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Milton Nixon about his time at Bloomia

Getting a new start in the greenhouse

Milton Nixon is a 37 year-old father of four daughters. He’s bald, has a trimmed beard, and a warm smile. He’s also an inmate in Virginia ending a five-year sentence for selling drugs. For the past few months he’s worked at Bloomia as he transitions to freedom through Virginia’s Work Release Program. The program gives jobs to eligible inmates near the communities they will parole or be released so reintegration is smoother. Mr. Nixon had to meet strict criteria, like being non-violent and earning a high security clearance. And unlike prison-work programs, Mr. Nixon earns higher than minimum wage in work release.

Bloomia’s Federico Fusco interviewed Mr. Nixon about his experience at Bloomia, what he learned, and how it changed him. Besides becoming a flower expert, Mr. Nixon shared some powerful observations about diversity and working together.

Mr. Nixon first heard about Bloomia at the work release compound. Other inmates said it was the best place to work, but hard to get into. So Mr. Nixon made himself irreplaceable. He painted the compound’s recreation room, he swept, he mopped - he made an impression. “I was just on-hand every time they needed me,” he said. Prison administrators gave him the choice of where to work. He chose Bloomia.

Mr. Nixon started out packing cut flowers in refrigerated rooms with seasoned employees, many from Latin America. Here he discovered his Spanish wasn’t as good as he thought. “I thought I knew Spanish…[but] they get to talking, you be like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa!”” He laughed at the memory. He also discovered his co-workers had a wide range of tastes, cultures and values. “They got a lot of different culture, a lot of things, a lot of meanings and stuff that, you know, we have, they take value to differently. They got a lot of different tastes in foods, and stuff like that, you know. So it's been, it's been real enlightening working here.”

Mr. Nixon also shared important insights into the work release program. He likes that the program give him a chance to earn money because it takes some pressure off when he returns home. He’ll be able to plan his next steps and not rush to make ends meet.

However, he thinks the work release program needs an educational requirement. “I think that before they give them a job, they should afford them some kind of education.” Mr. Nixon knows future employers will scrutinize his and other former inmates’ backgrounds. He believes GEDs, diplomas, or other formal education will make them stronger candidates than work experience alone.

Bloomia, though, offers a position to any inmate who does well while working here during their work release. Mr. Nixon is no exception. He says it’s hard to say exactly what he’s going to do, but there is a lot he wants to accomplish, and he’s ready to put his plans into action. His priority is supporting himself and his four daughters.

Working at Bloomia helped Mr. Nixon prepare for life after prison. Over four months he worked in the warmth of Bloomia’s greenhouses and the coolness of its packing lines. He found out that he loves the red tulip, Unique De France. He met people from Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Argentina, and beyond. And he shared a powerful thought about what he learned: “Being a diverse country is what made America great. … We all come together and we produce something that's positive for America, you know. And I just think that's a good thing.”

Source: Bloomia (Federico Fusco)
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