Prison inmates help restore orchard to honor Antietam's brave
SHARPSBURG — Union and Confederate troops sought cover behind trees in the orchard of the Piper Farm when the armies met almost 148 years ago during the Battle of Antietam.
Battlefield Superintendent John Howard said the victorious Union troops who occupied the orchard after the engagement ate fruit from the trees and later chopped them down to use as firewood. The orchard remained bare until three years ago, when a group of nonviolent inmates from the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown planted 170 apple trees.
“They’ve done a really good job,” Howard said. “It’s to honor the brave men who fought here in 1862.”
On Thursday, five inmates from the prison cut weeds in the orchard as dignitaries from the Maryland Division of Correction gathered nearby to tout a partnership between the National Park Service and Maryland Correctional Enterprises, which advocates the use of inmate labor to help restore the state’s Civil War battlefields.
“It’s very significant to get that orchard back to the way it was,” said J. Michael Stouffer, commissioner of the Maryland Division of Correction.
Maryland Correctional Enterprises CEO Steve Shiloh said inmates participating in program have helped restore 31 acres at Antietam National Battlefield, planting about 4,000 trees at various sites, including the East and West woods.
The program also gives inmates a chance to learn about being responsible.
“We’re out here learning experience,” inmate Odell Ashford said. “It’s a beautiful experience for someone from the city. I’ve learned a lot of skills to get a job on the outside.”
Ashford said he is to be released in August after serving about half of an eight-year sentence. He said he wants to start a landscaping business after his release.
“I thank God I have the opportunity to be here,” Ashford said. “It’s knowing I’m doing something positive. Hopefully, I can take this skill home and help my community.”
Baltimore native John Oliver said he has been working on an inmate crew for about nine months. He said he plans to use the skills he learned in the program to get a job after his release early next year.
“I learned eight different trades,” Oliver said. “The feeling is great.”
The inmates take their jobs seriously and never cause problems, said Lt. Rick Martin, supervisor of the battlefield’s inmate work crew.
Martin said the fruit from the trees on the battlefield will be used in prison kitchens.