reason to believe that I am worth something while they grow each and every day because of my care and love. It may be silly to some to have so much passion about a plant, but to me, it means more.

Having these plants has taught me to protect, love, and care for myself, and this is something that I have not done for myself before. So, if I can love, care, and protect a plant, why can’t I do the same for myself and other people such as my mother. I’ve learned responsibility and patience while taking care of this little piece of life. My sister is eleven years old and she depends on me such as the plant depends on me. This plant has allowed me to take the carefulness, patience, experience, and love as a gift that I can apply to my everyday life with passion, courage, and love. I am more than thankful for these plants because without them I wouldn’t have found these feelings, this joy, and motivation in life to make each day count. Thank you.
By: Sativa

My name is Jacqueline, but they call me Tualah. My daddy gave me that name before he died. I’ve made bad mistakes in my life and I take responsibility for my actions. In here, juvenile hall is a place where we come to reflect on our actions and better ourselves. In that process, I know all these kids in here are lonely and need at least something to trust in. It doesn't necessarily have to be a person, maybe a thing.

We are in a place where we don’t have family and we don't know many people who we can confide in here. I know having a beautiful garden will help us to open our mind and shed some light in this dark period of time. For me, having a plant that I can take care of helps me to understand my responsibilities and learn to be more responsible. Thank you for providing for us the money and opportunity to have something we can look at that is both beautiful and helpful.
By: Tualah

My name is Carey. I have been in YGC for nine months. This garden project was brought up a few months after I got here. I planted a plant along with my other classmates and it was the only one that survived. Unfortunately, it died. But it taught me something very important: life is not full of success and good fortune all the time. Things are going to happen. It represents all of us in this room right now, the teachers, counselors, and yes, the Senator.

I’ll admit I was sad when it died, but I just planted another one and tried a little harder. I got to correct my mistake and to see something grow that I know I put effort into, and this makes me feel like I accomplished something, no matter how small. But everyone has to start small to achieve big.
What I am trying to say is that a garden would help people try to accomplish something good. Some people might not care, but that is also a part of life. This garden could show these young ladies and gentlemen that they can do things that are good and beneficial without doing it illegally. We may have to be talked to about it, given worksheets or questionnaires to dig deep into our feelings, but it can happen either way.
And who knows, YGC may go out of business one day. Then school and garden clubs would be overflowing.

By: Carey