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Garden of Hope | KERRI EIKER

Garden of Hope

It was a perfect day for a garden tour, the sun was shining brightly, the air was crisp and fresh.  The subtle sweet scent of lilacs intermittently swirled around on welcome warm breezes.  The fragrance of spring is so intoxicating (so to speak) it seems almost possible to perceive the colors of the smells; Pinks and lavenders, a sunny yellow and bright pure white come to mind. The only imperfection was the fact that at the time of this interview the garden was nearly bare.
“We planted a bunch of things but they all died and we had to start over.”  Korey Shorbe, support service coordinator at Mountain Manor Treatment Facility in Emmitsburg Maryland explained.  The sharp cold winter that lingered into our spring this year has delayed the normal crop schedule, nevertheless the garden, like the patients was offered another chance. While not yet feeding bodies the freshly tilled earth is already nourishing souls.
Korey leads groups in Health & Wellness and Life Skills for the three programs at Mountain Manor.  Each facility addresses and helps support recovery from substance abuse issues and  the underlying emotional conditions that often lead to additive behaviors.
“There’s just something (calming) about watching that seed grow into something bigger.”   Korey, a spirited and dynamic sort of guy admits to needing regular constructive outlets to wind down and burn energy.  Gardening has had such a positive effect in his personal life he decided to bring the therapeutic practice to the center.
Korey’s own garden, planted two years ago taught him patience and discipline.  Gardening also takes honed observation skills and the ability to pay attention to detail.  He suggested the idea of a community (healing) garden for the New Horizon program which is long-term residential treatment for men and women who are involved with the justice system. “I was surprised when my director said yes to the garden idea.”  Korey said.
Dereck came to the center in mid-winter of this year. “This is my first gardening experience.”  He said, explaining that living in Baltimore there wasn’t much opportunity for gardening.  There was also no occasion to experience the calming practices of cultivating the earth while spending two decades in prison.
Dereck is a healthy muscular 45 year old man who looks as if he may be a professional wrestler or football player or even a dancer.  His smiling eyes and glowing countenance do not reveal the lengthy time he spent in incarceration.
“I find the garden spiritual and enriching.  I’m learning a lot about God.”
Dereck mellifluously recites several garden metaphors about his recovery likening the process to planting that first seed, watering it, feeding it assisting it to grow then it blossoms and is even capable of feeding others.  He also mentions tilling the land while working alongside of his peers, cultivating relationships as well as the earth.
Donnell, a New Horizon resident also took his turn at pushing that tiller.  He and Dereck shared the load of the work while finding in the garden a way to untie the chains of the past.  Their willingness and integrity in the co-preparation of the garden created an organic rich soil where friendship began to take root as deeply as are the sprouting seeds.
“When I was eight or nine my grandma rented space in Upper Marlboro.  I remember going to the garden, pulling weeds.”  Donnell nostalgically recalled.
“I might rent me some space out somewhere.  Grow some fresh vegetables and fruits.”  Donnell added looking off beyond the garden and into his bright future.
The (young) 34 year old who spent five years in prison said his Grandmother is very pleased that he has taken up gardening.  For Donnell the garden seems to be reconnecting him with his family, helping him to recall the innocence of his youth which is  still available to him, everybody gets another chance… choosing to take it is up to us.
Donnell and Dereck simultaneously turned to William who had been quietly listening to the description of the garden.  “This is our foreman.”  Dereck said as he gave William a brotherly pat on the shoulder.  William a 61 year old resident shared his contribution and connection with the garden.
“I’ve been farming since I was a kid.  Everything I learned I learned from my dad and from the grace of God.”
William also fondly recalled times spent in gardens throughout his youth and expressed his gratitude for the garden being an activity that enables the small temporary community to establish intentions and reach for goals. William finds accomplishing goals as a supportive family to be an important aspect of his recovery.
“It’s therapeutic and good for the mind.”  William says stoically, arms crossed his thoughts and conclusions appearing to form from a salt-of-the-earth wisdom that comes through time and paying attention. The garden is assisting William to reintegrate gently back into the world after spending 7 years behind bars.
A 28 year old resident named Roland who spent four years in detention has recently been drawn to the garden.
“I used to help my grandparents pick blackberries and pull weeds.”  He recalled.  When Roland finishes his long term treatment he plans to move back with family who just so happen to have a farm.
“There are two different aspects of working in this garden.” Roland explained that for now he would like to get involved, pulling weeds and maintaining the garden as a piece of service work, giving him the sense of his ability to positively contribute to the community.  He also wants to learn some gardening skills to take with him, continuing to be an asset to his family in his next chance at life.
Roland is an example of the gardens magnetic ability, a “build it and they will come” theory that Korey subscribes to.
“Not everyone wants to participate in the garden. It’s not mandatory.”  Korey said.  But when the crops begin to emerge so do many of the community.
Korey frequently holds his groups in the garden applying hands on metaphors in his teachings; “you gotta pull the weeds in your own garden!”.  Teaching his classes in the garden offers a very creative and unique way of bringing awareness to the work we must all do internally in order to heal.   The experience of a community effort that the garden provides allows patients to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Korey said.
“You know that expression you can’t lead a horse to water?”  Korey asks.  Korey doesn’t throw his hands up in defeat at a stubborn horse, instead he takes the expression a step further.  “…you can’t make him drink.”  He says with a mischievous smile “But you can make him thirsty.”
“It’s all about tearing down those walls and finding trust.”  Korey explains and he should know.  He has traveled that dangerous and frightening path of addiction, prison and recovery himself.
“The patients will say… ‘I thought you were one of us.’”  Korey responds with “I am one of you…I’ve just been clean for a while.”
“I just want to say that having the staff trust me to be out here…getting dirty with me…”  Dereck gestured toward Korey explaining how working in the garden together with and (in Gods eyes) equal to the “staff” helps to create a sense of safety and self-worth where Dereck can begin to break down those terrible walls.
“I also want to say I’m grateful (to be interviewed).  This is the first time…”  Dereck pauses for a moment, Takes a deep breath and smiles then firmly rests his strong hand on a garden post, a post that he most likely secured deeply in the earth to protect his garden  “…this is the first time I will have something written about me in the paper that is positive.”

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