A committee comprised of education, substance use disorder, counseling and psychology staff offered a Mental Health Awareness Therapeutic program throughout the month of May 2021 at SCI Dallas. The committee challenged the selected inmates to participate in the Mental Health Awareness Month project encompassing this year's theme: "Stretching the City with Nature." All participation was voluntary with a total of approximately 65 inmates involved—all from the mental health roster.
The project encouraged selected participants to read and journal on specific educational articles provided by the American Horticulture Therapy Association. The creation of bookmarks and a final essay contest were incorporated to allow for creativity and reflection on the value of nature to mental health. Each week throughout the month of May, a different topic was provided along with writing prompts and healing quotes about nature to assist in the journaling process and provide inspiration. The program concluded with an essay contest based on how participants' lives are similar to rings on a tree. The winners will be working with the horticulture educator to oversee the planting and care of the facility's gardens on a rotating basis throughout the gardening season into the fall. It was a hard choice as many of the essays submitted were excellent!
The bookmarks were designed by the inmates on their chosen colored card stock. They were finalized by staff adding a label with the creator's name and choice pressed flower(s) such as dandelions, pansies, lilacs and other plant materials. Lamination was provided by SCI Dallas' print shop. The goal of the program is that the bookmarks and journals will serve as reminders of the benefits of nature and enhance participants' emotional and mental well-being.
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) also provided tree seedlings to be planted on the outside property of SCI Dallas. A plaque provided by the Dallas print shop will be placed nearby to represent each of the approximately 65 participants and identify the trees as part of the "Horticulture Therapy Program May 2021" and each year thereafter. Pollinator/meadow planting supply was also be provided by DCNR to be used within the compound.
Pictured from left: Dr. Nichole Ashton, licensed psychologist manager; Lora Troy, drug and alcohol treatment specialist; John Duffy, drug and alcohol treatment specialist; April Gromel horticulturalist; Pamela MacDonald, drug and alcohol treatment specialist; Jaclyn Rawlings, drug and alcohol treatment specialist. Program participants tilled this new flower area specifically for this project. There are a number of small plots like this within the facility, but this one was new for the Mental Health Awareness Project.
The Horticulture Therapy Project for Mental Health Awareness Month was a great success. The project demonstrated the positive impact formed from the collaboration of multiple DOC departments at SCI Dallas. Many of the participants shared the value it had on their mental health and on how much they learned about their connection to nature.