Along the Lumbee River, North Carolina

Reflecting on The Farm

GrowingChange Youth Leaders

Public Space

As in many rural and southern towns, religion and spirituality are integral to public life in Robeson and Scotland Counties. This is made visible in traditional sites of spirituality such as temples, mosques, and churches, but may also be found in spaces typically viewed as secular. As a result of the way a building or site is used, it can become a new type of consecrated space through the memories, histories, uses, and meaning that are layered into its walls over time. 

Noran Sanford believes the prison site that his organization, GrowingChange, is transforming is one such secular space that carries a spiritual significance. By entering the physical space of the abandoned prison site, people enter a liminal mental space that helps them realize, perhaps for the first time, the oppressive system at play in their communities. In this way, entering the prison becomes an inherently a spiritual act. GrowingChange tills that soil to bring up a larger conversation as they actively encourage folks to engage in tough conversations, whether spiritual, social, or political. 

In part I of a two-part exploration of spirituality and public space in this region, GrowingChange Youth Leaders meditate on their experiences of the spaces and grounds of a decommissioned work-camp prison. Though not explicitly spiritual or political in topic, their thoughts act as a form of spiritual communion and political reflection.—Morgan Augillard and Joey Swerdlin, Along the Lumbee River report editors

Read The Work of Faith: A Report on Rural Church Life in the Time of Pandemic, part II of our exploration on spirituality and place.

GrowingChange is a youth led non-profit founded by Noran Sanford (a co-editor of this report) in Wagram, North Carolina. GrowingChange works to divert local youth from involvement with law enforcement through a cognitive behavior model. Currently, its main initiative is transforming a decommissioned prison site, Wagram Correctional Facility, into a youth-led agriculture and community center. 

While the transformation of the site from a field camp prison back into a functional farm is a physical undertaking, it’s also a spiritual one. The piece that follows is a collection of reflections by several of the GrowingChange Youth Leaders collected over a month’s time. The youth were asked to reflect (in whichever medium suited them) on how they felt on the GrowingChange site at different times, on different days, and at various locations on the campus. The reflections that follow, including images and their captions, have not been altered at all by the editors of this report other than to add names, dates, and times to each piece. The full exercise instructions that our team developed for the youth to use as a guide is included at the end of this feature. 

Details about the origins of GrowingChange, its mission, and discussions of its guiding principles are explained in From Prison to Farm: Lifting Up a New Generation

For more information on Group Project and our work with GrowingChange, read Flipping the Prison.—Group Project

Credit: Group Project

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

Luke Mason Fredericks, 3:10 p.m.
Location: The Horseshoe. Located on the top right corner of the prison, and, to be more specific, the top right corner of the field as well.

Credit: Luke Mason Fredericks

Logan Stern, 3:04 p.m.
Location: Front Guard Tower

The perimeter of the prison is very green, from the tall luscious grass and weeds, to the strong healthy trees. There is a road of dirt and gravel down below, running from highway 401 to the front gate of the prison. Off to my left there is an old warehouse, made of old wood planks and sheet metal, which looks to be over 60 years old. We continue left and this is where we are growing fresh crops, which is about the length of a football field. But there lies history below the crops, what used to be a baseball field for the inmates. Now we are directly behind where we started, facing the prison. Two of the buildings that are visible are made of white sheet metal, with unpainted roofs. Sidewalks run through the prison like leaf veins, covering the entire prison. The largest building is made out of red, brown, and orange bricks, with a brown metal roof. There is a 10–12ft-tall fence posted outside of the prison, with razor wire at the top, willing to slice anything that it touches. 

A lyric that resonates with me while I’m up in the front guard tower is from an unreleased song, called “Good Days,” by the late rapper Juice Wrld. 

“Good days good days, reminisce the good days, 

Close my eyes, I tell myself it’s okay”

This lyric reminds me of this place because I work here with some of my closest friends/brothers. We’ve shared good memories, frustrating disagreements, and sad news since I’ve been here for almost 2 years. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to work here with anyone else.

View of GrowingChange work site from front guard tower. Credit: Logan Stern


Friday, July 17th, 2020

Norman Garcia, 3:10 p.m.

I chose the big tree outside the perimeter but still on prison grounds. I felt the blazing sun hitting me from above and saw the refreshing shade that the tree provided. Once in the shade, you feel refreshed as the occasional breeze would pass through and cool you off on a hot summer day. Besides hearing the occasional car, you could hear birds chirping and the many other critters. After a few minutes of being there, I began to feel like all my worries were put on hold and everything was peaceful and calm. Being there next to a really big tree in the shade, it made me feel connected to nature and provided a feeling of relief and refreshment, that in our modern world is truly needed with everything going on in our world.

Life can grow in any environment and have a positive outcome. Credit: Norman Garcia

Ravin Patel, 3:00 p.m.

I feel as if there is an awkward silence or stillness in the air because the structure carries the story of thousands of people who fell victim to the prison system without a chance. 

“Back then I slipped up, I got artwork on them county walls.”  

–Polo G (Rap Artist)

Imagine a Landscape without Prisons. Credit: Ravin Patel


Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

Norman Garcia, 1:10 p.m.

The spot is a big tree outside the perimeter. I can associate this spot with the poem “The Tree of Life” by Mia Ocean. Especially when it says

“This tree 

Is not only a tree, 

It is where everything started. 

It is the tree of life.”

Ravin Patel, 1:16 p.m.

I see a structure that resembles the layout of a prison cell. It is made with cotton, indigo, and sugarcane. These crops are significant to the meaning of the structure because they were 3 significant cash crops during the time of slavery.  

I hear a stillness in the air. It is almost like a ringing sound. I can also hear the sounds of nature such as the crow of the roosters and the buzzing of the wasps as I stand and observe.

Ryan Morin, 1:00 p.m. 

My spot on the site is in the courtyard and it’s the tree right in the middle of the prison. This tree is the design heart of the prison and makes everything flow. When in the presence of this tree you can see the beautiful green leaves which just show how healthy this tree is.

Remember your roots. Credit: Ryan Morin

This next picture is of the same tree but from a different angle that it would normally not be seen from. The first one was on the sidewalk of the prison courtyard and the second picture was taken on top of the prison roof seen behind the tree in the first picture

Credit: Ryan Morin


Friday, July 24th, 2020

Luke Mason Fredericks, 4:00 p.m.
Location: The Horseshoe. Located on the top right corner of the prison, and, to be more specific, the top right corner of the field as well.

When I come down to The Horseshoe, I can hear nothing but beauty, and the pure work of the Mother Earth. Birds chirping and singing, chickens and roosters crowing, sheeps baw-ing, and the donkey (her name is Easter) hee-hawing. As I said, pure beauty. ❤️


Saturday, July 25th, 2020

Logan Stern, 6:37 p.m.
Location: Front Guard Tower

From past guard tower to future rock-climbing wall. Credit: Logan Stern


Friday, July 31st, 2020

Ravin Patel, 12:18 p.m.

Associative/Imaginative (Story):

The object I am looking at is the structure as a whole. It was placed there several years ago in collaboration with a group called Solitary Gardens. In the future, we will contact several members of the prison system and ask them what flower of their choice they would like to see in the garden of the structure.

Ryan Morin, 12:31 p.m.
Location: GrowingChange tree

Tree Origin
This tree was planted here by great Indian warriors, and hundreds of years later after the tree grew to be the biggest it can be. This is when the mayor of the town the tree grew in decided to build a prison around the tree so the prisoners could be happy to live in a facility with such a nice tree.

Logan Stern, 12:20 p.m.
Location: Front Guard Tower

Scalding heat raids my shoulders and back, with a gentle breeze light enough to keep even a mouse sleeping.

Credit: Logan Stern

Will, 12:31 p.m.
Location: Headquarters

  1. I see a colorful couch and a loveseat that have the same pattern. I see a black cat with kittens and every other light is on.
  2. I hear a fan blowing at the front door, a cat meowing, little kittens meowing in the back, and chickens in the back left room.
  3. I smell dust and cat hair and the sweet nature’s air around me.
  4. I feel free and happy but also hot and agitated.


Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

Tymond, 12:21 p.m. and such
Location: Hotbox

I'm at the hotbox but I thought these were worth sharing. Credit: Tymond

The shade provided by the trees surrounding it takes away the heated history of this building. It’s pretty warmly lit, you’d get no complaints out of me.

I can feel the heat emitting from the rage of souls that were captive here

In the words of Andre 3000, “What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold.” Which is all I could imagine the prisoners could think of to keep their sanity in here.


Credit: Tymond


Sunday, August 16th, 2020

Will, 12:10 p.m.


  1. The Duck Dynasty theme song reminds me of headquarters.
  2. The foosball table was donated to us, it sits in our “living room” portion of the headquarters or the warehouse.

Logan Stern, 12:21 p.m.
Location: Front Guard Tower

Credit: Logan Stern

From the top of the tower, insects, spiders, and birds use this as a resting place, either temporary, or permanent. With a beautiful view and cooling breeze, the guard tower is the ideal spot to sit back and relax. At the front of the prison, we’d like to turn this image of captivity and isolation into an entertaining activity, built with a rock climb tower and slide.

Norman Garcia, 12:29 p.m.

Nature will continue growing. Credit: Norman Garcia

Below are instructions created by Group Project given to the youth leaders to guide their reflections. Download the PDF.

Credit: Group Project


GrowingChange Youth Leaders

are local young men, at least 14 years old, who work with founder, Noran Sanford, to transform the former prison into a functioning farm. Many of the Youth Leaders have come to GrowingChange as a way to divert their lives away from the challenges they face at home or in school. In this way, the Youth Leaders’ work acts to break the prison pipeline many local youth, especially youth of color, are being swept into. Youth Leaders work on The Farm at least one day a week and are paid hourly for their contributions.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.