Olives play an ever-increasing part in rehabilitation at Izmir, Turkey’s Foca Open Prison. The prison’s work program has long included olive cultivation, but last year it added an olive oil processing facility. In addition to pressing the olives grown on prison land, the facility also charges locals a small fee to process their olives.
Growing food proved to the convicts that their lives could be productive and have meaning despite having made terrible mistakes.
With the new facility comes a plan to increase the existing 3,500 prison-owned trees to 28,000 over the coming years. Foca prisoners also perform other agricultural and manual duties, including making furniture, growing organic vegetables, raising livestock and dairy farming.
The prison grows mostly Edremit olives — known for their hardness and large pits — and Gemlik olives — oily black olives from northern Turkey with wrinkly skins. The olives are pressed in temperatures between 30 and 35 Celsius, according to prison officials.
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Foca distributes its oil under the brand name “Fo-Ce,” shipping it to other Ministry of Justice institutions inside and outside of Izmir, Turkey’s port city on the Aegean Sea.
Prison labor is a controversial topic. Detractors claim that prisoners are exploited and underpaid for menial labor. Proponents say labor builds good habits and teaches useful skills prisoners can use upon release.
Historically, prisons have had farms in many parts of the world. While this serves practical and logistical purposes by producing healthy food for inmates and saving food costs for the institution, many studies have also looked at the psychological benefits to inmates.
An American study of gardening programs within prisons conducted by Rachel D. Jenkins, concluded, “There is evidence for using prison gardening programs as an alternative therapy to treat symptoms of mental illness and to help prisoners gain vocational skills that can be used upon release.”
Pablo Solomon’s studies, which included social psychology, economic botany, and criminal justice, took him to visit many prison farm programs in Texas in the late 1960s.
“In those days, the prisoners grew their own food, raised their own livestock and even fruits,” he told Olive Oil Times. They also processed food, grew cotton, made uniforms and mattresses and maintained tractors.
“Prisoners often have told me that working in the garden and providing something of value to others was a healing, cleansing and freeing experience. Growing food proved to the convicts that their lives could be productive and have meaning despite having made terrible mistakes.”
Rehabilitating prisoners through employment is the aim of the Foca program. And, of course, producing high-quality olive oil. “We want to teach this profession in the right way,” Foça Open Prison’s Warden, Murat Yılmaz, told Daily Sabah.