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By Gwenyfar Rohler Photographs by Mark Steelman


A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. — Gertrude Jekyll


hankful, and yourself?” That’s Frankie Roberts’ standard response when someone asks him how he’s doing. He means it, too. No matter how tired. Or worried. Or overworked. As the executive director of Leading Into New Communities (LINC), the local nonprofit organization that helps men and women re-integrate into society after incarceration, Roberts sees every day as a gift. Each day gives him an opportunity to offer hope to those who need it. People who know Roberts know they can find him at Folks Cafe on any given morning. He’s the handsome Sidney Poitier look-alike who will strike up a conversation with anybody who sits down beside him. Many people know that he was a barber for almost two decades on Castle Street, but they might not know that LINC was founded in the back of his barbershop in 2000, with great ambition and few resources. Since then, LINC has moved into office space and added residential assistance to its roster of services. Having helped over 1,200 people transition to gainful employment and independent living, LINC boasts a 92 percent success rate. In a world with an average of 70 percent of robbers re-offending, to get that number down to 8 percent seems nothing short of miraculous. In 2012, Roberts and LINC added another chapter to their story of success: an urban farm at the new Marvin E. Roberts Transitional Living Facility on Division Drive. Over one hundred square raised beds made of wood create a perfect grid up the gradual slope behind the living facility, a white cement block building that can accommodate up to twenty men and twenty women in LINC’s residential re-entry program. One look will tell you this is not a lighthearted weekend project, but an intense farming operation, executed with care and maximum use of space. It feels almost Dutch, it is so meticulously engineered. Inside, Roberts and the LINC staff have made a concerted effort to open up the drab greyness and let in natural light; to soften, to make as homey as they can buildings constructed with extreme hard edges. Next to the garden is a fire pit surrounded by a circle of logs for seats. Just as the ashes from the fire nourish the soil, the quiet community trust at the fire pit nourishes the farmers. Roberts leans in to confide, “In group the other night, several residents expressed that the farm is helping them channel a lot of the different emotions they have had — and given them meaningful work.” For Roberts and LINC, this is music to the ear. Getting a job after prison is hard. Getting a job that gives you dignity is even harder. The Marvin E. Roberts Transitional Living Center is named after the man who inspired Roberts to co-found LINC with Tracey Ray in the first place. Marvin was Frankie’s big brother, who came home from the Vietnam War hooked on 66

Salt • June 2014

Terry Drake weeds the garden plots

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

June salt 2014  
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