Adventures in Imperfection

Where Flowers Grow in Concrete



We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend judgement of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. – Epictetus

I pitched to the editor of Topeka Magazine, a story about a prison greenhouse project. I’d written two other articles for him, so I felt confident in my proposal. He hopped on the idea, and three weeks later I was standing at the entrance of the Topeka Correction Facility–our local prison for women.

I have an amazing friend (Jennifer) who works there, so I assumed it’d be easy to navigate the system and get the story. It wasn’t until the guard chastised me for bringing in an iPad and cell phone that I realized I was outside my realm of experience.

The first visit was low-key; a pat-down of my character to ensure I wouldn’t go outside the bounds with a reveal-all expose’. What I wanted to say to the prison administrator (Kevin) was, “Listen. I’m not a real journalist. I have a day-job, and this is my side-gig until I finish my book and become a real writer. And I will spend the 150 bucks I’m making on your plant sale in May.”

He turned out to be engaging and excited about the article.

The second visit was life-changing. The four women I interviewed were kind, insightful, and amazingly full of life. Midway through the interview, Kevin pulled me out and informed me that two of the women would not be allowed to show up in print due to last minute information. We both agreed that we didn’t want to exclude them, so I continued with the interviews agreeing to leave out their names and quotes.

All four of the women contributed to the overall feel and tone of the story, and twice I hid tears by pretending to take vigorous notes in my scribbled up notebook.

By the time we finished, I wanted to hug each of these women–Norma even let me. What you see below is the story that Sunflower Publishing printed last week.

Many of you know that I can be over-the-top with emotion and this story triggered that. The skillful editor kept more of my words than I had expected, and I was grateful that the heart of the story remained. Talented photographer, Katie Moore, makes my subjects jump off the page.

I mined the original text and noted the removed paragraphs. In honor of the women who took their time to speak with me, I’m sharing some of the passages that were edited out, though still acceptable and within the prison’s rules. (Shout out to the girls if you’re reading this. I’ll see you in May!)


Where Flowers Grow in Concrete

The ladies projected a calm sense of peace and connection to nature as each shared their personal stories. There’s a defined sense of pride in what they produce both for the public and for their fellow inmates. Norma said, “Last year we drafted blueprints for the dorm landscaping.” She admitted it wasn’t easy to see what the result could be. “But each day, there were more flowers and plants filling the space that used to be dirt.”

Mary added, “In a place where everything is burgundy and blue uniforms, the pop of color on a cloudy day is all a person needs to feel some serenity.”

Norma, often the matron of the team, admitted that an individual could come inside and leave as the same person if they didn’t make an effort to evolve. This program gives the participants a chance to change and make something of themselves.

As the greenhouse tour and interviews were winding down, one of the women remarked at a clump of green and red on the ground under the seedling tables. “Look! There’s salvia blooming. Right there in the gravel!”

Someone asked, “How does it do that? We didn’t plant it there.”

A contemplative silence washed over the knitted group as the red petals bursting from the rocks became the center of attention. In a program that emphasizes growth, nurturing and development, it wasn’t surprising to see beauty, like hope, rising from the concrete.


Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack

in the concrete

Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned 2 walk

without having feet.

Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams

it learned 2 breathe fresh air

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared! 

Tupac Shakur

If you want to see what else I’ve been writing, take a peek at the following:

Topeka Magazine Fall Issue 

Fun Fact: A picture of my daughter is on page 38! 

Topeka Magazine Winter Issue

As fun and rewarding as seeing my words in print can be, I’m missing the creativity of soulful writing and the joy of interacting with all of you.

It’s spring and, in nature, that signals the end of hibernation Who knows…maybe I’ll see you again soon. xo

49 thoughts on “Where Flowers Grow in Concrete

  1. Love this article. What an awesome program for those women. I’ve always wished the justice system would include more mercy and growth opportunities for those who fall into its system. I’m glad some places do.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Love love love this!! You are a rock star! What a wonderful article and experience for you. You have a special kind of heart and I think that is why we connect. I so appreciate your willingness to step outside your comfort zone and take this chance…talk about vulnerability!!! So proud of you and for you! 😙💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. C/K!!!!! Helooooo, my friend!
      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read and comment.
      How many school subjects and theater productions are you in these days?
      I have missed you 🙂


      1. Hey dearest!! I am well and it sounds like you are busy too! Since changing schools and majors (now business) I have not been in any plays amd I miss it terribly although I like the classes I am in. O have a Business Law class that is kicking mt butt. It looks like I will make my first B in there 😭 But I have an awesome teacher and I am learning a lot. It’s just hard.
        We did go to the community college where I got my degree last May and saw a really cute play called Putnam County’s 25th Annual Spelling Bee and I went up on stage and participated. That was great fun!! The director is awesome and came out to talk to us afterward. I really miss theater.. 😢

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have 9 hours this semester and 2 more semesters left then I will have my Bachelor’s. Hubby has decided to go back to school this fall to get an MBA in Healthcare Management and Patient Safety from John Hopkins. Yeha! With both of us in school and him working full time, we MIGHT see each other in bed! 😂


  3. Michelle, I will share this with the women as well! Thank you so much for using your talent to open people’s eyes to the fact that there are real people behind those fences, and that many of them truly treasure doing things like this that allow them to give back to the society that they have wronged. This is such a great way to give them back some of their confidence and self- worth. You have really helped them by doing this article! The smiles and excitement when they got their magazines were amazing to see!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Your words just made my day. As you know, there was so much I left out and so much more I wanted readers to know about these women. Thank you for opening up your gates to me. I can’t wait to come back and see the fruits of their labor in May.
      And – thank you for showing them this article – a special hello to S and Ph – I would have liked to have quoted them, too.

      You are the bomb diggity – those girls are lucky to have you. xoxox

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fantastic program for the women. Digging in the dirt is one of the most healing activities a person can do. (I don’t have to tell you that.) And watching things grow is so rewarding. Beautifully written, with lots of heart. Thanks for sharing your articles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Susan,
      You cross my mind so often these days. I hope you and your family are getting ready for spring after a seemingly long winter. You, too know the power of digging in the dirt (and mowing, and chainsaws!) – thank you for taking the time to read. I hope to be back to WP more regularly soon – I know have some reading and catching up to do. You know I’ll be stopping in. xoxox

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is a lovely article. Very inspiring, even for those of us not within a correctional facility. (There are plenty of people who go through life, trying not to change.)

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve been touching things of the heart young lady, a different type of garden. The ‘green’ of that journey is as pleasing as fingers in the soil and the beauty that follows that work ❤
    Take a bow Michelle, a lovely un-judgemental story about what love can do, especially for those that it seems to have been taken away. You showed compassion where they least expected it. Given unexpectedly is its own greatest gift ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are a poet, Mark ❤️ Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – your words always fill my soul. Hope to return to the WP world soon. What has been happening in your dorm under land?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just finishing up a wonderful Summer down here Michelle, coming back into the mid season magic of Autumn. Instead of 45C it is now coming into our 25C for a couple of months before we get freezing with 12C every day. It’s cool but most certainly not like you guys, getting snow for weeks on end and frozen postmen stuck to your letter box out the front 😀
        Glad to hear your voice, your pen and your magic once again kind lady ❤

        Liked by 1 person


    That is all.
    Phenomenal work by the way. Thank you for reminding us that prisoners are people too

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re amazing and as real a writer as they come! Knowing how much you get from putting your hands in the earth, it’s no surprise to me that you would convey such dignity and respect for these women and the program. I feel like I’ve been given a glimpse into a pocket of hope and light in a place where that must be hard to come by. No one should ever feel like just a number.

    I absolutely cannot wait for your book and anything else you share!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww…thank you, dear friend! Your sweet words just made my day.
      I absolutely agree with your comment on being a number. In fact, it’s when Norma shared that nuance that I had to bury my head to hide some tears.
      There was so much about these women that reminded me of you and I and other people I love – mothers, daughters, sisters, wives…people. It opened my heart and allowed me to write the quickest 1200 words I’d ever attempted.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and be here. I really do hope (and plan) that our paths cross for real some day. xoxox

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Margaret!
      So awesome to see you here…especially since I’ve been so absent from our Scribblers gang. It was indeed life-changing! I talked to Jennifer earlier in the week and she said the ladies were so happy to get their personal copies of the magazine. That made me sooo thrilled!
      I hope you’re doing great and having a good school year!

      Liked by 1 person

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