Dubai prison inmates develop green fingers on thriving organic farm

On a sprawling organic farm at Dubai Central Jail, inmates are not just growing fruit, flowers, and vegetables, they are also cultivating their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.

“I really like to work here. I never take a day off,” an inmate said as he gave a tour of the 225 square-meter Al Aweer farm where he spends up to five hours a day. The farm at the inmates’ education and training department is part of Dubai Police’s strategy to empower prisoners and develop their skills.

Inmates grow 36 kinds of crops, including lemons, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, chilies, aubergines, corn, papayas, and figs. In a nearby room, another inmate feeds fish that are part of an aquaponics system. There is also a hydroponic vertical structure where inmates have grown mint, basil, lettuce, and other plants.

The main purpose of the farm is training and not production. The harvest is distributed among inmates and supporting staff. “We have succeeded in planting things that are hard to plant in the desert,” said Maj Mohammed Abdulla Al Obaidli, director of the inmates’ education and training department. “We set up a creativity club here to receive the inmates' suggestions which we implement if we find them beneficial for the inmates.”

The farm that is bearing fruit in the desert was created in 2014 by Hero Sanabam, a former inmate who was in jail for bounced cheques. Mr. Sanabam, 53, comes from a farming background. He has a doctorate in design and master planning and a doctorate in agricultural science.

“I used to take care of the library in prison for the inmates. One day Maj Al Obaidli said to me: ‘Dr. Hero, why don't we develop something for the inmates, where they can earn, learn and get a new lease of life?’ That’s how it all began. I saw the farm both as a challenge and an opportunity to rectify my mistakes,” he said.

“I started with a single lettuce and a Masafi water bottle. I proved we could grow such a beautiful plant in the middle of a desert at 55 degrees of scorching summer."

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