Teen prisoners can grow veggies, skills in Kane County

 
Posted8/10/2018 5:03 AM
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  • Volunteer Master Gardener Donna Plonczynski helps a Kane County Juvenile Justice Center detainee trim a tomato plant so other plants can be propagated from it.

      Volunteer Master Gardener Donna Plonczynski helps a Kane County Juvenile Justice Center detainee trim a tomato plant so other plants can be propagated from it. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • A poster from the Cook County Sheriff's Office describing the 1988 slaying of Dennis Braun in Palatine Township. The case remains unsolved.

    A poster from the Cook County Sheriff's Office describing the 1988 slaying of Dennis Braun in Palatine Township. The case remains unsolved.

  • Detainees at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center earn the privilege to help tend a garden on the premises. A sign welcomes detainees to the area. The center's program manager, Pam Ely, says touches like the handmade sign help to make the area feel "less institutional."

      Detainees at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center earn the privilege to help tend a garden on the premises. A sign welcomes detainees to the area. The center's program manager, Pam Ely, says touches like the handmade sign help to make the area feel "less institutional." Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Can growing vegetables help teenage prisoners develop useful skills and respect?

Officials and volunteers at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center believe so. And the federal government is giving $94,484 to grow their project.

The USDA's Farm to School program grant will pay for a coordinator for two years. There will be lessons about plants and nutrition in the detention center's school, and the coordinator also will work to include more fresh local produce on the center's menus.

The garden started in 2017 in grow bags on an outdoor basketball court. "About half were dead," said Donna Plonczynski of Geneva, who saw them when she toured the facility with an eye to doing volunteer work. A University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, she suggested moving the bags to an adjacent yard and having volunteers help.

This year, they built raised beds and are growing beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, herbs and carrots.

Mentoring, respect

A volunteer gardener and a detainee at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center examine a chunk of garden soil for moisture. The center is getting a federal grant for its garden program.
  A volunteer gardener and a detainee at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center examine a chunk of garden soil for moisture. The center is getting a federal grant for its garden program. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Plonczynski hopes detainees will learn skills and benefit from one-on-one adult attention. "My goal for this is they contribute to their community here," she said.

"I am still working with abused and neglected kids," said Pam Ely, the center's program manager. "The more opportunities we can give to our kids, the better."

The youths come from Kane, DuPage, McHenry, Kendall, Ogle, Stephenson and DeKalb counties. Most of the detainees are awaiting decisions on their cases. Stays can be as short as a day, but some have been there 18 months or longer.

A volunteer helps a Kane County Juvenile Justice Center detainee place a pepper plant in the center's garden.
  A volunteer helps a Kane County Juvenile Justice Center detainee place a pepper plant in the center's garden. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Many detainees are unfamiliar with fresh vegetables, Ely and Plonczynski said; one boy asked, seriously, how Cheetos grow. A restaurant chef taught them how to make healthful snacks for when they go home, such as smoothies and salsa.

On the day Susan visited, Plonczynski was explaining how they could propagate a new tomato plant from a bedraggled, donated one. "That one (node) there is going to grow. Do you see how that wants to root?" she said to one of the boys.

"This is the most I've done (ever) in gardening," another boy said, as he watered the beds. "Gardening is hard work." The volunteers laughed, knowingly, and pointed out that he had been one who dug in the hard ground for flowers put in around the yard.

Detainees at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center may earn the privilege to help tend a garden on the premises. Here, volunteer master gardener Donna Plonczynski takes delight as a detainee tastes a freshly picked green bean.
  Detainees at the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center may earn the privilege to help tend a garden on the premises. Here, volunteer master gardener Donna Plonczynski takes delight as a detainee tastes a freshly picked green bean. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Working in the garden is a privilege, earned through good behavior. The teens get to taste samples; the rest is used in meals. "Are you going to eat the green beans?" Plonczynski asked, passing some out. "I'm going to try," a skeptical boy said.

"I'm real pleased with this. They are so eager. They are so curious," Plonczynski said.

A 30-year mystery

In August 1988, Dennis Braun was well on his way to the fresh start he'd been hoping for. Two years out from a divorce, he was moving into a new home, had found a new love interest and was embarking on a new career. He even was planning to buy a new car.

Palatine Township resident Dennis Braun, 44, was shot to death around Aug. 10, 1988, a crime that remains unsolved.
Palatine Township resident Dennis Braun, 44, was shot to death around Aug. 10, 1988, a crime that remains unsolved.

All that was taken away 30 years ago when someone ended the 44-year-old Palatine Township man's life in a hail of gunfire.

Braun's decomposing body was found Aug. 15, 1988, in van parked outside what was then the Plaza del Flores shopping center, at Algonquin Road and Thorntree Lane near Schaumburg. He'd been shot eight times in the head and chest, likely sometime late Aug. 10 or early Aug. 11.

Three decades later, who killed Braun and why remain unanswered. His slaying is one of more than 40 unsolved homicides being tracked by the Cook County Sheriff's Cold Case Unit.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Sophia Ansari told us this week there's nothing new to report.

What we do know is that Braun spent his last night out at some local bars after a job interview at a Rolling Meadows restaurant. In the weeks after the killing, sheriff's investigators said they had "a strong suspect" in the case. But to make an arrest they needed more evidence or witnesses who could place that suspect with Braun before the murder.

Three decades later, those witnesses have yet to surface.

Anyone who can help is asked to call sheriff's investigators at (708) 865-4896.

Award winners

Congrats to Lake County sheriff's deputies Vincent Sciarrone and Ari Briskman, who were honored earlier this week by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for their efforts to get impaired drivers off the roads.

Sciarrone and Briskman also were honored this year by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists in their "Top Cop: Comprehensive" report on DUI enforcement efforts in Illinois.

Don't fall for it

A new extortion scam appearing in inboxes might make you nervous, even if you know you have nothing to hide, according to the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.

The scheme uses web surfers' old logins and passwords to trick them into believing the scammers have accessed explicit video or photos of the victim or evidence of them visiting porn websites. If the victim doesn't fork over a ransom, scammers threaten, they'll share the embarrassing materials with the victim's closest contacts.

Experts say some scammers have made more than $50,000 in a week from the blackmail scheme.

"The new tipoff to the ripoff is if they ask you to pay in bitcoins," Steve Bernas, president and chief executive officer of the BBB, said in a news release about the racket. "But anyone threatening to expose personal information about you in exchange for any type of currency is typically a scammer."

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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