HILLSBORO (CBS 11 NEWS) – Hill County’s new garden by the jail is saving thousands of dollars in prison grocery costs. The first harvest isn’t yet complete, but the vegetables harvested so far have saved nearly $2,000.

“We expect to save about $6,000 a year,” said Hill County Sheriff Michael Cox, who came up with the idea of using inmate commissary money to build the garden.

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The garden is having another unexpected payoff.

Among the leafy, green rows of vegetables, the gardeners toiling over the plants wear orange and white striped uniforms. They are prisoners from the Hill County Jail who’ve committed non-violent crimes. Their passion for the new garden is obvious. They’ve plowed arrow-straight rows. There are no weeds, and the inmates are intensely proud of their harvest of squash, jalapenos, potatoes and 18 other vegetables. The gardeners work seven days a week to keep their garden healthy.

The garden has planted another kind of seed of in the gardeners. “A lot of change,” said Chief Deputy Rodney Watson, who overlooks the garden while prisoners work. “The guy we put in charge of the garden… he didn’t have a lot of confidence. He didn’t talk too much. Now he’s a totally different person.”

That gardener is 42-year-old Scott Pogue who has been in and out of jail for more than 20 years on drug possession charges. Today, he stands straddling a row of jalapeno plants as he points to another part of the roughly three-quarter-acre garden.

“I’ve got squash over here,” Pogue said with a degree of pride in his voice. “I just picked 170 pounds yesterday.”

A year ago, Pogue could not have dreamed he would be bragging about a garden. “I’ve been incarcerated a lot of years and never had the chance, the opportunity to learn a lot of things,” he said. “I never even imagined doing a garden!”

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Pogue was given a gardening book and a chance to change. Now he too is blossoming. “I know now I can be productive in anything I do, except for being locked up. I’ve been locked up most of my life.”

With his new confidence, Pogue is now headed for a drug treatment program. “Not just a drug treatment program,” he explained. “It’s a program that offers living skills. I can go and learn a few things.”

Pogue told deputies this time when he gets out of jail he wants to show his aging mother that he’s changed. “It’ll be different,” he insisted. “It’s definitely going to be different.”

The money-saving garden may just be a life-saving garden too.

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