Community Issues

Learning to Care for Trees Gives Inmates a Second Chance

Woman's passion for trees and helping people rehabilitate themselves results in an idea that fits President Trump's new effort to get jobs for ex-inmates.


When Greggory Clegg was an inmate at the Rockview state prison in Pennsylvania, he wondered what he'd do when he got out. He'd been behind bars for 13 years. Could he get a job? Or would he end up back on the streets, maybe even back in jail?

Shea Zwerver wondered the same thing about people like Clegg. With degrees Psychology and Landscape Studies, she has an unusual combination of passions: she loves the outdoors and believes in the potential for people to be rehabilitated by working with nature. As the community engagement coordinator for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.she also understands the economics of supply and demand: tree companies desperately need workers, and ex-inmates desperately need jobs.

Inmates learn tree climbing and pruning.

Two years ago, Zwerver brought a tree maintenance certification program to Rockview's minimum-security Forestry Camp. "It would give inmates employable skills, plus, it could give the tree care industry a non-traditional and more diversified workforce pipeline," she told a tree industry publication about the Arborist Short Course.

Greggory Clegg was all in. His parents ran a tree maintenance business when he was young. "I left home at 16 and was on the streets, getting into all kinds of trouble. So when these people came to Forestry Camp to speak to us, I really got that passion again," said Clegg. Now he's out of prison and working in Virginia for a well-known tree trimming company, dreaming of starting a company of his own.

Recently the Chesapeake Bay Program 's Will Parson went to Rockview and produced a wonderful video for Chesapeake Bay Journal that they've allowed us to share with you:

Zwerver hopes to expand the Arborist Short Course to more prisons. She says three other lockups in Pennsylvania are interested. "I'm also looking at teaching some basic tree care to community work crews from local prisons. These are the people you see working along the roadside," Zwerver told the Chesapeake Bay Journal. "Since many municipalities aren't able to maintain their trees due to budget restraints, giving these people tree care skills could be a great solution."

In the meantime, Zwerver is looking for Pennsylvania-based tree care business owners willing to hire people who were previously in prison, and people willing to help inmates with soft skills, like resume writing and interviewing. Eventually, Zwerver hopes to build a nationwide network of tree care employers and company leaders who are interested in hiring these workers.

"The program gave me a different outlet. I'm a success story." Greggory Clegg, former prison inmate

Zwerver's goal fits in perfectly with President Trump's call Thursday for employers to find ways to make it easier for former inmates to get steady jobs . The president said "second chance" hiring practices that will make it easier for ex-inmates to land jobs and avoid going back to jail.

For more information on how to become involved in the inmate re-entrance process, contact Shea Zwerver at 717-346-9583 or c-szwerver@pa.gov.program.

(Images: PA Department of Corrections, GreenBlue.com, Chesapeake Bay Journal/Will Parson)

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