As you travel along highway 99 through the Central Valley, rural landscapes, livestock and farm life are the normal scene whizzing by your window. When you hit Chowchilla, the flat land give way to two women’s prisons. And while you might expect the facilities’ location to isolate the correctional communities from the rural surroundings, that’s not the case. Every day, a small group of female inmates do their time by growing, harvesting, processing and packaging California’s third largest agricultural crop – almonds.
The Department of Corrections employs a farm staff with agricultural experience to train inmates how to farm. Civilian farmers are also contracted to lend expertise in the delicate harvesting process. The result is a vocational experience teaching the incarcerated women what is known as the soft skills; teamwork, accountability, work ethic and pride of accomplishment. A skill set authorities say is key to ensuring success once they’ve served their time.
California Heartland’s John Lobertini meets the farm manager Ray Mattesich, whose job it is to supervise the inmates and the farming operation. We’ll meet Leo Lamb, who is part of the management team that directs the delicate harvest process, working alongside the inmate crews – but no interaction is allowed between the civilian staff and the inmates.