During the 31-year span of Jamala Taylor’s incarceration, he spent 15 years in solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. After participating in the widespread hunger strikes to protest the state’s solitary confinement practices, he transferred to Lancaster State Prison and signed up to participate in the Insight Garden Program, which connects incarcerated people to hands-on gardening and landscaping training.
I had been in solitary for so long — just metal and concrete, no natural sunlight, windows, grass, trees,” he says. “It was a terrible experience. So when I did get out and get to general population, I’m thinking that I just want to put my hands in some mud.”
While Insight Garden Program was founded to give incarcerated people skills they can use on the outside paired with the more personal “inner gardening” of the self, the pandemic marked a major transition for IGP. Now, it focuses on not just job training but a holistic reentry program for participants coming home, including Taylor.
He was released from prison in December 2020 while COVID-19 positive; IGP went “above and beyond” to provide him toiletries and help navigate parole, transitional housing and family reconnections. This May, IGP hired Taylor as a reentry associate to do the same for others. This kind of support, Taylor attests, is “the difference between successful reintegration and recidivism.”
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