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Artist builds cell-size greenhouse to protest against prisons

Cells at the Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado are 12-by-7 feet. Most of the supermax prison is underground, cut off from sunlight. Many prisoners spend 23 hours a day alone in their cells, which have thick concrete walls and metal sliding doors. 

A greenhouse at the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden on Michigan State University's campus copies the exact dimensions of an ADX prison cell. New Orleans-based artist Jackie Sumell hopes the living display will inspire people to imagine an alternative to prisons.

Most of the prison "population will come home, they will re-enter society at some point in their natural lives," Sumell said. "If we’re returning them more broken, more hurt, more harmed, we have to ask if this system is made for rehabilitation or if it is made explicitly to torture."

Sumell worked with Beal Garden Curator Peter Carrington and students in Assistant Professor Johanna Schuster-Craig’s Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities course to select native plants to grow at the solitary confinement cell turned greenhouse. 

Seed packets for those plants are on display in MSU's Eli and Edythe Broad Museum as part of the Seeds of Resistance exhibit, which runs through July 18. The greenhouse will be up at the Beal Gardens through Sept. 24. 



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