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Former inmates turn over a new leaf with garden for nuns

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 19th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Hardened, former ex-convicts till the soil in east New Orleans, tending to a garden that brings forth food for Catholic charities. United by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities, one group provides the labor and the other feeds the soul.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "I call it my baby. It's my baby. I've been working here from the beginning," Gregory Haile says. Haile recalls the time he had a chance to rebuild his life six years ago. Being an ex-inmate from federal prison didn't bode well for his future.

"Yeah, I made some wrong choices in my life, and I assumed I was going to spend the rest of my life paying for it," Haile admits.

Set free on the city streets, with the lack of opportunities, Haile turned to God and enrolled in AmeriCorps' Cornerstone Builders Program. He's now one of many former inmates who work with the Sisters of The Holy Family in New Orleans East.

"They've given us okra, I don't know how many bushels of okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, they've given us radishes. Right now they're planting mustards and turnips, and all of that, it helps because having to go to the market is expensive," Sister John Mary Jackson says.

"It's our privilege and our joy to work with them and for them to work with us. You don't know how much this means to us. They give us what we need and we give them what they need."

The former inmates provide all the hard work in their garden or rebuild damaged structures. The sisters offer prayers and spiritual guidance.

"I can't undo what I did, but it's something to look forward to and a different path that I'm on. I'm giving back to society instead of taking away," Haile says.

The men and women have been doing Hurricane Isaac relief work for the past several weeks, cleaning out the parish buildings at St. Patrick church in Port Sulphur. They have been lending muscle to clean up projects all over the area.

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