Insight Garden Program  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Insight Garden Program and how do participants benefit?

The Insight Garden Program (IGP) is a rehabilitation program that provides vocational gardening and life skills to prisoners. By working in nature, participants learn to re-connect to themselves as well as develop a larger understanding of their connection to and impact on the world around them so they become productive members of society.

  • IGP provides inmates with practical gardening and landscaping skills on a 1,200-square foot garden in a prison yard so they can find meaningful work after release.
  • Through class facilitation and experiential contact with nature, IGP helps inmates develop interpersonal qualities of responsibility, discipline, and mindfulness, so they learn to respond rather than react.
  • When vocational skills are combined with life skills, program participants gain self respect, pride in their work, and develop a higher level of functioning so they can break the cycle of incarceration.

What benefits will the results of this program have on society?

Effective rehabilitation programs can lessen the financial AND social burdens on society and begin to heal the divides that surround us.

  • In 2011, IGP conducted a recidivism study of 117 men who had paroled between 2003-2009, and found that less than 10% returned to prison or jail within a 3-year timeframe (compared to the state's 70% recidivism rate).
  • By helping to break the ongoing cycle of incarceration, the IGP helps to restore former prisoners' lives, families and communities.
  • Ultimately, successful rehabilitation represents a "tough on crime" approach as people leave prison more capable of living productive lives, which, in turn, increases public safety.

What differentiates the IGP from other rehabilitation programs?

By using a collaborative approach to class facilitation and key stakeholder engagement, the IGP helps foster collective care, diversity, and cultural education inside and outside the prison walls.

  • Underlying program administration is the philosophy that the development of awareness of self and beyond self is key to contributing to healthier communities.
  • Diversity is both a core element and result of the IGP. Not only are all ethnic groups equally represented in the classroom, but the garden is the ONLY non-segregated area of the prison yard, transcending the traditional racial segregation of prisons.
  • The IGP fosters cultural education by inviting the volunteers, guest speakers, and financial supporters into the prison to interact with inmates and experience classes. By unraveling pre-existing stereotypes about prisoners and prison, visitors become "ambassadors" for our work on all levels.

IGP also is one of the only researched rehabilitation programs in San Quentin. A study to determine "The Impact of a Garden on the Physical Environment and Socials Climate of a Prison Yard" was conducted as part of the program director's graduate degree in organization development (see PDF file, Thesis Abstract).

Who makes up the IGP?

IGP is made up of a dedicated core of volunteers, guest speakers and community supporters who believe that nature can serve as a vehicle for transformation.

  • All key program volunteers and guests understand that our human and ecological systems are deeply interconnected, and that principles of the natural world are transferable to all levels of human systems.
  • Guest speakers have included a wide variety of gardening experts, systems thinkers and environmentalists who provide theoretical or experiential insights into the natural world, including: local gardeners and landscapers; ecological authors and systems theorists; spiritual leaders and strategic thinkers on issues of environmental sustainability.

Has the IGP been successful?

The present gauges of success are:

  • Observations of class participants' personal transformations
  • The garden's impact on the physical environment and social climate of the prison yard (thesis research)
  • Recidivism study -- (as noted above), less than 10% of IGP participants return to prison within a 3-year timeframe (compared to the state's 70% recidivism rate).
  • Reentry program that supports men leaving prison with part-time work and wrap-around services...7 men have successfully completed this program, and we provide coaching and stay in contact with many more.


Class participants and Kevin Sadlier of Green Jeans Garden Supply apply organic fertilizers.

"Now that I can better nurture a plant and care for the environment, let me apply those same principles to myself for my own growth and purity — let us not pollute the earth with chemicals, nor ourselves with impurities."
James, former prisoner


Photo by John Kokoska.