May 10, 2013
During the summer of 2012, Landscape Architecture major Anthony Buscaino spent a two-month stint at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York.
Fortunately it wasn’t as an inmate. Buscaino provided mentoring — and often just a caring ear willing to listen — to inmates as part of the Horticultural Society of New York’s “GreenHouse” program, an initiative dedicated to reducing the rate that inmates return to criminal activity “by offering men and women who are incarcerated an innovative jail-to-street program using horticultural therapy as a tool to prepare them for reentry.”
“I would spend three days a week working with people who were sentenced to a year or less and detainees who had not been sentenced yet — two different gardens with two very distinct inmate populations,” said Buscaino, 21, who will receive his Landscape Architecture bachelor’s degree on May 16. “While it’s designed to teach a helpful skill set, it’s just as much about the process; about giving them the opportunity to express themselves. For me, it was as much about giving them someone to talk to and someone who would listen to them as it was about horticulture — it was a profound experience.”
According to the Horticultural Society of New York, the GreenHouse program, established in 1989, has grown to encompass an educational setting on Rikers Island that includes a greenhouse, a classroom and more than two and a half acres of landscaped gardens, designed and built by inmates. GreenHouse provides remedial education, skill development and vocational training in horticulture — hands-on experience includes designing, installing and maintaining multi-use gardens, and the design and construction of garden fixtures, such as benches and trellises.
“I’d wake up at about 4:30 a.m. to get over to Rikers, but I always found it was worth it. That first day — you don’t really know what to expect — but any preconceptions I might have had went right out the window the same day,” said Buscaino, who is originally from Brooklyn. “Everyone was very friendly and willing to learn and even if they weren’t necessarily getting everything out working in the gardens, they were outside and having a positive experience — in the long run, I think that’s very effective.”
Once inmates complete the GreenHouse program, he said, they have the opportunity to get into a program called GreenTeam, a design-build internship.
“They could be building community gardens or rooftop gardens. I think it really helps give them a head start,” said Buscaino, who was part of Temple’s Best-in-Show winning Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit team during his junior year in 2012.
Buscaino recently provided detailed insight into his GreenHouse experiences at Temple’s TURF-CreWS (Temple Undergraduate Research Forum - Creative Works Symposium) event in April.
“Horticultural therapy is a particular interest of mine, so this was a great fit for me. It really changed my perspective on things — on what I’d like to do and what I’m able to do in landscape architecture or in horticulture,” he said. “While I was at Rikers, I was also working in Manhattan with a professional horticulturist — everything had to be perfect. Going to Rikers was more fulfilling for me. I like the social aspect of landscape architecture — I like the idea of revitalizing neighborhoods, of creating healing gardens; working together to positively impact people and places.”
Buscaino was awarded a Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Faculty Award for his dedication to his craft during Temple University Ambler’s Academic Awards ceremony.
“I was grateful to receive that kind of recognition. The faculty have a lot of practical experience to share — you’re given the tools to approach projects from a lot of different angles,” said Buscaino, who spent the fall semester studying architecture in Rome as part of Temple’s study abroad program. “I originally envisioned going to school for art, but landscape architecture really is art — art that can affect change.”