Carlos Rosado Earns Bachelor's Degree, Plants Garden All While Serving Time

"They're human beings first, we treat them the way we'd want our husbands or sons treated," King said. "The big complaint from inmates is the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, but the storage space and spoilage is an issue for us."

Inmates pile into a mess hall three times a day for meals, the majority of which are pre-frozen and processed. One inmate complained that "just an hour after eating, I'm hungry again," noting that the meals are short on nutritional value.

Instead asking for contraband, one gardener said, he's more likely to be hassled for "a piece of broccoli" than anything else.

Rosado's garden is certainly an improvement to the lackluster prison menu, to which even King agreed.

And the garden itself is nothing to scoff at, with cucumbers, kale, garlic and a variety of different lettuce already thriving across the 16 raised beds.

"At first, the idea of an actual garden here was the most insane thing I'd ever heard," Rosado said. "But [the garden] was a way to take my education and put it into practice."

A Garden in Prison Means a Garden Without Tools

There are elements of running a garden that aren't easy at a prison. For one, restrictions on what tools they are permitted to have leave them with nothing more than a beaten-up ruler and a rice spoon from the mess hall.

"There are limitations placed on us because we are in prison," Rosado said. "No metal spades, no weed whacker, no shovel. So we needed to create a sort of "no-tools required" garden."

And because of the prison's strict rules about dirty uniforms and the wardens' frowning on them "tracking mud through the cellblock," Rosado said he designed the garden beds based on the advice he read in noted gardener Mel Bartholomew's book "Square Foot Gardening."

"We did raised beds so we'd minimize the time we'd have to spend planting and watering, and I always said I wanted a garden that made it possible to wear a tuxedo here and not get dirty," Rosado said. "It's all reachable, three feet on one side and two on the other."

Daniel Marquez, an inmate who works in the garden, demonstrated how he uses a spare rag to keep himself clean while he works, using dental floss to map out the square-foot beds and a stapler to secure the lines.

"We've got to be very innovative," he said.

But whether inmates, some of whom are serving life sentences, should be planting and caring for a garden is up for debate among victim advocacy groups.

Will Marling, the executive director for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said some victims might have a hard time grappling with the idea of the individual who killed a family member being allowed so many privileges.

"Some victims are so horrifically hurt they don't think it's just for these people to have any pleasant experiences for the rest of their lives," Marling said. "But others do believe there is time in prison for self-improvement to fill the time."

Inmates Say Education Behind Bars Saved Their Lives

Many inmates said that by working in the garden, they've learned skills that they believe could have kept them out of trouble to begin with.

"A lot of people who I associated with on the street didn't have [the knowledge of how to sustain themselves] and so they relied on other people to feed them," said Darrel Isaac, 40, who has been locked up for nearly 14 years.

Several charges of robbery and weapon possession mean Isaac won't be considered for early release until 2012.

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