Release From Prison – Lessons Of Planting A Tree

I was sucked into a volunteer opportunity recently. It’s not that I’m opposed to volunteer work. 8:30 on Saturday morning just isn’t my best hour. I smiled and committed to planting trees for Million Trees Initiative at Brooklyn’s Marine Park. With the help of a passionate eco-leader, I’ll never forget my work as an activist is intertwined with the my natural surroundings.

Okay, guys. True or False – trees are alive,” the crew leader quizzed. We harmoniously shouted ‘true’ with the exception of the up and coming comedian from the back – false! “Who said that,” another kid cracked.

“Right, trees are alive. But these trees are in trouble. In fact, they’re in prison.” The sapling spiraled as the crew leader rolled the large plastic pot on its side. “This is not where they want to be. It’s our job to set them free.” The crew leader tugged on the young trunk. The roots exposed themselves, grasping tightly to the potting soil. It’s all they knew of sustenance.

“They’ve been in prison for a long time. Sometimes, you make bad habits in prison. In this case, the roots grew around and around in the pot. If we put it into the ground in this situation, the tree will strangle itself.” The crew leader massaged the roots until they loosened. He pulled them down and the matted ball of root and soil showed individual strands. It was their first opportunity in knowing another world was possible.

“Now the trees are free but we have to create an environment for them to succeed. You can’t just throw it into the ground and expect it to succeed.” The crew leader lowered it into the hole.

“The tree’s environment needs to be snug and comfortable to survive. An air pocket around the roots is a flesh wound that could kill it.” The crew leader massaged the soil into and around the roots.

“You can just shovel the dirt around it and stomp it in,” an older woman offered. The crew leader stood up, breathed a calming breath and patiently responded to her git-r-done approach. “We’d prefer you take the time to use your hands to better acclimate the tree to its new environment.” I spent the rest of the day following the crew leader’s life lessons, disguised as steps. New York is now 150 trees stronger.

The basic needs of any living thing are similar. We require nurturing to withstand great shocks. Encouragement and direction will help us branch out and be less vulnerable. We assume the environment around us is all that exists, unless we’re shown other worlds are possible.

A special thanks for the lessons learned from Jason Stein. Jason’s focus is on training young New Yorkers how to care for and protect New York City’s environment.
The above was a post from Paul, an anti-racist activist. He’s worked to address social inequities in Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Sri Lanka and most recently, New York City. He has a master’s degree in sustainable development and bachelor’s degree in music performance. Paul can be reached at

2 thoughts on “Release From Prison – Lessons Of Planting A Tree”

  1. This is so beautiful! I don’t get to read this blog as often as I’d like, but I’m glad I made the time to read this post. I will be sharing it! Thank you!


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