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Aged offenders turn over new leaf raising bonsais for charity

Publication date: Wednesday 11 April 2018

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Aged and frail inmates who grow bonsais inside a Sydney prison have begun donating money to charity by selling their miniature trees at the facility's art gallery.

The elderly offenders from Long Bay Correctional Centre may not be able to prune any time off their sentences but they are having great success pruning Tiger Bark, Port Jackson and South African figs.

Manager of Offender Services and Programs Magda Read said the participants had sold bonsais to the public through the prison's Boom Gate Gallery and already raised $80 for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

"The inmates are committed to this great cause and have enjoyed being able to make their first donation after tending the trees to get them to a sellable point," Ms Read said.

"This would not have been possible without the help and support of our generous volunteer and bonsai enthusiast who has been visiting the inmates for the past few years to impart his impressive knowledge onto the aspiring green thumbs."

A representative from the Sydney City Bonsai Club has been growing bonsais for 20 years and attends the prison once a month. He said bonsais were something inmates can take personal ownership of and continue working on at their own pace.

"Bonsai is a Japanese art form that takes time and patience. Like the inmates, every tree has a story. The participants get to see the fruits of their labour and feel a sense of accomplishment," he said.

Services and Programs Officer Bill Hamade said older inmates often have complex health issues, specific needs and vulnerabilities related to their age, which can make it difficult for them to participate in programs.

"The bonsai program has been a great success. It gives the inmates more purpose in their day and provides a common interest and talking point for them, which has helped them to be more social," Mr Hamade said.

"Bonsai is both physically and mentally stimulating while not being overly strenuous. Inmates propagate bonsais through cuttings, then pot, prune, water and defoliate the trees."

The inmates currently have around 15 bonsais, which they keep in an outdoor garden area attached to their accommodation unit. They plan to sell more bonsais to continue raising money for charity.