Club member Jean Abbott was shopping one day at Ala Moana when a young clerk stopped her. “‘Hi, auntie,’ she said. ‘You used to teach classes at WCCC, and I just want to tell you how much that meant to me.’” Abbot was used to seeing the girl in a blue prison uniform and wasn’t sure how to respond. “I didn’t know what her co-workers knew about her past,” says Abbott, “so I just gave her a big hug and told her how happy I was that she had stopped me.” There is something healing about working in the dirt, Abbott says, something that teaches lessons for life.
Funded by a $25,000 grant from the GCA, Honolulu club members offer classes for inmates at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Windward O‘ahu, where the inmates tend a lei garden, manage a greenhouse, cultivate taro and grow breadfruit. Abbott, who’s been volunteering since 2006, has seen the therapeutic effects of gardening on some of the women, like the one who said that gardening helped her to remember the smell of the mountains. Another woman felt that the patience and tenderness she learned from nurturing plants would make her a better mother.
The prison program works not just through “hort” but with flowers as well, though Abbott admits she was initially skeptical about bringing in an ikebana (Japanese flower-arranging) instructor. Abbott listened as the soft-spoken teacher explained stem treatments and angles of placement step by step. “I’m just thinking, ‘This is not going to fly,’” says Abbott. “I was sure we were going to lose the girls in five minutes.” But they were on the edges of their seats, carefully following the instructions. “I was shocked,” she says.
The women requested permission to use their arrangements for their Thanksgiving dinner, and the new warden, having just transferred from the men’s correctional facility in Halawa, was puzzled by the request. “Years later,” Abbott says, “he told me that there he was, sitting in his office on his second day wondering where in the world were they going to get flower arrangements. When told that they already had them, he realized that dealing with women was going to be different from men.” The inmates, it seems, were not the only ones learning from flowers.
The Garden Club of Honolulu’s Major Flower Show will be held May 11 to 13, 2012, at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Visit www.gchonolulu.org/flowershow.htm for more information.