There isn't much about Carlos Rosado that wouldn't surprise you.
Up until five days before he was scheduled to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree Saturday from the prestigious Bard College, Rosado was known primarily as inmate No. 98B0620 at New York's Woodbourne Correctional Facility. He was released Monday after serving more than 12 years for armed robbery.
"I'm excited, I'm ready," Rosado said a few days before his release.
To those who know the 35-year-old husband and father of four, from the guards at the medium security prison to his fellow inmates, Rosado isn't your typical prisoner. Indeed, he might better be described as an inmate with one of the greenest thumbs in the history of the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
Rosado is credited with developing a garden in one of the few green spaces inside the otherwise cement-heavy prison. In the two years since the garden's inception, it has provided some of the only access the prison's 800 inmates have to fresh vegetables and fruit.
Rosado and the other 30 inmates he recruited for the garden are all students of the Bard Prison Initiative, a privately-funded program that offers inmates at five New York State prisons the opportunity to work toward a college degree from the New York college in Annandale-on-Hudson. It's one of only a handful of programs nationwide that allow inmates to pursue higher education while incarcerated.
The Bard program, which is the brainchild of alumnus Max Kenner, is competitive, accepting only 15 new students at each facility every other year.
But while other students in the program -- about 27 of whom who will graduate with a degree in June -- are studying more traditional subjects such as accounting and English literature, Rosado used the garden as a supplement to his senior thesis, which looks at the history of prison food and bears a title, "The Diet of Punishment: Prison Food and Penal Practice in the Post-Rehabilitative Era," that many graduate students would find daunting.
"The National food supply is contaminated and imbalanced," he said one day last week while touring the garden, which has beginning to sprout for the season. "We wanted the garden to supplement the kitchen here."
Rosado has been working on his degree, a BA in social studies, for six years.
One of the garden's biggest cheerleaders, as well as the Bard program, is Woodbourne's Deputy Superintendent Jean King.
The facility often receives letters from prisoners across the state begging to be transferred to Woodbourne because of the educational opportunities, King said. While Woodbourne, a medium-security prison, is often a stop for convicts after they spend time at maximum-security prisons, space is limited, as with any such facility.
"Corrections has changed a lot, we're much more focused on re-entry [into society] then we used to be," she said. Throughout Woodbourne, inmates call out to King, whom they refer to fondly by her nickname, "Dep. King." And it's clear she has a good relationship with the prison population.