ONCE UPON A TIME, a small city called Coalinga, 50 miles southwest of Fresno, California and home to approximately 18,000 inhabitants, was thriving thanks to the revenue brought in by three main industries; agriculture, oil and incarceration. The quaint community, sitting on just over six square miles of land, contained three separate prisons: The Pleasant Valley State Prison – a minimum-to-maximum security State Prison, The Coalinga State Hospital, which housed sexually violent predators, and the Claremont Custody Center, a “rehabilitation” center home to hundreds of non-violent drug offenders. In 2011, everything changed when the State was ordered to reduce the number of those imprisoned.
The decision forced the Department of Corrections to sever ties with Claremont, prompting it to close its doors, leaving 100 staff members jobless and the prison abandoned. Fast forward to last year, the city had accumulated a debt of approximately $3.3 million thanks to dwindling oil and agriculture revenue along with Claremont’s upkeep and unemployment benefits for the former staff, and things were bleak. There was simply no revenue. This is where Damian Marley and Ocean Grow Extracts enter the equation.
At first this was going to be a story about an abandoned prison metamorphosing into a marijuana cultivation center and its very obvious symbolism, especially pertaining to the failed war on drugs. However, after having the opportunity to speak with the people involved, it became clear that this story isn’t about a prison, or the plant or even the movement. It’s not even about the poetic justice of a place that once housed drug-offenders being converted into a location that creates, for many that were incarcerated, the very substance that put them in there in the first place.