Our Early Years

At Cedar Creek Corrections Center in 2003, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) and The Evergreen State College (Evergreen) created something wholly new.

Washington State’s governor had directed state agencies to enhance sustainability. Dan Pacholke, the prison superintendent, wanted to save the institution some money, and offer green jobs training to inmates at the same time. He started composting and water catchment programs.

Dan-and-conpost

Superintendent Dan Pacholke built a compost facility and water catchment with spare materials at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. He didn’t realize he also was building a new way to think about sustainability and prisons. Photo by DOC staff.

Pacholke-and-Press

Superintendent Pacholke and Dr. Nadkarni both had a talent for bringing media attention to SPP. Here, Mr. Pacholke talks to the press at Cedar Creek in 2008. Photo by DOC staff.

Around the same time, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a member of the faculty at Evergreen, asked to work with inmates to study how to grow moss; mosses were being stripped from old growth forests for the floral trade, no one knew how to replenish them, and Dr. Nadkarni thought that inmates might welcome a scientific challenge. Cedar Creek welcomed her proposal, and inmate-technicians embraced the challenge; they proved highly capable, enthusiastic and innovative partners in research. One inmate coauthored a peer-reviewed paper for an international sustainability journal with Dr. Nadkarni (Ulrich and Nadkarni, 2008).

nalini&raymond

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni shows off a bag of moss in the Cedar Creek greenhouse, 2004. Raymond Price stands behind her in the photo and figuratively as well: he volunteered his time to ensure that the new programs operated day to day. Photo by SPP staff.

mosses-and-inmate

One of the technicians for the Moss in Prisons Project identifies an assortment of mosses at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in 2003. Photo by SPP staff.

These new efforts came with some unanticipated bonuses: more cost savings than expected, press attention, and the prison was starting to feel different: it was becoming a more productive and positive environment. The combination of Mr. Pacholke’s interest in sustainable operations and green jobs training, and Dr. Nadkarni’s desire to bring science and nature to prisons proved a winning combination, and that became SPP.

Early Heroes

Alongside Dan Pacholke and Nalini Nadkarni, many others brought inspiration to early SPP. A volunteer at Cedar Creek, Raymond Price, showed great interest in the new programs. He led early lectures, worked with staff and inmates in the gardens, and kept the moss program and others on track day-to-day.

Georgia Harvey was the prison’s Correctional Program Manager at that time, and she also supported the moss program. Her knack for gardening meant that Cedar Creek was soon full of flower gardens and green spaces. Mr. Pacholke has said, “Georgia could literally look at something and make it turn green. She was a force to be reckoned with.”

Tom Matthews, Local Business Advisor, helped Cedar Creek craft their first sustainability plan. He played a key role in many projects: building the composting shed, converting grassy space to gardens, starting vermi-composting and a zero-waste garbage sorting center. He helped SPP’s first Program Manager, Jeff Muse, develop the frog rearing area dubbed Frogga Walla. Tom liked to have his hands in many programs, and Mr. Pacholke especially valued his insight and vision.

Partners in SPP's Oregon spotted frog rearing program converse at the entrance to Frogga Walla, the rearing facility. Photo by Benj Drummond.

Partners in SPP’s Oregon spotted frog rearing program converse at the entrance to Frogga Walla, the rearing facility. Photo by Benj Drummond.

With growing interest and efforts, SPP added new programs, new partners, and new prisons. A model took shape in which the needs and abilities all participants shaped the programs. This meant that every initiative brought benefits to all involved: WDOC staff, Evergreen faculty and students, partner scientists, and the outside community.

Interagency Agreement

SPP was founded and still is a partnership between Corrections and Evergreen—SPP isn’t Evergreen, it’s DOC and Evergreen together, plus the many many partner organizations that help with the programs.

Following the wonderful success of pilot activities, the Sustainability in Prisons Project was formalized with an Interagency Agreement on July 1, 2008. The project fully expanded into three additional prisons, and the same time the range of programming grew to include science education, conservation biology, sustainable operations, and community contributions in all facilities. This growth represented partnerships with increasingly diverse partners and contributors. It also represented innovation and collaboration, and especially so in the face of budget or staffing challenges. SPP proved itself resilient, and continued to grow.

In 2013, SPP celebrated our 10 year anniversary.

SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy speaks at the ten year celebration at The Evergreen State College; Oregon white oaks were planted both at Evergreen and at Cedar Creek Corrections Center to recognize SPP’s founding partnership. Photo by Danielle Winder.

SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy speaks at the ten year celebration at The Evergreen State College; Oregon white oaks were planted both at Evergreen and at Cedar Creek Corrections Center to recognize SPP’s founding partnership. Photo by Danielle Winder.

For more on the story of SPP, see the TEDx talk from SPP Co-Director Dan Pacholke and SPP Graduate Research Assistant Andrea Martin. For the current shape of SPP, see About us.