Resourceful Art

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Creating fine art is rarely described as an easy activity—inspiration and skills have to be cultivated. Creating art in prison is even more difficult. Many inmates don’t have access to the materials needed to do artwork, whether that be painting, drawing, wood burning, or any other type of art. But some artists seem to take this as an interesting challenge and, working with Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff, they find a way to create the art they envision. During my recent trip to the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I got to see some of the beautiful artwork being created in the Sustainable Practices Lab, and that will be going on display at a local gallery in Walla Walla; they will be showcasing not only the talent, but resourceful nature of art that is created in prisons.

The inmates at WSP have to make their own canvas. They use old bed sheets and pull them tight over a frame – made from recycled wood – and then seal the sheets with 4 coats of wax. The final product is similar to a canvas you might buy at an art store.

A close-up of canvases inmates made from recycled and reclaimed materials.

These pieces are created by two men who feel a sense of freedom when expressing themselves and their opinions through their art. They are clearly both skilled artists, but chose one creative lead for the project with the underlying theme – social critique.

Take a look!

The artist told me that this piece will have more color on the masks before it’s complete; even though it’s not done yet, it looks so cool!

Welcoming New Roots of Success Instructors

Text and Photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

During my time coordinating Roots of Success (Roots) we struggled to complete new instructor trainings, but in August that all changed. Washington Corrections Center (WCC) hosted a training at the end of August, Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) hosted a training in October, and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) just hosted a training. We’re so excited to welcome 12 new instructors into the Roots family!

Three instructors went through the training at WCC taught be Grady Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is one of 5 Master Trainers in Washington State. Master Trainers are certified by the director and creator of Roots, Dr. Pinderhughes, to be able to train new instructors.

Five new instructors were trained at the SCCC Roots training led by Master Trainers Cyril Walrond and David Duhaime. The Roots liaison at SCCC, Kelly Peterson, added interviews to their instructor candidate selection process because they had close to 20 Roots graduates applying to be new instructors. I sat in on some of the interviews and candidates repeatedly cited the Roots community and the interactive and inclusive teaching styles of other instructors as their reasoning for wanting to become instructors. 

Four instructor candidates went through the training at CRCC led by Master Trainer Keith Parkins. They engaged in conversations about facilitating the course in a way that was accessible to students of every background and how to engage students in complex conversations like environmental issues and social equity. 

Thank you to DOC for making these trainings possible and thank you to Roots of Success for entrusting the training of new instructors in WA to our Master Trainers. And to all of the new Roots instructors, welcome!

The Value of Education

Written by Alexandra James, Conservation Nursery Program Coordinator, and Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator; Photos by Alexandra James

Students discuss environmental issues, their complexities, and how to approach finding solutions. Everyone was encouraged to discuss issues that were important to them and the ways they could research those topics to develop a better understanding of them.

Education is a core component of our mission. Our aim is to provide diverse formal and informal opportunities for education, and to offer new knowledge and new skills to inmates, staff, and community partners. We integrate education into every one of our programs, acting on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all participants. In addition, we have two dedicated programs with education as a central focus. These programs are the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series and Roots of Success, an environmental literacy program.

Bethany shares some of the experiences and opportunities that accompanied her education.

 

For our October Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) we decided to focus on the practice of education itself. Bethany Shepler, SPP’s Green Track Program Coordinator, led the workshop and asked students to think about what education is and what it means to them. Students tackled conceptual questions, investigating the benefits of education for themselves and their community, whether they’re incarcerated or otherwise.

To demonstrate the value of education, Bethany talked about the impact education has on reducing recidivism rates. Recidivism is when a previously incarcerated person returns to prison after release, and while this can occur for any number of reasons, usually this happens because they fall back into their old lives. To illustrate education’s role on reducing recidivism, she highlighted the many academic studies that cite education as the most successful means of reducing recidivism.

Roots instructor David Duhaime talks about how education enables you to become better at critical thinking; roots instructor Cyril Walrond is behind the podium.

None of this progress in reducing recidivism or bringing education into prisons would be possible without the support from Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC). WA DOC stands apart from many states because of their drive to work with incarcerated individuals instead of controlling them. WA DOC focuses on education and is an advocate for positive personal change. Dan Pacholke, the previous Secretary of Prisons, gave a TED talk in 2014 where he talked about the changes WA DOC made to how it operates and thinks. It is SPP’s belief that the changes Dan Pacholke talks about and initiated are partially why WA DOC is becoming more successful at reducing recidivism.

Bethany was joined by three Roots of Success instructors who engaged their peers and facilitated a discussion on the direct benefits of learning. Participants were excited to share their perspectives on education and how education has positively impacted their lives. Through dialogue and facilitated discussion, participants worked collaboratively to explore a topic of interest and report core aspects discussed back to the group – sparking great conversation and peer mentorship.

Roots instructor and Master Trainer, Cyril Walrond, encourages students to take up the initiative to start classes or projects they want to see at their facility.

There was a feeling of excitement pulsing through the room as the workshop neared its end. Two SCCC staff, Kelly Peterson and Mark Sherwood, took advantage of the excitement and shared information with participants on how to engage in various educational and trade skill opportunities within the facility, noting that opportunity starts with a general interest. Through curiosity, inquisitiveness and encouragement, education flourishes; that’s what happened at SCCC on October 18, 2018.

A New Innovative Partnership

Text by Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director, The Evergreen State College

Presentation team with WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar (from left to right, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Brian Bedilion, Roger Millar, and Kelli Bush)

Alvina Mao presenting at WSDOT Partnerships and Innovations conference

Over the past year, SPP Evergreen staff have been working with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) partners to develop new opportunities for education and employment pathways. The new partnership has tremendous support from WA Corrections Secretary, Stephen Sinclair, WSDOT Secretary, Roger Millar, and many staff at each agency. Building on successful prison program tours and executive leadership and committee meetings, WSDOT staff invited SPP-Evergreen staff and former SPP program participants to present at two recent conferences.

Each conference presentation included a panel with Carolina Landa and Brian Bedilion sharing their stories from pre-incarceration to post-release, Kelli Bush providing a brief overview of SPP, Alvina Mao and Eric Wolin discussing partnership alignment with WSDOT equity and inclusion goals, and Tony Bush describing education and employment pathway ideas in the environmental field.

The audience for the first conference was WSDOT environmental staff. Session participants enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to Carolina and Brian for sharing their experiences.

Carolina Landa presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

Following a successful session at the environmental conference, the panel received an invitation to present at the WSDOT Innovations and Partnership conference. The 4th Annual Innovations and Partnerships in Transportation conference included a welcome from Governor Inslee and an impressive variety of partner organizations. Our session titled “Forging a new partnership and building safe, strong communities through successful reentry” included productive discussion with attendees.

 

 

 

Brian Bedilion presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

The developing partnership among WSDOT, WA Corrections, SPP and others will provide exciting new education, training, and employment opportunities to incarcerated people in a variety of disciplines. Washington State Governor Inslee is a strong supporter of providing formerly incarcerated people employment as a way to build safer and stronger communities. The Governor signed executive order 16-05 directing state agencies to “implement further hiring policies intended to encourage full workforce participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories.” We are grateful to WSDOT and WA Corrections for providing such excellent support and enthusiasm for this growing partnership.

Conference presentation team (from left to right): Kelli Bush, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Alvina Mao, Brian Bedilion, and Molly Sullivan

Playing a small part for incarcerated men who “deserve no less”

Nancy DeWitt coordinates Sagebrush in Prisons programs in Idaho and Oregon. Often, she finds volunteers who can bring additional education and enrichment to the program. Recently, Nancy checked in with Marc Von Huene of Treasure Valley Beekeepers Association, to ask about his visit to the program at Snake River Correctional Institution. Here is his reply.

Hi Nancy:

Awfully good to hear from you!  And wow, you want me to just keep it down to a few sentences??!!  Tell you what.  I’ll just give you my thoughts and you can pick and choose what you want to include in your report.

Expert Beekeeper Marc Von Huene (left) works with incarcerated beekeeping students in the field. Photo by Nancy DeWitt.

As I had never worked with inmates before I had to overcome a lot of my preconceived ideas.  It’s a sad fact that many of us (my previous self included) envision inmates as those guys we see on Law and Order doing really bad things.  It leads many of us to believe that they deserve to be in prison, the longer the better.  But that’s so far from the truth that I’m ashamed to admit it.  These are people that lost their way for any number of reasons – bad influences, bad home life, questionable friends…….   And rehabilitation is absolutely the best option.  I’m glad I could play my small part.  I think giving these guys something to nurture and be proud of is a great way to bring out the caring people that are in each one of them.

 As an audience, they were fantastic.  I’ve never made presentations where the focus was as intense.  And I feel my short time with these guys is totally inadequate to turn them into good beekeepers.  The barriers are many – no direct communication, no internet access, limited equipment and supplies, limited time together.  But they try, and even though we’ve had some pretty big failures, we still learn together.

This next year I’ll get out earlier and work to spend more time with the new batch of inmates.  Hopefully the old hands will pass down their knowledge to the newcomers.

There was a lot of interest in my SRCI activities from officers in the Treasure Valley Bee Club, and the president of the Western Apicultural Society invited me to share my experience at their annual conference this last August.  The presentation went well, and was definitely a break from all the professors and specialists giving the majority of the presentations.  For most of them the presentation was a lot of data interspersed with stories.  For me, the presentation was a story interspersed with data.  It was the story about what I learned from working with the inmates and hopefully, what they learned from me.  The title of my presentation was “Beekeeping Behind Bars”, and I know I opened the eyes of a lot of participants.  Afterwards I had a lot of people come up to me and compliment me for the presentation and the work I was doing.  Several volunteered to come out with me the next time.  Yeah, it was good.

In closing I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.  I really wish I was closer to the facility, but we’ll make it work.  The effort is definitely appreciated by the inmates and they deserve no less.

Hope this is enough for you.  Stay in touch and let me know if you need anything else.

Best,

Marc

Art of the Oregon silverspot butterfly

By SPP SCCC Conservation Nursery Coordinator Graham Klag

Fall colors continue to take flight at Stafford Creek Corrections Center through the artistic talents of conservation technician Michael! Inspired by SPP lectures and nursery work, Michael’s artistic illustrations of the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta) captures the beauty of prairie conservation work. The Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is grown at SPP Prairie Conservation Nurseries for the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

The Early blue violet is the sole host plant for the caterpillar of the butterfly who needs to eat ~ 250 violet leaves to complete its life cycle. Michael and the conservation technician crew at Stafford Creek continuing to grow their knowledge of Washington and Oregon’s prairie ecosystems, while out growing the Early blue violet, for the habitat and lifecycle of Oregon silverspot butterfly. SPP is thankful for our conservation technicians’ work and artistic inspiration!

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penetintiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

LED Retrofits Pay Off

By James Atteberry, Facilities Manager for Washington State Penitentiary
and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

These LEDs are in the Steam Plant.

Starting in 2015, Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) has been committed to converting all lighting to LED (Light Emitting Diode) fixtures. LEDs are far more efficient than conventional fixtures, so replacements and retrofits should save energy and reduce expenses at the same time.

LEDs illuminate exercise in the South Complex gym.

East Complex parking lot lighting looking good after the switch to LEDs.

In the past year, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)’s headway toward meeting the commitment stands out; WSP’s Electrical Department has transformed their lighting landscape. The in-house team of staff and incarcerated electricians has completed eight major projects so far, renovating the lighting for the steam plant, general store, engineers warehouse dock, Unit 7 roof, east complex parking lot, and inside and outside the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) and gyms.

Of course, these retrofits required a sizable investment up front, but the payoffs come quickly. For the in-house projects completed thus far, the initial costs were about $73,000; pay back from incentive programs cut more than 30% off that price, reducing it to around $50,000. An additional project was contracted out, and another funded by Capital Projects; even in these cases, WSP received the incentive pay back. Before long, expected energy savings will pay off the rest: reduced energy bills for each area will pay off installation costs in one to six years. For example, the new lighting in and around the IMU will save WA Corrections $5,181 in energy bills annually; the savings pays off installation costs in less than three years, and, after that point, it frees up funds to spend on other necessities and improvements.

If that’s not already sweet enough, the labor saving in maintenance is huge as well. Some LED fixtures can last up to 20 years before needing repair! LED retrofits look like a total win for the prison. We offer our credit and thanks to WSP’s Electrical Department and to WA Corrections leadership for the vision and hard work that has gone into saving energy and creating efficiency.

These are the new LED roof lights; image to the right shows a close up.

The Sustainable Practices Lab exterior is now lit by LEDs.