Passing by the looming, barbed-wire-rimmed walls of a correctional facility, the average citizen may conjure images of heartless, good-for-nothing criminals, thinking little of their humanity and potential for good. Former Howard County Correctional Facility inmate, Gordon Schott, faced this sad reality from the inside as his intellect and drive wasted away-- that is, until Howard EcoWorks introduced its Seeds of Change Program.
Imprisoned by a Criminal Persona
Born and raised in Columbia, Maryland, Gordon was an academically
ambitious individual, graduating first from Glenelg Country School and then from Loyola Baltimore with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. On paper, Gordon appeared a stellar professional, between his Macro Media work with Adobe and his educational pursuits. But things took an unexpected turn in 2019 when Gordon was incarcerated for drug related offenses. Suddenly, Gordon took on the persona of a criminal-- reflecting on the stigma that shrouds institutions, he said “because of the way that people think and behave it's hard to believe that there is a future beyond what you know while you are there, or the thought of not having a future because of your past.”
Planting the Seed of Hope
Not long after Gordon’s incarceration, he discovered Seeds of Change, a program which provides minimum security inmates with work experience in Howard EcoWorks’ plant nursery and aids in their transition back into society. He explained, “this program not only shows that the community still accepts you as a human being
but also allows you to show who you are as a person with real world responsibilities…” In Gordon’s eyes, Seeds of Change helps community members build trust in program participants while allowing inmates to regain the self-confidence and esteem that their criminal titles strip from them. Seeds of Change is a crucial part of participating inmates’ rehabilitation, in part, because it disrupts the monotony of life behind bars-- it creates opportunity for activity, the chance to feel motivated, and the sense of daily responsibility that mimics the ‘real world.’
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday Gordon and a few others leave the walls of their enclosure and the accompanying stigma behind to work in EcoWorks’ native plant nursery. Here, they inspect and care for native plants which will be used to filter storm water, beautify green spaces, and improve the health of the environment throughout the region. Through this work, Gordon has not only learned a great deal about the environment but has also discovered the variety of career paths that exist within the environmental field- paths that he can actually imagine himself taking someday. Gordon noted “I benefited from my experience in the nursery by being able to connect with the community while being incarcerated. Not only did it allow me to have hands-on experience learning new things about plants and the environment, but it also gave me hope in seeing a future beyond the walls of an institution.”
The Seed Takes Root
Gordon genuinely enjoys spending time outside, but the highlight of his
work, he says, is nurturing and re-potting young plants, so that he can watch them flourish with the knowledge that he contributed to that growth. Gordon also loves that he gets to be part a of team of like-minded individuals who simply want to give back to nature and their community.
EcoWorks truly did plant a seed that would change Gordon’s life for the better. In June of 2019, Gordon was released from prison and received his first paycheck from Howard EcoWorks through a paid internship that would help during his re-entry into the free world. After approximately 8 weeks, Gordon was promoted to a full-time position with EcoWork’s Uplift Program.
Steady Growth and Lofty Goals
When not at the nursery, Gordon works virtually for STEAM Gaming Company where he completes beta
testing of new games. He also spends much of his time volunteering at On Our Own, a local nonprofit that supports and aids in the recovery of individuals with behavioral health conditions. Here, Gordon acts as a
personal coach and is working toward becoming a CPRS (Certified Peer Recovery Specialist). Someday, Gordon aspires to start his own company with the objective of providing housing for individuals recovering from addiction and mental illness while they transition from rehabilitation centers to independent living. In his occasional free time, Gordon enjoys caring for his personal garden, spending time walking or mountain biking, DJing, and producing Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
Spreading the Seed
Though Gordon will not work with EcoWorks forever, he sees himself carrying the passion he gained for plants and wildlife as well as the knowledge and experience he gained at EcoWorks into his future career. Through his participation in the Seeds of Change program, Gordon not only put himself on a path towards success, but also inspired other inmates to follow in his footsteps. He reflected “the other inmates saw how happy I was leaving the correctional facility and getting to work outside. They wanted to do the same and get back on their feet like I have.” In the future, Gordon hopes that this program will spread to more locations so that a stronger connection may be formed between inmates and the community and so that more inmates are given the foundation they need to thrive after release.