Please Pass The Peas. But Hold The Handcuffs

Please pass the peas


While many police and sheriff’s departments face layoffs and budget cuts, Ellis County, Texas Sheriff Johnny Brown has decided to be creative when it comes to feeding the inmates housed in his jail.

Sheriff Johnny Brown (on right) and Sgt. Bobby Cooper

No more canned peas, corn, or store-bought onions for his prisoners. No sir. It’s fresh vegetables or nothing. That’s right, Sheriff Brown decided to break ground on the back forty (actually, it’s more like three acres at the old jail farm) using inmate labor for the tilling, planting, and harvesting.

Sgt. Cooper is in charge of overseeing the farm operation

Each morning, a group of non-violent inmates stand in line to be shackled and transported the three miles to the farm where they put in a full day working the 188 rows of vegetables. Sheriff Brown hopes to save the taxpayers of his jurisdiction a lot of money by growing the crops. And, as a bonus, the inmates learn as they work. They’re also tired at the end of the day (less trouble), and the food they’ll consume after harvest will be much better for them than canned produce. Let’s face it, jail food is usually horrible.

An inmate examines English peas prior to planting

Planting peas

To further save money, Sheriff Brown even collects rainwater runoff from the roof at the jail.

The water is funneled into barrels and is then transported to the farm to water the gardens.

WFAA TV photos

Sheriff B.J. Barnes

*Jail farms are not a new concept. In fact, Guilford County N.C. Sheriff B.J. Barnes operates a massive prison farm—the only one in the state of North Carolina—consisting of 806 acres that’s manned by 134 inmates. Inmates even built the original dormitory at the farm using rocks found on the grounds.

Those of you who attended the 2010 Writers’ Police Academy will remember Sheriff Barnes from the Sunday debriefing panel. He was also responsible for most of the police equipment you toured and visited on Friday.

And, it was Sheriff Barnes’ team who provided the live demonstration of the school shooting/hostage situation.

This year, Sheriff Barnes has graciously offered to allow attendees of the 2011 Writers’ Police Academy an opportunity to tour the county jail. Ride-a-long’s with Guilford County deputies will also be offered as part of the WPA program.

Registration for the 2011 Writers’ Police Academy is open. Reserve your spot today. Space is limited!






7 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I’m very familiar with Halifax County, msmstry. In fact, I once did a bit of undercover drug work in that area. We’d often work in other areas and states in exchange for “fresh” faces in ours.

    The Southampton Correctional Center in Southampton County, Virginia used to operate a huge farm, too. Their farming operation, in addition to vegetables, included raising cows and hogs. They also have a large pond on the grounds (not behind the fence) and host an annual fishing tournament for kids.

  2. msmstry
    msmstry says:

    Great article! Wouldn’t it be nice if they could have a farm stand to sell extra produce to neighbors—or learn to freeze or can the excess.

    The Caledonia Correctional Institution in Halifax County has operated since 1892 as the state prison farm. Inmates currently cultivate about 5500 acres of farmland, producing chickens, row crops, and vegetables.

    Although not mentioned on their website, they also cultivate many of the plants (daylilies and cannas) that adorn the highways across North Carolina.

    I remember riding with my dad during the 1950s when he’d deliver a load of baby chicks to Caledonia. Now my husband frequently makes the drive to take daylilies from our commercial garden.

  3. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    As I was reading this, I was thinking of Sheriff Barnes’ comment that he never realized he’d be a rancher and farmer, but it is a brilliant idea.

    I do think that more and more, the people in law enforcement are being forced to think outside the box and have some amazingly creative ideas.

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    We’ll miss you this year, Toni. Sure you don’t want to change your mind?

    Mary – The voters in N.C. absolutely love Sheriff Barnes. So do his employees, and that says a lot. Oh, Sheriff Barnes is also writing a book.

  5. MaryQuinn
    MaryQuinn says:

    Wow. Maybe Sheriff Barnes should be in Washington. He can show them how to run an efficient operation.

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