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By Maurice Bell 

My name is Maurice Bell, AKA "Big Mo." I went to prison in 2008 for bank robbery. I was sentenced to 7 years, and I served 6 of those 7 years. The six years that I served were very difficult and challenging. I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about where I had been, where I was going, how I could get there, and how I got to be in the situation of being locked up. I came to the conclusion that I needed to change my life - and fast. So, I started applying myself and I started taking classes that would allow me to better prepare myself for my release. I got into the Insight Gardening class, and basically, the rest is history.

In 2012, I first met Or and Haleh, who taught the gardening classes. At that time, we were just in the early stages of building our first veggie garden inside San Quentin State Prison. Then, I met Gavin Raders, the executive director of Planting Justice. He explained to me about Planting Justice, how they operate, and how they hire people getting out of prison at $17.50 an hour, which we call "sustainable living." At first, I was like, "It's one thing to hire somebody right out of prison, but paying them $17.50 an hour? That's something else." I was always told that if it sounds too good to be true, then nine times out of ten, it is. I was thinking, "No, no, no, there is no way I'm getting a job right out of prison at $17.50 an hour. No way is that true." I was thinking, "What kinds of obstacles will I have to jump through to get this position?" And the answer was none!

And yes, Planting Justice hired me, right out the gate, at $17.50 an hour. Since then, I have been here at Planting Justice for ten months. I find that it is a wonderful organization to work for, and I'm not just saying that because they hired me at $17.50/hour! Honestly speaking, the people here at PJ are nice, very supportive, and are all about family and unity. Here at PJ, we teach healthy hearts and healthy lives, and I truly admire that. Even my family has noticed a difference in me since I have gotten out of prison and been working at Planting Justice. And to be totally honest with you, I like it - no! I love it.

I really feel good about myself now, because I can support my family without having to look over my shoulder all day. That is rewarding enough for me. So, thank you PJ. I want to thank you if you are reading this blog - my first blog post ever. Thank all of you who support us at PJ by donating every month. If you are reading this and you're not already a monthly donor, you should sign up, because it really makes a difference. Last but not least, a really big thank you to all my family and friends. I love you.

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