Giant pumpkins from JBLM put scare in competition
Giant pumpkins grown by the horticulture vocational program at the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., competed at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Shoreline, Wash. Bebop (left) weighed in at 764 pounds... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Granted release from the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility, two large individuals have been making a name for themselves outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Mr. Wrinkles weighs in at 608 pounds, but Bebop tips the scales at 764 pounds. The giant pumpkins are the celebrity products of the horticulture vocational program offered to inmates at the NWJRCF, and while neither gourd took home a top ribbon, they did break records.

"Before this year the record was 470 pounds," said Charles Kentfield, who leads the horticulture vocational program at NWJRCF, through Clover Park Technical College. "It's a little bit of luck, and a lot of time and care by the group of guys who worked on it."

At the Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Seattle, Mr. Wrinkles finished 14th, while Bebop took 8th place at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Shoreline. Like everything produced in the horticulture program, the giant pumpkins were grown organically -- without using any kind of chemicals or synthetic fertilizer.

While they both finished outside the podium, Kentfield is confident his students can keep breaking records.

"It's very much a personal pride issue," said Kentfield, who noted that his program receives support and mentorship from the Pacific Northwest Giant Pumpkin Growers club.

Military prisoners enrolled in the horticulture program spend six hours a day with Kentfield, their time divided equally between lecture and hands-on work in the garden. The pumpkins may grab the spotlight, but the program is most proud of the fruits and vegetables it's able to donate to local food banks.

"The community benefits from it," said Lt. Col. Christopher Hodl, commander of 508th Military Police (Detention) Battalion and NWJRCF. "[The inmates] also get credits to use towards a degree in horticulture. It's giving them an opportunity to better themselves as they leave the facility."

In addition to the horticulture program, the NWJRCF also offers vocational programs in small engine diagnosis, carpentry and barbershop skills. A few items, such as jars of honey and hand-crafted wood products, are available for purchase from the NWJRCF.

Sustaining the vocational programs and offering avenues for prisoners to better themselves is a key tenet of the corrections profession.

"The punishments have already been given by the judge and jury," said Hodl. "With viable rehabilitation programs, skills can be learned to mitigate or reduce crimes. We do not want re-offenders."