Cathrine Sneed

Cathrine Sneed

Cathrine Sneed has spent many years working as a young counselor in the San Francisco County Jail.

She started her career full of enthusiasm and vigour, hoping to make a real difference in the lives of those who were incarcerated.

However she revealed how things were not as straightforward as she had originally thought, and many of the young men she came across ended up becoming trapped in a life of drugs and crime.

She explained how when prisoners are released from jail, they are dropped off in the clothes they were admitted in with no money, job, nowhere to live or training.

Unsurprisingly, they quickly ended up back in jail. Her strategy was to then help these men prepare for job interviews, and give them suits to wear.

But it was not until she was diagnosed with a life threatening kidney illness that the real insight came, in the form of a book called ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. She read it avidly.

The book depicted families who found renewed hope through their connectedness to the land.

It acted as a springboard for Cathrine’s Garden Project, which gives prisoners the opportunity to go outside and work on the jail grounds, which until the 1970s had been a working farm.

The prisoners would grow vegetables that were then donated to soup kitchens, and the project soon gave birth to the Horticulture Program at the San Francisco County Jail.

Writing in a blog, Cathrine said: “Each person cares for particular plants and learns, by watching them grow, the true nature of this life: growth, renewal, and perseverance. Somewhere during the time spent quietly working the earth, something happens and something changes. Witnessing the cycle of growth and renewal allows the prisoners to see their own potential for growth and change. People often ask me what I did to inspire people to work.”

Sneed, along with some of the participants in the project

Sneed, along with some of the participants in the project

The results of the work were incredible. Some prisoners were so moved by the project, they did not want to leave. Others asked for a similar programme to be in place for those who have left jail.

Cathrine then began a post-release program called the Garden Project. The Garden Project gives former prisoners the jobs, the support, and the life skills they need to remain out of jail.

The project, also benefits hundreds of low-income seniors and families each week who receive the food donations.

Cathrine also reported that those who take part in the project are 25 per cent less likely to return to jail.

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