Trade helps inmates land better jobs

Learning about horticulture has paid off for some prisoners.
LANCASTER, Ohio (AP) -- Inmates who learn to grow tropical hibiscus and other plants in the confines of a central Ohio prison are landing better horticulture jobs after release than in the past, an instructor says.
Men in blue prison uniforms learning the trade at the Southeastern Correctional Institution tend plants in the humid greenhouse on the grounds.
When retired horticulture instructor Tom Ramsay first started teaching the class, inmates were trained to get entry-level jobs, but now they get more supervisory positions, he said.
One graduate, in prison four times, was offered two jobs within days of being released, including one that paid 14.60 an hour and supervised six people, said Ramsay, who was involved in the program for nine years.
"He was coming out with something he had never had before," Ramsay said. "He had the opportunity to hold down a good job and be a taxpayer, rather than a tax consumer."
Many former inmates call him to let him know how they are doing.
Moving up
One former student got a job working on the Lancaster Country Club golf course, and another is a golf-course superintendent in Lima. One was promoted recently to landscape designer. Two started their own business in Dayton.
Some inmates in the program have developed practice tests for the Ohio Nursery and Landscaping Association's certification exams. Prisoners who thought they could help improve high school vocational students' passage rates decided to develop a series of pretests to help students prepare.
Those practice tests now are used by vocational schools and other prisons across Ohio.
Brian Skinner, who used a watering can to sprinkle plants in the greenhouse, said the work is relaxing and he considers it therapy.
"I learn something every day," he said.
Skinner, serving a 13-year sentence set to end in 2016 for pandering sexual material to a minor, said he hopes to start his own business selling sod.
"I don't want to say I'm glad to be here, but things happen for a reason," he said. "This has given me a different outlook and a look toward the future."

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