The Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) is located in Mitchellville, a small town 20 miles east of Des Moines. Most of the women have a history of mental health and personal struggles; ranging from physical, sexual and mental abuse, mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. In 2010 the Iowa Department of Corrections approached the Landscape Architecture department at Iowa State University making one simple request: create a planting plan for the new Iowa Correctional Institution for Women’s campus. The students knew they could fulfill this request and create a therapeutic campus that is focused on health and well-being. A master plan was created in 2012, leading to multiple design build projects. Since 2011, the collaboration has resulted in a multipurpose outdoor classroom, a decompression area for staff, a healing garden for the special needs population and food production plots.
This year the team is designing and building the Children's Garden. This is a space where incarcerated women and their children can play, explore and strengthen the ever important bond between mother and child. Our team consists of ISU Design students, correctional staff and women incarcerated at ICIW--a community population that is not typically involved in designing or building the spaces in which they live. This is a unique and exciting endeavor dedicated to bettering the lives of women and children in Iowa.
What will the donations be used for?
We are expanding and redesigning the existing outdoor visiting space at ICIW. Our goal is to design and construct a therapeutic and playful outdoor visiting space for the children and families of incarcerated women. Funds will be used for play equipment, seating, lighting, and other site fixtures that would otherwise be too cost prohibitive to include in the space. Some of these may be designed by our team and built by incarcerated individuals through Iowa Prison Industries, but we still have to cover the cost of the materials and their time. Other site features may be purchased. Funds will also be used to cover material costs (seeds, pots, plants, soil) for programming such as the gardening activities mentioned above.
Why Donate to The Children's Garden?
ICIW currently houses about 740 women, 62 percent of whom have children under 18 years of age.The average length of women incarcerated is 4.6 months. This is enough time to lose their job, become disconnected from their family and dramatically increases the family's financial burden. This displaces children to caretaker's homes and distances them from the necessary mother - child relationship. Seventy percent of young children with incarcerated mothers have emotional or psychological problems. They exhibit anxiety, withdrawal, depression, shame and guilt. Further culminating into anger, aggression and hostility.
Our goal is to expand and redesign the existing outdoor visiting space at ICIW into a therapeutic and playful outdoor visiting space for the children and families of the incarcerated women. Providing access to green spaces in correctional facilities will help to support and maintain relationships between incarcerated women and their families. Research suggests that this bond is essential for the development of children and their sense of identity. It is also critical for the women’s successful reentry into society. An investment in this garden is an investment for the ultimate betterment of our communities.
Why Do We Need the Donations?
Your donations would help us purchase play equipment, seating, lighting, art and other important site fixtures which would help us create a space with programmed activities. A garden space that is the most advantageous to the women and their visiting families, helping them bond over conversations, play and planting activities.
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"A lot of our [collage] included green space....(with) covered areas to get out of the sun. The play areas have textures, climbing, and enough space to play ball (and) frisbee. Our (collage) was mostly about variety for kids."
- Sara and Danielle, incarcerated mothers
"Having the women design the garden gives them the feeling of ownership with this project and it will make them feel really good when the project is complete. Working along side the women is a great experience and it shows them that we don’t judge them for the mistakes they made in the past."
- Jordan, design student
"Children need regular access to healthy outdoor environments. Natural environments are critical for promoting positive mental health and for cognitive development. Time spent outdoors can help children cope with the stress of having an incarcerated parent."
- Professor Julie Stevens
"The women come in with stories to share and ideas about what they want to see in the Children's Garden. Our conversations are about the gardens and about life and change. We can truly make a difference for the women who are incarcerated and the people who visit them."
- Joey, Design Student
"I want to be involved with this project to help me confront my issues and make sure that I do not end up back here again. I also want to help the women who are and will be in here. I'd like to come back and volunteer to help other women after the end of my sentence."
- Michelle, incarcerated mother