LUSK – Jason Brewer’s wife has been incarcerated at Wyoming Women’s Center (WWC) in Lusk since July 1. Each Wednesday since then, he’s sent her a floral arrangement from Bloomers, the Main Street flower shop located around the corner from the facility.
At the beginning of each week, Brewer, who lives roughly 250 miles away in Sheridan, calls the store and asks for a different arrangement dependent on the flowers available to shop owners Carrie Bannan and Twila Barnette at the time. He said he orders a different arrangement each week to make each delivery new and exciting.
“Why do I do it? I like to make her feel like she’s everything in my world and she’s special to me,” Brewer said.
Last Wednesday, Bannan masterfully crafted an arrangement of a dozen roses, lavender with a touch of dark pink at Brewer’s request, surrounded by greens in a paper mache pot.
She doesn’t have to double-check the strict regulations that come with arrangements heading to the prison. The shop has been open for 17 years, Bannan and Barnette said, and orders from loved ones of women who are incarcerated at WWC has been a significant portion of their business from the start.
Brewer’s order was their only one for WWC on Dec. 2, but holidays, including Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas tend to bring in between 50 and 60 orders to be delivered to the state women’s prison, which has 299 total beds. There are also birthdays, parole boards and graduations from high school and college programs.
“We really try to work hard for those people,” Bannan said. “If they’re going to commit and spend that money every week, then I’m going to get in what they want. Every week.”
Prior to the pandemic, orders came in and were delivered to the facility every day. Now, they are limited to Wednesdays, which means the women typically receive their gifts on Thursdays, after a 24 hour quarantine period in the warehouse, Bannan said. It also means Wednesdays are now the store’s busy day.
Visitation is restricted due to the pandemic as well, making these deliveries more important than ever, according to WWC Warden Rick Catron. Flowers are the only gift women at WWC are permitted to receive from those on the outside.
“We encourage the flowers to come in from the family,” Catron said. “Family contact is critical to the inmates out here.”
Before Bannan and Barnette deliver flowers, they have to call the prison to ensure each woman is able to receive a gift, that they are not under disciplinary restrictions.
Bloomers orders paper mache pots specifically for WWC, where clay or plastic pots are prohibited. Arrangements cannot be larger than 12-by-12 inches with no more than 12 flowers. Prison staff search the arrangements before they reach recipients, though nothing can fit inside, as a green foam block fills the pot to hold the flowers in place.
Women at WWC can only have one flower arrangement in their cell at any given time, Barnette said, which can cause difficulties on holidays or special occasions.
“On holidays, we keep a list of who is getting flowers, and we do it on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s pretty competitive,” she said. “Three or four people might call for one person, and we have to turn them away, which is bad for us, having to turn away customers.”
Still, as Barnette puts it, the arrangements “bring a little light.”
Barnette said women who were formerly incarcerated in the facility often come into the shop after they’re released to purchase flowers themselves.
“They have told us before, when they’ve come back in, that they take such great care of them, and they will change the water and they’ll take all the flowers out and rearrange them,” Barnette said. “They truly enjoy it. I love to hear those words when they come in.”
Dan Fetsco, assistant academic professional lecturer in criminal justice at the University of Wyoming, works with the university’s Pathways from Prison Program as a partnership coordinator. An attorney for more than 20 years and deputy and executive director of the Wyoming Board of Parole for 10 years, Fetsco has never been incarcerated himself, but he estimates he’s witnessed nearly 10,000 parole board hearings and spent ample time with individuals serving prison sentences.
“Prison is a very dehumanizing and degrading punishment,” Fetsco said. “Reminding someone they are not forgotten, that they are still a person, that somebody cares about them (is important). Flowers are a beautiful gift in a harsh environment like prison can be.”
That’s why Brewer calls Bloomers each week: to remind his wife that she is loved. Her favorite flower, he said, is a “Stargazer” Lily, a pink and white petaled flower that blooms best in full sunlight.
The joy such a gift brings to these women is what keeps Barnette and Bannan creating special arrangements each week, too.
“We’re very thankful for this part of our business, that we can send flowers out there,” Bannan said. “We try really hard to maintain that relationship.”