AVON PARK — If you have lived in Highlands County any length of time you have undoubtedly heard of Avon Park Correctional Facility. But do you know about Parrish Island or Therapy thru Plants located on the grounds of the facility?

Parrish Island is a beautiful, peaceful spot with many species of ornamentals and flowers, all types of birds, a bridge that takes you over trickling water to the Island and a Gazebo where you can sit and enjoy the breeze or just get out of the Florida sun.

In 1963, Officer Winston Parrish the outside Lieutenant whom the Island is named after, oversaw construction of the island. The program began as a way for inmates to not only do something constructive with their time and something they enjoyed, it provided them some experience useful when they returned to society on the outside. The first supervisor of the Therapy thru Plants Nursery was Willie Williams.

In the year 2009, Officer Tommy Sauls became director of Therapy Thru Plants with the full support of Warden Tim Sheffield and for the next 10 years Officer Sauls worked with the inmates making many improvements with an average workforce of 12 to 15 inmates.

Recently added are new potting sheds, an Orchid house, added lots for potted plants both Florida Native, and Ornamentals. Another addition is a fenced Rose Garden as well as a place to grow Hydroponic Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs.

During his years as director Officer Sauls was given the support of District IX Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. These clubs include counties in Central and Florida West Coast. The Garden Clubs supported not only with donations they assisted at the annual Spring and Fall Plant Sales at APCI. These sales have become recognized as one of the biggest and best plants sales in this area.

In the last few years there has been a lot of community involvement to help Officer Sauls with the program. Volunteers came to the facility to instruct Inmates from the Master Gardeners Program and many other various organizations followed. When released the Inmates that take the classes receive Certification by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Assoc. as well as Certification in Pest Management, thus providing them with a better chance of gainful employment after release.

After twenty-two and a half years at APCI and a total of thirty one and a half with the State of Florida, Officer Sauls retired in 2019. He still volunteers at Therapy thru Plants because it is so much a part of him and his life’s work. He and his wife Tammy also operate Red Hill Honey Farm.

As he retired, Officer Sauls stated that all the support he received not only from the Warden but from the Community was the most important factor in the tremendous growth of the Therapy thru Plants program.

The new officer in charge as Director of the program is Officer John Meeks. Officer Meeks has worked at APCI for 22 years and comes with high hopes to continue the work started so long ago that is now not only the biggest but the best program of this type in the state of Florida. To Officer Tommy Sauls we say, “Job Well Done” and to you Officer Meeks, Best of Luck in your new undertaking.