CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office is seeing major growth in their horticulture program at the city jail.

So far this year, they’ve donated more than 280 pounds of produce to Healthy Chesapeake, which then takes the harvest to families in need.

The inmates who participate in the program are eligible to get their master gardener certification so they can work in a nursery or garden center upon their release, but deputies say the program is so much more than that.

Twenty inmates at the Chesapeake Jail have gone through the horticulture program so far. Two of the three inmates in the most recent class were offered jobs upon their release.

Master Deputy D. Simien has been working for the sheriff’s office for 29 years. She said she didn’t know anything about gardening before she started the program, but now, she spends a few hours each day with three to four female inmates out in the garden.

They grow jalapeños, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, carrots, squash and much more.

Since 2019, they’ve grown about 1,300 pounds of produce to donate to Healthy Chesapeake, a non-profit that helps people in Chesapeake with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes have access to healthy food.

Simien said it’s great to be able to provide these vegetables to those in need.

“It’s just something that warms your soul about doing for others,” Simien said. “That’s what were all here for.”

“Our mission statement is engaging with the community, providing services for the community and, if we can do that together with the inmates and the staff, that’s a win win situation,” said Undersheriff David Rosado.

The program is one of many offered in the jail to help set inmates up for success with paying jobs upon their release.

“The jobs are out there waiting for them,” Simien said. “It’s just for them to knock on the door and walk through and start their new life.”

“Having employment opportunities, an actual job before you leave here, it’s an incredible feeling,” Rosado said, “a sense of accomplishment that they can leave jail and start a career.”

Inmate Ashley Evans said she didn’t know anything about gardening before starting the program. She said coming to jail is a really low point for most people, but programs like this give people direction on where to start growing their future.

“Not just getting a job, but facing interview after interview and possible disappointment after disappointment,” Evans said, “so knowing that there’s a little bit of encouragement and security there is helpful.”

Evans was booked on a probation violation for drug crimes. She’s been in and out of jail before and said it’s a tough cycle to get out of. She said the encouragement she’s received through the program is the best part.

“A good support system is what most people coming out of jail lack,” Evans said, “so I think that’s really great.”

“Because of the mentorship, because we’re putting some self-esteem back into them,” Simien said, “they are reaching new heights and the main goal is to get their second chance and don’t come back.”

A new chance to start blooming in a different direction.

The Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office is looking for seed donations for the fall and winter horticulture programs. If you’d like to help, call the sheriff’s office at 757-382-6159.