WCC Seed Nursery

By Michelle Klim

This season, the sustainability crew at The Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, WA planted native prairie plants for seed harvesting. These plants, which include Plectritis congesta, Collinsia parviflora, and Collinsia grandiflora, are being used in prairie restoration for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. 

 

Despite work delays, the crew was able to sow the field and harvest the seeds-which are currently curing inside before they’re packaged and distributed. This process involved deconstructing old garden beds that previously housed violets, reshaping the soil, planting ground cover, sowing the seeds twice, and weeding the rows weekly.   

Technicians weeded the rows weekly (top). SPP Conservation Manager Carl Elliot and a WCC crew member discuss seed ripeness and harvest dates (left). A technician shows Plectritis congesta seeds. Photos by Michelle Klim.

 

Technicians harvested Plectritis congesta by knocking the seeds off the plant and into a bin. Photo by Michelle Klim.

During the harvesting process, the crew noticed that there were seeds being left behind. They came up with an innovative solution- using a wireless shop-vac to collect them. They separated the seeds from the soil by shaking them through sieves but still had some small debris in the mix. After some trial and error, they came up with a solution- submerging the seeds in water and collecting the ones that float or bunch together.

Seeds that were dropped while harvesting were vacuumed up and sorted through. Shown is what is collected by the vacuum. Photo by Michelle Klim.

A WCC Technician collecting Collinisia seeds from a water bath. Photo by Michelle Klim.

A technician holds the seeds that have been separated out by water. The seeds will dry and cure before they are weighed and packaged. Photo by Michelle Klim.

The work was not easy, but the team was able to work together to come up with solutions and complete the harvest.  

The Cedar Creek Turtles Return!

Written by Marissa Scoville, SPP Ecological Coordinator

A Western Pond Turtle being handled by an incarcerated technician. Photo by SPP Staff.

After a long hiatus Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) and the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) were happy to welcome back the Western Pond Turtle (WPT). The WPT program has been active since 2013, but due to Covid-19 SPP had to take a two-year break from the program. With the return of the program SPP has begun working with a team of incarcerated technicians to provide care to these turtles by helping them recover from illness so they can return to their native ponds and help the population grow.

WDFW biologist handling a Western Pond Turtle. Photo by SPP Staff.

The WPT are a Washington state listed endangered species. Biologists from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) trap the turtles and examine them for signs of shell disease. Shell disease is caused by a keratin eating fungus that infects the WPTs and creates lesions on their shells, left untreated it can be fatal. Turtles that are show symptoms of shell disease are then brought to PAWS Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center (PAWS) for treatment. This year all the turtles that received treatment were from Peirce County. After treatment the turtles have a long road to recovery, and this is where the technicians at Cedar Creek come in to play.

Veterinarian from PAWS teaching technician, Jason Matson, how to examine shell disease lesions on a Western Pond Turtle. Photo by SPP Staff.

At Cedar Creek, the turtles are kept in a small building lovingly dubbed by both staff and technicians alike, “The Turtle Shack”, which was renovated this year to house the turtles. Due to the two-year break in the WPT program and the new Turtle Shack, there was a lot of work to set up before the turtles could arrive! But supplies were quickly gathered, and the tanks and lights were set up as well, and pretty soon The Turtle Shack was ready to house the WPTs. On March 9th, 2022, the eight WPTs were transferred down from the PAWS facility to Cedar Creek by WDFW biologist Emily Butler.

WDFW biologist showing technician, Jason Matson, how to check the WDFW number on a Western Pond Turtle. Photo by SPP Staff.

Turtle technician, Heath McQueen, examining a Western Pond Turtle when the turtles were first brought to Cedar Creek. Photo by SPP Staff.

Once the turtles arrive at Cedar Creek, the technicians work hard to care for this endangered species. The technicians prepared and fed the turtles a varied diet of smelt, mealworms, night crawlers, turtle pellets, mixed greens, and reptile gel. They also provided daily water changes and weekly tank cleanings to prevent possible infections in the turtles’ post-treatment wounds. With daily behavior observations the technicians quickly learned the personality each turtle had, some were shy and preferred to hide all day while others were bold and sassy, preferring to bask all day and would occasionally attempt to pick a fight with their tank mate. It is important to note aggressive turtles were separated in their tanks with Plexi glass to prevent potential injury (this would not stop them from endlessly hissing at each other though). Physical observations were also regularly made to ensure treated lesions were healing or if new lesions developed. These observations helped the technicians notice if a turtle acting differently and may need medical attention, thankfully no extra medical attention was required for this round of turtles. In what felt like minutes, the turtles were rehabilitated and ready for release.

Weekly photos of the carapace (top shell, image on left) and plastron (bottom shell, image on right) were taken weekly to track the healing process and reference in case of new suspected lesions. Photo by SPP Staff.

On May 5th, 2022, the turtles were transported to the Pierce County release site, where their native ponds are located. Here a small staff made up of SPP and WDFW members checked all the turtles prior to release. Unfortunately, the technicians were unable to join this year’s release. The pre-release checks consisted of weight and size measurements, Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) scans and verifying each turtle’s WDFW number. After this the turtles were brought down to the ponds. At the Pierce County site each of the turtles were released back into the same pond which they were trapped in many months ago. Each of the staff took turns releasing the eight WPTs into their native ponds. The turtles swam away and rejoined their population just in time for the summer and the WPT mating season. SPP and the Cedar Creek crew are very happy to see the successful release of the WPTs but will be missing the turtles until the next batch of are trapped for treatment.

Western Pond Turtle released into Pond at Peirce County Peirce County site. Photo by Danielle Jimenez, Communications Consultant from Washington Department of Corrections.

From worms to flies, SPP is enriching the soil of 2022 with a new composting program!

Written by Derek Thedell, Composting Education Coordinator

At SPP, we believe collaboration is key to successful, resilient programs. One collaboration we are excited to share about is the Foundations in Composting education course, which has been in development since the summer of 2021. With the support of a generous donor, many partners, and Institute for Applied Ecology’s Sagebrush in Prisons Project the new course will be available in Washington prisons and offered at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada!  

Greenhouse and thermophilic composting bins at WCC in Shelton, photo by Emily Passarelli.

This curriculum is modeled from the Foundations in Gardening course written in 2020 and focuses on the science and impacts of composting from small to commercial scales. The curriculum will also introduce careers in sustainability and include cultural and historical components throughout the curriculum. Additionally, once completed, we will present it to The Evergreen State College for review for college credit.

Module or chapter development is currently in progress and includes input and voices from experts in our communities including incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, formerly incarcerated individuals, Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies graduates, local composting experts, Tilth Alliance, Centralia College staff, and professors at the University of Washington. You might recognize a few faces and voices, including Nick Hacheney and Juan Hernandez who were composting leaders at the massively successful composting program at Monroe Correctional Center.

Alongside expert composters, Foundations in Composting will feature information from significant written resources, such as Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis.

Last November, SPP had the privilege of hosting a course planning meeting at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton. Collaboration is a fundamental part of the SPP program development process. Bringing in the voices and input of the incarcerated composting educators and technicians, Department of Corrections staff, and community experts helps assure that our program is inclusive and well-rounded.

Active worm bin compost managed by the sustainability crew at WCC, photo by Jennifer Bass.

Currently, the sustainability crew at WCC, led by Corrections Specialist 3 Jeff Sanders, has several active composting projects including thermophilic piles (pictured), bokashi, vermicomposting using worms (pictured) and black soldier flies. SPP hopes to provide an educational opportunity to supplement these active projects in the future using this curriculum.

The compost at WCC is utilized in their many gardens, and the black soldier fly larva are even used to feed the chickens! Photos by Jennifer Bass.

Development of the curriculum is slated to be finished by spring, with the pilot program in Nevada getting started quickly after that. Until then, we will continue to write, edit, and edit some more for this exciting new program. One thing is for sure, the future of composting education in prisons is bright!

 

 

Foundations in Gardening at LCC

Written by Jennifer Bass, Environmental Education Coordinator

This year, Larch Corrections Center introduced the Foundations in Gardening curriculum to High School+ (HS+) students in partnership with the Sustainability in Prisons Project and Clark College. This is the first time SPP’s education materials are being used for HS+ students! HS+ is a flexible alternative to the GED for students where students can use life experience and prior learning to earn their high school diploma. LCC’s class is led by Clark College Instructor Lauren Zavrel and 2 peer-facilitators. 

LCC students taking notes for their gardening class. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

The gardening class includes both a hands-on component in the garden as well as regular classroom seminars and assignments. In the late fall, the gardeners at LCC developed a planting plan and sowed leek, Brussel sprouts, red clover, and onion seeds.  

LCC’s garden area has been sowed with tons of vegetables. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Combined, the LCC gardeners will spend more than one hundred hours studying course material, working in the garden, completing assignments, and participating in seminars! The class and work wouldn’t be possible without the peer-facilitators, facility liaison, and partners at Clark College.  

Gardeners work at LCC to prepare the beds for planting. Photo by Lauren Zavrel.

To help the SPP continue providing education in Washington prisons, click here.

 

 

 

 

SPP Bees Preparing for Winter

As the cold and rainy months appear, the SPP beekeepers are preparing to tuck the bees in for the winter.  

After a long season of sunshine and collecting pollen, the bees are starting to return to the hives for the colder months. While bees do not necessarily hibernate in the winter, they do retreat to their hives and stick closely together when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm. Winter can be a difficult time for bees and their beekeepers. An article written by NPR, stated that in 2019, about 40% of hives did not survive the winter. The SPP beekeepers at various facilities are hard at work to protect the bees from mites, harsh temperatures, and heavy rain.  

Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Beekeepers at Stafford Creek Corrections Center are testing an insulated hive this winter. The bee club introduced the hive in September, carefully transferring bees from a wooden hive frame to a plastic insulated hive.  

The new insulated hive at SCCC by the old wooden hive. Photo by Shohei Morita.

While transferring the hive, the bee club was surprised to find that one hive was missing a Queen! The bee club conducted a detailed search of every panel and used the situation to teach new beekeepers about the signs of a missing queen and overall bee health.   

SCCC Bee Club members comb through the wooden frames looking for a Queen. Photo by Shohei Morita.

After combining two hives in the insulated hive, SCCC bee club and bees are prepared for the winter! The bees adjusted well to the new hive and are beginning to return, store honey, and cluster together for the winter.  

Cedar Creek Corrections Center

The Cedar Creek beekeepers are also busy preparing the bees for winter. The bees at McNeil Island are still bringing some colorful pollen into the hive as well as propolis from tree resins to fill any cracks in the hive before winter. 

Bees at the small entrance that Cedar Creek beekeepers will modify before winter. The bees have propolized the edge of the wood to completely seal the hive.  Photo by Laurie Pyne at McNeil Island.  

The Cedar Creek beekeepers provided additional feed and are providing ample amounts of liquid syrup to help prepare for the cooler months. As the temperature begins to get colder, the beekeepers are prepared to add a sugar brick for emergencies and to apply quilt boxes with more shavings.  

Washington Corrections Center for Women

Beekeepers at Washington Corrections Center for Women are preparing for winter by building quilt boxes and making sugar cakes. The WCCW beekeepers have four healthy hives heading into the cooler months and are currently going through twenty cups of sugar a week! 

Beehive at WCCW. Photo by SPP Staff.

 The beekeepers use cedar ships to fill the quilt boxes and are actively monitoring to prevent hornet invasion. In the coming months, the beekeepers are excited to host educational group classes while the bees cluster for the winter.  

While the bees are heading in for the winter, SPP beekeepers are headed to the hives to prepare dry, warm, and cozy environments for the coming months.  

Susan Christopher’s Lasting Impact

Text by Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager

In my final weeks working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I was lucky enough to interview Susan Christopher, another amazing former SPP Butterfly Technician who actually worked alongside Nichole Alexander during her time at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW). Susan and I spoke about her experience in the SPP program, the impact she has had on other women struggling with incarceration and/or addiction, and her considerable community involvement.

Susan Christopher (right) assists another crew member in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program. Photo by Keegan Curry.

Susan’s time in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program represents an exceptional case in which an incarcerated person remained employed in a program for more than 3 years. This opportunity to work with the species for four total breeding seasons meant she gained extensive experience and skills that have contributed to the program’s long-term success. In particular, she and other technicians at the time developed tracking mechanisms that impressed program partners like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some of her other accomplishments in the program include giving a presentation to 40 biologists, taking a field trip to see the butterflies in the wild at the Glacial Heritage Preserve, and being interviewed by PBS News Hour about the program.

Susan explains the data tracking systems used in the butterfly program in front of the camera for the PBS News Hour Special. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Susan emphasized the positive impact that being in the SPP butterfly program had on her. She said, “It’s such an amazing program…what it does for our self-esteem, giving us a chance to prove ourselves again, to be trusted and appreciated. To me, it was the most important job in the institution.”

Susan Christopher shows off a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly to SPP Staff, Emily Passarelli. Photo by SPP Staff.

It was clear from our interview that Susan also tends to have a big impact on the communities around her, whether that is in prison or her outside community. For instance, she served as a peer mentor in prison for women while they were experiencing crisis. She also volunteered in MCCCW’s clothing closet program, which provides professional clothes to women preparing to take their next steps into society. While incarcerated, she taught yoga to other incarcerated women as a therapeutic outlet. Since her release from prison, she has continued this practice with individuals who are in treatment for issues related to addiction. She also shares her story of overcoming her own addiction problems to women’s groups and church groups as a way to own her truth and give people hope.

In addition to these meaningful contributions, Susan has also dedicated her time to providing fun outlets for her community of Bremerton, Washington. While the pandemic has put a damper on many social activities, Susan wanted to find safe ways to connect with her community. With the support of city officials, she has organized numerous family friendly cruise nights and car shows around the area. You can learn more about those events by visiting the Cruisin Bremerton Facebook group.

A still of Susan Christopher welcoming visitors to a car show on September 4, 2020. Video by Canalside Photography and Stan Young.

All in all, Susan told me that over time, she realized her purpose and reason for being in prison was to make a difference in others’ lives. In total, Susan had 57 different roommates while incarcerated. For these women and hundreds of others, she has served as part of their support network both during and after incarceration. Many of them still reach out to her today to tell her how her journey has been an inspiration to them.

Susan Christopher behind the camera photographing cars at a car show. Photography has always been a passion of hers and with some encouragement from others, she has started to sell some of her work. Photo by Everett Allison.

Speaking of her journey since incarceration, Susan feels her successes are on the quiet side, but that is how she likes it. She appreciates getting messages and hugs from those who she has impacted. She said she now feels like, “I am worthy, and I do have a place in this world…It may not be standing up and winning awards, but I have a certain satisfaction now that I’ve never had before. People are watching me, looking up to me, and they appreciate me.” We at SPP see you and so appreciate you, Susan.

 

Welcoming Emily Passarelli to the SPP Team

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager

Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

Emily Passarelli is a native of Rantoul, a small rural village in East Central Illinois. Growing up in Rantoul, Emily was very active in her local community. She joined just about every community group or school club she could, but her main passion was acting in theatre. Emily participated in every one of her high school’s plays and musicals, and even arranged for an additional play to get an extra opportunity on stage her senior year. 

After high school, Emily went on to pursue her interest in theatre at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, but life had other plans for her. To earn a required science credit, Emily took Environmental Studies 101 and quickly realized she was exactly where she needed to be. This led her to become interested in how environmental issues disproportionately and consistently affect underrepresented populations. Emily then decided to double major in both Theatre and Environmental Studies.

After graduating from Knox in 2015, Emily began to pursue her Master of Environmental Studies (MES) degree at The Evergreen State College. Before arriving in Olympia, Washington, Emily accepted a position as the Green Track Coordinator at The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). In this position, she coordinated the Roots of Success program and was the first coordinator to work on the Beekeeping program. One of her favorite moments was helping plan the first Beekeeping Summit at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in 2017. She also appreciated the opportunity to visit 11 of 12 Washington State prisons, as well as McNeil Island, and experience the distinctly different cultures of each facility. SPP helped Emily find her passion for developing and maintain partnerships with some of the most interesting and passionate people she’s ever met!

Emily Passarelli gazes at Oregon Spotted frogs before they are released back to the pond. Photo by SPP staff.

While in MES, Emily studied subjects such as Traditional Ecological Restoration and Environmental Education, and researched how a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest would affect different populations. Her time at SPP also inspired her to focus her graduate thesis on the lasting effects of environmental education on formerly incarcerated individuals. The results of this research showed even more evidence to support the transformative effect of environmental education in prisons.

Emily Passarelli and fellow MES Cohort members, Melanie Graeff and Liliana Caughman (also former SPP coordinator), at their graduation ceremony in 2017. Photo by Allison Diamond.

Once Emily completed her time at MES and SPP, she felt compelled to continue her work in corrections education however she could. Emily then took on the role of Education Program Coordinator at The Washington Corrections Center (WCC) through Centralia College. After two years working inside WCC in this role, Emily was promoted to Program Manager. She has loved the opportunity to work closely with DOC staff, custody, and leadership, support and expand all types of education for students, plan graduation events to celebrate student success, and work with the wonderful Education Department team at WCC. 

Emily Passarelli GED Testing at the Washington Corrections Center in 2020. Photo by Aundrea Lund.

After 3 years at WCC, Emily has now returned to the SPP team as the new Program and Outreach Manager. She’s still pinching herself to make sure she’s not dreaming! Emily is so grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to see what the future holds. In her free time, Emily loves spending time with her husband and sweet, shivery chihuahua.

Emily and her chihuahua Penny. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

Highlighting the Many Successes of Nichole Alexander

Text by Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nichole Alexander, former SPP Butterfly Technician, on the 2-year anniversary of her release from the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW). We spoke briefly about the impact of her SPP experience on her trajectory post-release, and even more about her long list of accomplishments in the last two years, including her graduation from Evergreen Tacoma.

Nichole Alexander presents on the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program to a working group in 2018. Photo by SPP staff.

Nichole, pictured above, spent three seasons in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW before she released in April 2019. She said the most impactful part of her experience with SPP was the opportunity to work within a tight-knit team of individuals and across federal and state agencies, an experience in which she felt respected and valued. She also spoke to the therapeutic benefits of the program. Speaking of some major life events that happened while she was incarcerated, Nichole said,

“Being able to go out to the butterfly lab every day…the routine of being able to be in a work environment, an educational environment, to actually feel like we are giving back to the community, bettering myself and laying the foundation for my future, my kids’ future, was huge to pull me through some of the worst times that I have been through…I was actually able to find a light within myself in a very dark place.”

In addition, Nichole expressed that her experience with SPP laid the foundation for what she would accomplish next. In particular, she credits Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director and Keegan Curry, former SPP Butterfly Coordinator, for providing the encouragement and support to apply to the Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus while still incarcerated to attend post-release. In her opinion, they reminded her that she had potential.

Nichole Alexander and fellow technician Susan Christopher search for wild Taylor’s checkerspot larvae at Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a reintroduction site for the butterfly. Photo by Keegan Curry.

She then jumped straight into finishing up her last quarter to earn her Associates Degree in Business Administration and Management from Tacoma Community College before starting her Law and Policy degree at Evergreen Tacoma. While pursuing higher education, she has also been heavily involved in giving back to the community. She organized a book drive for the youth residing at the Echo Glen Children’s Center and also worked with World Central Kitchen to provide thousands of meals to the homeless population. Professionally, she has worked for Ventures nonprofit as the Ready for Release Coordinator & Instructor. In this position, she briefly taught business & marketing to the incarcerated women at MCCCW before the program was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, her professional endeavors focus strongly on providing support resources for the unsheltered population around Seattle. She works for REACH as their Waterfront Outreach Care Coordinator, as well as JustCARE’s Street Outreach Program Coordinator. But her work does not stop when she goes home, as she has worked hard to connect her academic studies with the practical reality of what she has witnessed through her jobs.

Nichole handing out meals with World Central Kitchen, while representing the organization she works for, REACH.

Nichole has now successfully completed her undergraduate coursework at Evergreen Tacoma and is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Policy. She speaks highly of the support she received while attending Evergreen and said she cannot praise it enough for how welcoming they were to her. She especially appreciates the patience and support from some influential professors, like Dr. Gilda Sheppard and Dr. Anthony Zaragoza, and essential support staff as she navigated challenges related to re-entering society. Even more, she emphasizes the sense of community gained there. It’s clear that she made the most of her community involvement at Evergreen Tacoma; she helped start the Justice Involved Student Group there. She also spoke excitedly about her dedication and involvement in organizing Evergreen Tacoma’s virtual graduation ceremony in 2020, which was featured in a New York Times article. It was important for her and her fellow coordinators to go out of their way to make the graduates feel that their success was seen and celebrated. To do this, they organized custom gift boxes from a local party supply company, local flower bouquets, and family meals prepared by local restaurants for each of the graduates. The emphasis on supporting local businesses in this effort was especially needed in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. We only hope she is able to feel the same sense of accomplishment at her own graduation ceremony.

Nichole is not planning to slow down anytime soon. She was recently accepted into the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, a recent expansion to the Evergreen Tacoma campus. Nichole plans to start that program this coming fall. She also communicated her plans to address issues within the carceral environment, including efforts to reduce recidivism and connect incarcerated mothers with their children. While incarcerated, Nichole helped organize the annual Girl Scout Beyond Bars (GSBB) sleepover to visit their moms at MCCCW. In particular, she helped connect the visiting girl scouts (including her own daughter) with the SPP butterfly program where they got to participate in fun activities that helped them earn badges! She continues to be a GSBB troop leader and expresses the importance of these opportunities in connecting girls impacted by incarceration with their mothers. In addition, WA Corrections recently featured Nichole and her daughter in a story about the importance of parent teacher teleconferences, a hopeful sign for future endeavors related to this effort.

Nichole shows her daughter, Brooklyn, around the SPP Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW. She said it was so fun to bring her daughter to work because she had the coolest job in the world!

Speaking of the differences in her journey before and after incarceration, Nichole said “If you hear my history, for that person there’s no hope…Then to sit in the meetings that I sit in…and to work with the people that I work with today, there’s no ceiling. It’s unstoppable where you can be and how you can give back.” With that outlook, we know there are many more great things in store for Nichole Alexander, as well as those her life and work impacts.

Adapting During Challenging Times: a Check-In from SPP

By Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager and Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director

We at SPP are all deeply aware of how difficult this past year has been. It has been especially hard for the people living and working in prisons. We acknowledge the loss and suffering experienced by incarcerated people, their families, and corrections staff.  Our thoughts are with our fellow humans everywhere—may we all have better days ahead.

Like many organizations, SPP has also faced a slew of competing challenges. Over the past year we have shifted to working remotely, navigated major staffing changes resulting in a smaller team size, and supported multiple team members through health issues. We are continually processing the overall health and safety impacts of COVID-19 and loss of in-person interaction with students, partners, and our small team at Evergreen. Despite these challenges, we are hopeful for better horizons. We are reaching out to share how SPP is making the best use of these challenging times; we are simultaneously practicing patience and resilience every day.

Human health and safety are our top priority over program operation. As a result, the vast majority of SPP programs have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still supporting operation of a few programs, but only where interactions with SPP staff can be masked, socially distant, primarily outside, and with access to proper resources for hand washing and cleaning high touch surfaces. Programs which have continued under these circumstances and in accordance with approved COVID plans include the prairie conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), and a few peer-led education programs at various facilities.

Keegan Curry from SPP safely helps out with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW. Photo by Marisa Pushee. 

Despite major program suspensions, SPP staff have still been hard at work on projects in three main focus areas: remote education, proposal development, and policy/guidance work. We hope that the behind-the-scenes work done in these areas will have lasting benefits when programs are able to safely restart. Brief details on some specific projects (most still in progress) are provided below.

Remote Education

Beekeeping

  • Curation and delivery of monthly educational packets to all facilities
  • Development of higher-level beekeeping certification (in progress)

Peer-led Gardening Curriculum

Ecology Curriculum

Prairie Conservation Nursery

  • Standardizing education materials and adapting for remote access (i.e. remote presentations, limited contact education, and/or peer-led components)

Peer-led Composting Curriculum

  • Identifying funding and planning for development of curriculum for statewide use

Solar Energy Education

  • New partnership with Olympia Community Solar that allows donors to sponsor solar energy education packets to be sent to prison facilities

Proposal Development

Funding

  • Provided budget for potential new education and training program in partnership with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to complete the next phases of gardening and composting course and to pilot in another state
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to expand Evergreen education in prisons

Planning and Organization Improvements

  • Improving processes and guidance related to development of education materials
  • Developed new SPP program planning templates to improve operations and clarity among partners
  • Identifying more reliable mechanisms for delivering remote education
  • Developed general partnership resource document for guiding all types of successful prison programs among multiple partners (in progress)

Policy/Guidance Work

  • Tracking and testifying in support of HB1044 Pathways to Post-Secondary Education in Prisons
  • Working with Washington Department of Corrections and education organizations to develop policy and guidelines for successful peer-led programs in prison (in progress)
  • Working with The Evergreen State College to draft new policy to that will support granting college credit to currently incarcerated program participants successfully completing SPP certificated internship programs
  • Research to address barriers limiting access to fresh produce in prison and considering development of food handling education to improve ability for prison kitchens to utilize fresh produce from facility gardens (longer-term project)

Lastly, we are actively drafting our latest Annual Report, which is expected to be published sometime in spring. Be on the lookout for this report for full updates regarding SPP programs and initiatives from July 2019 through December 2020.

Learning so much from MES & SPP

By Carly Boyd, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

I first heard about the Evergreen State College as a junior in high school. Unfortunately, I quickly decided it wasn’t possible to attend; no one (not even me!) was ready for me to move across the country from Maryland to Washington State.

Carly and her fiancé hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park in CO while visiting her best friend in Denver.

Instead, I attended a state school in western Maryland. I graduated in 2018 with a biology degree and plans to get my Master’s. When I realized Evergreen has a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program, it felt like a second chance for me

I was working and living with my fiancé and pet cat Kiwi in Virginia. To take that second chance, I moved to a state where I knew no one. Not once have I been afraid or worried that I had made the wrong choice.

During my first year at Evergreen, what I have learned about people and how the world works has been invaluable and so different from the education I received in Maryland. I expect my time with SPP as the Butterfly Program Coordinator will be just as surprising and important.

Left: Carly holds a wild saw-whet owl; she participated in a long-term research project called Project Owlnet. Right: During her time working for Virginia State Parks, Carly holds a blind, one-winged barred owl who helped with environmental education programs.

Before SPP, I have worked with people from all walks of life and I’ve learned so much from those experiences. The most valuable skill I’ve gained is versatility: being prepared and able to change my approach to better suit whoever I’m working with. Already, this skill is serving me well in the SPP butterfly program. Efforts to keep everyone in the program safe amidst the COVID-19 crisis requires a lot of adaptation.

It is often difficult to start a new job and this one brings the challenge of a completely new environment for me. On top of that, as a part of an utterly changed world, I need to scrutinize my every action for safety, especially when working with an at-risk population. I recognize that I have to hold some responsibility for the technicians’ safety and health. At the same time, I hold some responsibility for keeping the program going as long as we are able; the technicians deserve to continue the work they value.

Most of Carly’s photos are of her loved ones, pets, and nature. Here is rare picture with her in it! enjoying her exploration of Juneau, Alaska while there visiting family.

As a program and as an organization, we remain open to change. We continue to discuss the best and safest way to move forward for everyone involved.

Working with incarcerated individuals is changing me as a person. It’s very different from the work I’ve done in the past and honestly very different from what I ever saw myself doing. It is an unexpected opportunity that forces me to rethink what I am able to do professionally. My perceptions of the prison system and the incarcerated individuals inside are shifting. The position is helping me to rethink what I’m capable of and what I want to dedicate my life to.

In the bigger picture, working with SPP reinforces what I know and who I am. I believe humans are resilient and that, deep down, we all have a passion to learn and to contribute to a deeper collective. Also, I think we have an innate desire to be close to nature, in whatever way we can. Even in such a time of uncertainty and fear, I want to help our incarcerated partners connect with nature… so long as they, and we, are comfortable making it possible.