Community gardens cultivate life outside jail cells

PHOENIX – TigerMountain Foundation is trying to lower the recidivism rate in south Phoenix by cultivating community gardens.

Founder Darren Chapman came up with the idea after his own experience with the correctional system.

“I’ve been in and out of jail cells probably eight times in my life,” Chapman said.

Understanding the difficult road ahead once released from jail, Chapman wanted to help people who faced the same struggle forge a new path.

The Phoenix ZIP codes 85041 and 85042 have a 65 percent rate of return to jail or prison for women, according to the Social Intelligence Institute. The foundation program is for girls and boys, men and women.

TigerMountain Foundation’s plan is to cultivate vacant land in Phoenix and give it new life through community gardening. Forty-three percent of Phoenix’s land consists of vacant lots, according to the Arizona Republic.

“We really wanted to make sure we affected the community,” Chapman said.

TigerMountain has four gardens in South Phoenix tended by employees and volunteers. One of Chapman’s goals is reaching out to South Phoenix youth, keeping them engaged in positive activities,and helping them feel connected to their community.

“Without them knowing what we can teach them, they’ll be lost wandering throughout the world and be another statistic,” foundation employee Derrick Rodgers said.

Being labeled a statistic was something TigerMountain employee Jerome Taylor knew well. Predictions were he’d return to a jail cell six months after getting out.

Instead, he’s been out of a year, Taylor said.

“We’ve seen 80 percent of our folks actually coming into TigerMountain Foundation not going back into the jail system,” Chapman said. “Some of our youth and adults never go in at all.”

And the men who are now part of the TigerMountain family are thankful for the chance to grow.

“They’ve given me a new way of life, a new way of living, a new way of thinking,” Rodgers said.

To learn about garden locations, how to volunteer and other information, visit TigerMountainFoundation.org.