My Experience in the California City Correctional Facility Seed Program

The Mojave Desert Seed Rehabilitative Training Project (Mojave DSRT) is in its second year at the California City Correction al Facility in California City, California, successfully raising plants for the Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) despite heavy COVID-19 restrictions. This letter is from an adult in custody involved in the program.

By Kevin Dyer, Mojave DSRT Crew Lead

I could hardly believe it! They wanted hard-core prison inmates to help save a threatened species of tortoise by providing loving care to some plants! Therefore, with the lack of good judgement that brought me to prison in the first place, and all the agricultural experience that comes from mowing the lawn and watering my mother’s rose bushes, I signed up. I did this knowing that no incentives or benefits whatsoever were being offered, other than the chance to get dirty. Many, including myself, thought that this was not my smartest decision. 

Well, that was a year ago, and very much has changed since then. What I thought was merely gardening has become the science of horticulture along with the knowledge of soil components, seed germination, plant propagation and much more. In addition, as a city person, I can proudly state that my shovel, rake and wheelbarrow skills are now extremely advanced. The amazing part is that these experiences stand in stark contrast to living in concrete cells with artificial lighting. Other changes have occurred as well such as becoming attached to my plants, like  an owner to his pets or a parent to a child. I believe they call it “caring” which is definitely not “gangsta” and very uncommon in prison. This  caring nature has begun to include the aforementioned Tortoise and the  environment. At this rate, I can see myself being concerned with breast  cancer and global warming. 

The most subtle transformations have been the increased ability  to work with anyone, from anywhere, of any background, wear ing any uniform, to accomplish the goals of this program. These are not the social skills normally acquired in prison. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that this program is of just as much benefit to me as it is to the threatened desert tortoise. To that, I say thank  you to those managers of Institute for Applied Ecology, Sustainability in Prisons Program and the prison staff on behalf of my self, my fellow inmate workers and the Mojave desert tortoise.

Mojave DSRT crew with compost for the native plant field in the prison yard. Mr. Dyer is on the far right.

Associate Warden Christy Torres connects IAE Ecological Ed Coordinator Tyler Knapp with the Mojave DSRT crew over FaceTime.

Mojave DSRT Crew creating windbreaks around plants in the field.

An Adult in Custody waters native plants started from seed, increasing success of the restoration project.