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TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF - INSIDE; Many people have said Steve Tucker should be locked up. So we sent our intrepid News Features Writer behind bars to see why some of Cardiff Prison's inmates think it is bloomin' marvellous.

Byline: Steve Tucker

WHEN I ask Cardiff Prison gardener John Viney if there are any special security measures he has to take he tells me: ``Basically we make sure we don't plant any trees near the walls.''

Well it makes sense not to give your inmates a chance of escaping, even if they are on the most envied work detail in the prison.

You are probably not familiar with the awardwinning gardens in the capital's prison, or perhaps you are - it takes all sorts I suppose.

Fourtimes winner of Cardiff in Bloom's Garden with Limited Access category (although it's hard to work out who the opposition is) the stark Victorian jail buildings are punctuated by colourful plants and their sweet perfumes.

John and his team of captive workers plant 15,000 flowers and trees each year and the hard work has paid off with Cardiff reaching the semifinals of the Windlesham Trophy, contested by 189 prisons across England and Wales.

A walk around the prison is quite a disconcerting experience. Despite its city centre location once within its walls one feels removed from the everyday hustle and bustle outside.

``A lot of people don't even know there's a garden in here and are surprised when I tell them what I do,'' said John who has worked atthe prison for nine years. ``We are improving the environment for everyone in here and I think it does help the prisoners' morale.''

John handpicks his small team of prisoners and can use whoever he wants except the ``lifers''.

Working in the garden is a privilege which must be earned and each man is paid pounds 8.50 a week.

Three of John's teams are more than happy to chat. John has even given each of them a silly shirt to wea r.

Robert Thomas, 28, is nine months into a twoandahalfyear sentence for burglary.

``I'd never done any gardening before I came here, but this place has changed me a lot,'' said Robert.

``This is the best job in here. It's great in the summer, everyone wants to do it then. It's good to be outside.

The work can be hard, but it's not too bad.''

Marc Bennett, 23, is known as Mushroom due to his habit of keeping his cell curtains closed and sitting in the dark. He was sent down for burglary as well, and has four and a half months of his sentence left.

``I like the roses the best, they are really nice,'' said Marc.

``Prison is so boring it's good to have something to do. The biggest problem is that there's a lack of loose women, alcohol and fast cars. I miss that.''

Steve, 39, got three years for affray and attempted ABH on a police ofce r.

``I only ever have a problem when I'm drunk,'' he said. ``I think they are locking too many people up to be honest. They say the prisons are overcrowded and then you get people in here for not paying fines.''

In the part of the garden where the bodies of those hanged were once buried, all three guys reckon they are not going to come back to prison - even if they will miss their secret garden.


# SECRET GARDENS Prison gardener John Viney checks on his ripening grapes, above, while Robert Thomas, below right, and other greenfingered inmates tend their blooms.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 27, 2003
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