In North Carolina, a group of young men is repurposing an abandoned prison into a sustainable farm. 

The teens are affiliated with a nonprofit group called Growing Change

Growing Change aims to help teens avoid the criminal justice system, which disproportionately imprisons people of color

They provide young men with mental health treatment and the opportunity to develop skills, share ideas, and be a part of a community. 

“What traditional therapy often doesn’t touch is the community,” Growing Change Founder and Executive Director Noran Sanford says.

Up until 2016, Growing Change only engaged young men who were on intensive juvenile probation or had been kicked out of their schools and homes. 

Now, they welcome peers who face unsafe conditions at home, trouble at school, issues with substance abuse, or other involvement with the criminal justice system.

“At the core level, we are instilling hope,” Sanford says. “When hope is gone, it creates a pretty vicious void that a lot of other grimmer things can get pulled into. And as low-wealth rural America is left further behind, then that vacuum is stronger. We’re breaking that stream.”

In addition to rehabilitating the youth and transforming the abandoned prison into something beneficial, Sanford hopes to provide a model for other places looking to do the same.

He is in the process of creating an open-source prison-flipping model with step-by-step instructions and online resources. 

Sanford hopes to inspire others in rural America to convert spaces of confinement and punishment into spaces of nourishment and true rehabilitation.