Inmates at Utah State Prison may never see the faces of the special needs students at Kauri Sue Hamilton School in Jordan School District as well as students at Jordan Valley School in Canyons School District.
Yet they know those faces brightened at the sight of hundreds of pumpkins donated to their school Tuesday, Oct. 23. The offenders spent the last six months growing the gourds from seeds, a process that’s been happening for the last quarter-century -- with both the students and inmates benefiting from the program.
“Our students never meet the prisoners,” said Rita Bouillon, principal at Kauri Sue Hamilton. “But there is a strong bond there.”
Inmates participating in Utah Correctional Industries’ greenhouse program grow a number of pumpkins, including special varieties such as the Warty Goblin and Cinderella. Most, however, are the traditional orange that are a staple of Halloween decorations.
Each year, hundreds are donated to schools for special needs.
“It’s one of the few opportunities for them to give back to the community,” said Todd Barszcz, a Utah Correctional Industries program specialist. “And they know that they go to the people that need them the most.”
Though they don’t see the distribution of the fruits of their labors, the inmates know the impact it has.
“There is no other program in prison that has changed my heart like this one has,” wrote one inmate working on the program. “I will never look at a pumpkin again without thinking of what it means to these children.”
“Making a small sacrifice of sweat and hard work to grow pumpkins that may light up a child’s life for a day makes me feel like a part of society and like the man I want to be,” wrote another.
The students are allowed to pick one for themselves, and the opportunity to make their own selection is one of the highlights for the kids, according to Bouillon. Many students will walk around until they find the right one. Others will tap “yes” or “no” cards when shown a pumpkin.
“It’s like magic,” noted Bouillon. “Many of our kids are non-verbal, so when they make a choice, it warms my heart. It shows they do have an opinion, a thought on things.”