What SPP is and isn’t

As we’re telling you more about what we do, we also want to be clear about what SPP programs are not designed to do:

  • Not designed to provide a source of cheap labor for environmental orgs: all participants must receive benefits
  • Not designed to add stress and workload for corrections staff or incarcerated people- we intend to support culture change, improve work and living environment, and provide stress relief from prison life
  • Not designed to “greenwash” prisons — all people, including people in prison, deserve access to environmental & sustainability education & opportunities to contribute. Over and over again we hear from incarcerated people and corrections staff that they want these programs;
  • While some SPP programs save the prison system operating funds through reduced resource use, many programs are offered purely for their educational value. Our main driver is changing lives through education and opportunities for positive contributions.
  • Our programs do not mandate that incarcerated people participate; SPP is available as an option. If people try our programs and don’t like them, we work with them to find a better fit. These programs don’t resonate with everyone and our shared success depends on shared interest and investment
The expansive Lifer Garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center looks amazing year-round; here is a what a portion of it looked like in early July, 2020. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

What SPP programs are not designed to do

We don’t create programs to “greenwash” prisons.

We want to show our respect for our incarcerated and staff partners and advocate for access to nature and environmental benefits for everyone and anyone — in any institution and in any community. We are acutely aware of the challenges and hardships of the prison system and take every opportunity to promote and support positive change.

We don’t create programs to provide cheap labor.

Our programs are designed to bring science, nature, and environmental education into prisons; they are not created to provide an inexpensive source of labor for conservation organizations. SPP programs must include benefits for everyone involved. As an education organization, education, training and connections with nature are the primary benefits we are able to offer to help improve the lives our incarcerated partners.

In some of our programs, incarcerated technicians and educators compensated with low hourly wage. That rate of pay is set by the Washington State legislature and SPP is not allowed to contribute funding or lobby for increased wages.  

We don’t create programs just to save money for DOC.

Some SPP programs reduce resource use and thus save the prison system operating funds and the cost to taxpayers; those savings don’t directly benefit the SPP team at Evergreen and we support reduced resource use where it is also beneficial to incarcerated individuals, communities and ecosystems.

The main driver of SPP programs is changing lives through education and opportunities for positive contribution. Many of the SPP-Evergreen-led programs are offered purely for their educational value and require resources from the Department of Corrections (commonly includes funding, staff time, space, and equipment).

We don’t “make” people take part.

Every SPP-Evergreen led program is a partnership and being a partner is voluntary. Our programs do not mandate that incarcerated people participate; SPP is available as an option. If people try our programs and don’t like them, we work with them to find a better fit. We understand that these programs don’t resonate with everyone and our shared success depends on mutual interest and investment.

The Foundations in Garden course was written for and by incarcerated individuals; course editors Carly Rose and Joslyn Rose Trivett worked with incarcerated authors and editors at three Washington prisons. The group at Stafford Creek, shown here, formed a writing committee dedicated to the project. Photo by Corrections Specialist Kelly Peterson.

What SPP programs are designed to do

We respond to incarcerated partners’ pleas for programming

Over and over again we hear from incarcerated people that they want these programs. The level and degree of demand would be hard to over-state! We hear from formerly incarcerated partners that our (and other) programs were life-saving, transformational, and/or a valued refuge.

Meeting the needs, wants, and recommendations of our currently and formerly incarcerated partners is our top priority; they have more influence over our programs than any other stakeholder.

We create & promote environmental & social benefits for everyone.

Within every partnership, we strive for every participant (incarcerated and not) to ask for what they need, share what they know, and be recognized by others for their role and achievements. The main tools of empowerment we offer are education, shared purpose, and demonstrated respect and appreciation. Often, individuals find access to nature empowering as well — they feel the physical and psychological benefits of contact with non-human life.

We are committed and motivated to follow this approach because

  • From nearly every partner, incarcerated and not, we hear that their experience with this model was positive, ranging from pleasing to profound.
  • Programs serve as learning exchanges. In these partnerships, SPP-Evergreen staff learn as much (or more!) as anyone. Learning from our partners is incredibly satisfying and means we can continuously improve what we do.
  • This approach creates successful, sustainable programs. When everyone is considered and everyone benefits, everyone wants to keep it going.

We help create culture change.

Through the life of SPP so far, we have seen prison and Department-wide culture change. Over the years, we have directly witnessed and taken part in change — countless impressive, heart-lifting moments of empathy, insight, creativity, and courage. Also we have heard about changes from many, many Corrections partners — incarcerated, staff, and leadership.

The change hasn’t been linear and there is still much to improve. We look forward to meeting those challenges.

We invest in Corrections staff as well.

A previously incarcerated SPP technician advised us that taking care of staff makes the prison experience better for everyone.

Programming can create added workload and stress for Corrections partners. Programs rely on staff capacity and commitment, so we do everything we can to benefit them, too.

We aim to offer staff stress relief. We support improved working conditions and access to interesting, meaningful projects. As we do for all partners, we ask staff what they need and want, what they know and think, and how we can recognize them for their role and achievements.