Police & Fire

Maine prison gardening program gives inmates ‘meaning’

By Elizabeth Walztoni, Bangor Daily News Staff

Maine’s correctional facilities are teaching prisoners to grow and prepare their own food. A new documentary, “Seeds of Change,” explores the impact of one of those programs, a 5-acre organic regenerative farm at Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston.

“It was a story about a garden,” filmmaker Maximillian Armstrong said. “It developed into a story about the gardeners.”

Armstrong, who now lives in Portland, said he was looking for a Maine story to tell through film in 2021 when he came across a news article about the Mountain View program. 

All five of the Maine Department of Corrections’ adult facilities have begun agricultural programs, including the maximum security Maine State Prison in Warren. 

The 26-minute documentary focuses on the Mountain View program, which lifelong farmer Mark McBrine started in 2016 as head food supervisor there. Today, five acres supply organic fruits and vegetables to the institution’s dining halls. 

A new bakery apprenticeship program also teaches inmates to produce all of the prison’s breads and desserts.

The film could have taken a number of angles, according to Armstrong, but he was most struck by participants saying they felt working in the voluntary garden meant something. That determined the film’s direction, which follows several prisoners through the program and their release. Two are later shown growing their own food at home. 

State laws around contacting people who have been incarcerated after their release make it difficult to know where many participants’ lives lead after they leave the facility. From Armstrong’s observations, though, the impact of the work carries over into the rest of their lives, regardless of whether they continue to garden. 

He hopes the film will encourage the department of corrections to expand its efforts and inspire other institutions in finding creative ways to supply food. 

That doesn’t mean it has to be more expensive. McBrine gets first-run flour for the prison bakery at low cost from Maine Grains in Skowhegan, for example, and these programs can save the institutions money overall. 

“Seeds of Change” is available free online at https://video.mainepublic.org/show/seeds-of-change/ until July.

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