Unique Program Allows Suburban Inmates to Grow Food, Earn College Credit

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A gardening class at the DuPage County Jail is cultivating rehabilitation and college credit for some inmates, and the community is benefiting from their hard work.

The eight-week course is a partnership between the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office and the College of DuPage.

In the program, participating inmates are learning how to plant and tend to vegetables and herbs.

“I have always been around my family planting, and now I kind of learned the science behind it, so it makes sense now,” said James Annoreno.

College of DuPage horticulture instructor Connie Kollmeyer said the inmates will receive three college credits for attending online and in-person classes.

“If they decide to go forward with a degree or certification in horticulture, then it applies toward that program, and even if they chose a different program at some point, they can still use it as an elective credit,” Kollmeyer said.

The garden is yielding vegetables, including peppers and tomatoes, as well as herbs and flowers. The sheriff's office said most of the yield will be donated to area food pantries and shelters.

JUST of DuPage is a non-profit organization that runs social service and re-entry programs for inmates.

“If they can have a skill that they can go out, like welding or a sanitation certificate, that they can work in the commercial markets and they can make $40 or 50,000 a year. For many of them, that’s enough to get them to leave the street life or leave the addiction behind and to make those efforts to really change their lives and to take care of their families and to join society,” said executive director Michael Beary.

The horticulture course is taking place in Hope’s Garden, which is named after an infant found in a backpack in a remote wooded area of Wheaton in 2016. The sheriff's office said an unknown woman, identified only by her DNA profile, was indicted in the case of the baby's death last August. The sheriff said the infant's family has not been identified.

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