(Before COVID19): Octopus Kicks off the Workshop Series at MCCCW

By Joslyn Rose Trivett and Erica Benoit, SPP at Evergreen
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A Pacific red octopus uncurls its tentacles as it swims back in forth in front of the class at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW).

One of the best things that we have been a part of in 2020 was the launch of our workshop series at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW). Hard to believe it was only a month ago — life is so different today than it was then. Our main focus has to be responding and adapting to the COVID 19 crisis, and still it’s important to let ourselves focus on the good and the positive. For the sake of our partners in prison, we want to continue share some of the magic of nature and environmental education inside of prisons and the partners who make it possible. These programs are so valuable and important to us; we can’t wait to continue to support them inside prison as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Here are some of our favorite images from the first SPP Environmental Workshop at MCCCW, Octopus Intelligence. Rus Higley and Joanne Park of the Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center at Highline College facilitated an excellent session. Of course the real star of the show was the juvenile Pacific red octopus (the same species but a different individual than the one who visited a 2016 workshop at Stafford Creek…the MaST Center releases an octopus back to the wild when its behavior suggests that it is ready to go.)

Christina Flesner studies the octopus…while it studies her back! Can’t know for sure, but Rus Higley made a compelling case for high levels of octopus awareness and smarts.
MCCCW’s Lieutenant visits with the octopus. She has been a solid supporter of other SPP programs at MCCCW as well.
Meg Ward studies a preserved specimen.
Jasmine Sabourin visits with the octopus. Several viewers showed similar happiness in the octopus’ presence.
Two officers stayed for the workshop and appeared to enjoy and appreciate the session as much as the incarcerated students.
Students’ questions were one of the best parts of the workshop. Some of the topics they asked about were how octopuses are affected by pollution (a lot), whether it’s possible to tag and track them (possible and really tricky), whether females can opt-out of reproduction, which is a mortal act (probably not), and the quality of life for octopuses in captivity at the lab.

The second workshop in the series took place only a week later and featured some local predator birds (an owl and a turkey vulture). Although the workshop series is currently on hold at all 3 facilities, we’re looking forward to continuing the series as soon as we can. Once it’s safe to do so, partners plan for the MCCCW series to reoccur on the first Friday of every month.

Hope all of our partners are staying well and safe. We are thinking of you more than ever.

Buzz about the bees: A chance to offer transformational education

By Shohei Morita, Beekeeping Program Coordinator for Sustainability in Prisons Project and Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit

Previously published in Washington State Beekeepers Association February 2020 Newsletter. Learn more about the people in SOU’s program.

Incarcerated beekeeping students at Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit (MCC-SOU) are among the most enthusiastic beekeepers in the state, always eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can. But, right now, there is something they are missing – an expert beekeeping instructor!
 
Do you love challenges and gaining new and rewarding experiences? MCC-SOU is looking for enthusiastic volunteer expert beekeepers to lead beekeeping certification classes!  
 
The beekeeping program, a collaborative effort by MCC-SOU, SPP staff at Evergreen, and Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), provides therapeutic educational opportunity designed to break the cycle of incarceration and rebuild honey bee populations. You can be a part of the movement to provide incarcerated adults quality environmental education and job skills experience.
 
In just a few years, 11 prison facilities across the State have attained over 550 certifications. Most of these are “Beginner” level certificates, but some incarcerated individuals have attained “Apprentice” and even “Journeyman” level certificates. The program at MCC-SOU is relatively new and staff and student investment in the program is high. In the past year, 9 incarcerated beekeepers have attained Beginner certification and 5 have reached Apprentice-level certification.
 

Beekeepers in Monroe Correctional Complex’s sister program, at the Twin Rivers Unit, work with hives; this program is wonderfully supported by the Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

As a program partner, expert beekeeping instructor(s) are in charge of teaching beekeeping classes using the WASBA curriculum and guiding field work to provide formal beekeeping education and certification. MCC-SOU is happy to work around the instructor(s) schedules, including nights or weekends. All course and teaching materials including curriculum slides and textbooks will be provided. You are more than welcome to bring and share your own personal beekeeping tools and supplies, but that is not required.  

During an amphibian workshop, SOU students ask questions of guest expert Sadie Gilliom; Sadie shared that they were some of the most interested and engaged students ever! Photo by Liliana Caughman.

MCC-SOU is a unit dedicated to housing and treating individuals with mental health challenges. Therapeutic and educational programs are an important part of their care. Many men in the unit find focus and challenge to be both relieving and empowering. This is an opportunity for you to help a group of people who have traditionally been dismissed, ignored, and stomped on by society by making them feel beautiful and powerful, all through your area of expertise – beekeeping! 
  
If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information, check out this article and please contact SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, Shohei Morita at Shohei.morita1@evergreen.edu or (360)-867-5758.
 
“I was previously afraid of bees, so it was with much trepidation that I forged ahead and gained an appreciation, no a love, for these wonderful and oh so necessary creatures. The bees not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.” – Incarcerated student beekeeper

Delighted by bees: SOU Beekeeping Program

By Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for MCC-SOU

Note: please be aware that some individuals featured in this story have victims who may be re-traumatized by seeing their image; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

Happy and healthy bees thrive in an SOU hive. Photo by Kathy Grey.

In the spring of 2018, the Monroe Correctional Complex Special Offender Unit (SOU) embarked on a new and exciting sustainability program, beekeeping. It was a leap of faith to start such an endeavor with a group of mentally-challenged, incarcerated men and a couple of staff members who knew absolutely nothing about the world of beekeeping. Luckily, we were able to partner with Kurt Sahl, an experienced, community beekeeper and a patient and benevolent teacher. Kurt taught the 2 staff students and the 5 inmate students the basics and soon we were donning our suits and installing our bee packages and queens.  

Graduates from the first class show of their certificates in 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

SOU had chosen to use 3 Top Bar hives and it was thrilling to see those bars transformed into comb-covered receptacles for honey and brood. We all delighted in watching our bees return to the hives packing pollen or witnessing the amazing waggle dance as one bee conveyed vital information to other worker bees. The more we learned, the more all of us became enthralled at the magic and mystery of nature. The bees had many lessons for us as well. They taught us about industry, teamwork, and selflessness.

The men treated the bees with such care and gentleness, always strategizing the best way to help them, and the whole program, succeed in our joint quest to make honey, increase brood, and stave off predators.   

More proud graduates pose in December, 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

When we weren’t working in the hives, we were studying; first, for the Beginner Certification, and then on to the Apprentice Certification. The men devoured the manuals cover to cover and read all the beekeeping books the lending library had to offer. The studying paid off. Over the past 2 years, 9 out of the 10 SOU men attained their Apprentice Certification. 

Additionally, those same men have since gone on to fulfill a vital part of our mission: to talk to others, as long and as often as possible, about the present plight of our pollinators. They found a receptive audience and now SOU is a buzz with bee talk.

As one of the beekeepers said to me

I thought coming to prison was going to be the end of me. Instead I was given this gift and it has changed me in ways I never thought possible. 

I guess that kind of says it all.

Bringing honeybees back to WCCW

Text and photos by Shohei Morita, SPP Bee Programs Coordinator

Kathleen Humphrey proudly holds her personalized bee-themed bookmark, presented to all student beekeepers to use during their future studies. (Her official certificate will arrive in the mail soon.)

Last week, we celebrated 16 incarcerated and 5 staff students who just completed Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA)’s beginning beekeeper course. Program partners gathered to celebrate at Washington State Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Taught by expert beekeeper Sandra Fanara of West Sound Beekeepers Association, the students learned the basics of beekeeping. This prepares them for more advanced study and the hands-on field work involved in the apprentice level course. After completing the course, there was a celebration to recognize their accomplishment with bee themed cupcakes. Students will also receive an official certificate from WASBA.

To celebrate, I brought bee-themed cupcakes complete with tiny edible bees and flowers! They were unusually delicious.  🙂

This was the first time since 2017 that WCCW has hosted the WASBA course. We are excited that many of these students plan to immediately advance apprentice course, which will start as soon as the bees arrive in April. In prepare, students, staff, and expert beekeeper will clean all the equipment and prepare the new apiary. Then they will be ready to dive in and experience working with honeybees. We are so excited to see this program flourish and provide therapeutic and empowering experience to the students.

Thank you to our expert beekeeper Sandy Fanara, and to our DOC liaisons Carrie Hesch and Muriah Albin for their commitment and dedication to reviving this program. Most importantly, thank you and congratulations to the newly certified student beekeepers!

Fall Flowers

Text and photos by Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) shows off in the nursery yard. Photo by Graham Klag. 

Stafford Creek Corrections Center has hosted a prairie conservation nursery since 2009 — that’s ten years. Considering how many partners are involved and the challenges of growing rare and endangered species, a decade of success is impressive, to say the least!

In 2019, the team grew 35 different species of plants to restore and enhance precious prairie ecosystems in Washington and Oregon. Here are some of the flowers of fall, blooming inside the prison nursery. 

Could there be a better dark orange than the flowers of harsh Indian paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)?!
This is bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia). 
This is a wider view of the nursery yard.

What’s in a thesis

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

I presented this copy of my thesis to the advisor team at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, represented here by Kelly Peterson and David Duhaime. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This past June Dr. Tyrus Smith signed my thesis. He was my thesis advisor and his signature validated all of my hard work over the last year-and-a-half. Suffice it to say, I was ecstatic! My thesis process was more difficult than I imagined it would be, took longer than I expected, and I am truly proud of the end product.

Following completion of my thesis, I returned to SCCC to present on the process and findings. Photo by Erica Benoit.

Before we move on, I could not have gotten to that moment of completion without the support of Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies faculty (Dr. Tyrus Smith, Dr. Kevin Francis, and Dr. Shawn Hazboun), my friends and family, my classmates, the people who participated in my study, the loggers that answered all of my questions, and the constant support from incarcerated and staff advisors at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Thank you all!!

Thank you to everyone who supported me and made this research possible! That’s me presenting my thesis to the community at The Evergreen State College. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Thesis advisors in prison

From the very beginning of my thesis process, I knew I wanted to work with incarcerated individuals and SPP supported me in making this possible. So, I invited environmental studies experts housed at SCCC to work with me as advisors. I worked with the Roots of Success instructors and the Roots liaison at the facility, Kelly Peterson. A photo of me and the advisors is shown below.

These advisors helped me formulate the roots from which my thesis grew and greatly contributed to the process, too. From left to right: Cyril Walrond, Steven Allgoewer, David Duhaime (top), Anthony Powers, Kelly Peterson, and myself. Photo credit: SPP Staff.

Over the past two years, we met on multiple occasions. To develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, the incarcerated advisors studied the articles and references I provided; they read peer-reviewed academic articles, research planning guides, newspaper articles, and other publications. They offered feedback and ideas on several aspects of the research including topic selection, philosophical framework, research design, study population, survey design, and presentation of the topic.

Seminar

This past February, Kelly Peterson helped me set up a seminar with a larger group, and included Dr. Smith. We asked all participants to read four pieces beforehand, to prepare for the discussion. Two were data-heavy, very dense, dry academic articles describing the theoretical framework I used for my thesis. Another was a piece President Roosevelt wrote after visiting the Pacific Northwest, in which he proposed a forest plan. And the last was an academic article about common predictors of environmental attitudes.

Here’s a group photo of the people who participated in the thesis seminar. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

I remember being nervous that no one would want to talk and I could not have been more wrong! They had all clearly done deep dives into the reading and made interesting connections I had missed in my own review of the literature. Everyone had thoughtful input and suggestions for things to explore and add to my thesis. The seminar was lively and thoughtful and there was never a quiet moment.

What is my thesis about?

My completed thesis is titled: A critique of the New Ecological Paradigm: Stewardship and a case study of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. It explores the concept of stewardship and how it fits into the New Ecological Paradigm. The study population was people actively working in the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.

I presented my thesis as part of the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at SCCC. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This research project was an exploratory study designed to document the ecological attitudes of loggers in the Pacific Northwest. As an exploratory study, I sought to contribute to a gap in the empirical literature: how loggers view the environment. I gathered their responses to the New Ecological Paradigm questionnaire, a measure of their ecological attitudes. Also, I collected information about each participant’s experiences in nature and their socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

Hanging out with loggers

Over the summer Pulley Corporation, an FSC®-Certified logging company agreed to let me shadow them for a day. This was an incredible opportunity for me and I am so grateful to everyone for answering all of my questions. Being able to speak with loggers who work in the field expanded my background knowledge on logging in the Pacific Northwest, and helped inform the survey I used to gather data. From these interactions, and many others, I noticed two attributes shared by all: a stewardship mindset and pro-ecological attitudes.

Regardless of their obvious pro-ecological attitudes, the sample population scored lower on the New Environmental Paradigm than most Washington State residents. This suggested to me that the New Environmental Paradigm measures attitudes using a socially-exclusionary lens.

When I shadowed the crew for the day, Pulley Corporation was working at Mt. St. Helens repairing and restoring an elk migration path for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

So, what’s in a thesis? Well, in my case, a thesis is a collaboration of very diverse groups of people, all environmentally inspired and dedicated, and all willing to support me as a graduate student. I am lucky to have all their brilliance and input in those pages.

Why Aquaponics in Prison?

By William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Science Technician. Photos by Marisa Pushee.

In early 2018, the Sustainability in Prison Project (SPP) partnered with Symbiotic Cycles to bring aquaponic gardening to Cedar Creek Corrections Center. I joined the program in spring of 2019 and I’m excited to be a part of this project because I view sustainability as a critical element of food security. This program exposes incarcerated individuals like myself to a new skill set required for maintaining alternative agriculture practices. I have also been excited to learn that this rapidly growing field is gaining momentum worldwide both as a backyard hobby and as a larger-scale means to harvest produce without tilling and weeding.

From left to right: SPP Biological Science Technician William Rathgeber, Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli, and SPP Biological Science Technician Sanchez Bagley.

Aquaponic gardens can produce food naturally and organically with much less water than a conventional garden. Aquaponics is also more sustainable than traditional farming practices. The project comprises of an aquaculture system based on a symbiotic relationship between bacteria, plants, and fish in a closed ecosystem. The plants grow in a soil-free aquaculture and the plant roots clean the water for the fish while the fish provide nutrients for the plants. The plants and the fish work together so the water can be recycled indefinitely. Only evaporated water needs to be replenished. 

Environmental, economic, and health concerns are excellent reasons to adopt an aquaponic garden. Aquaponic gardening offers a chance to reduce our carbon footprint because the produce being harvested doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to your grocery store. It also doesn’t add fertilizers that can pollute the local water reservoir or harm the local flora and fauna. Additionally, aquaponics is becoming popular among young and old locavores (people who buy local) concerned with nutrition, avoiding artificial additives, and protecting the environment.

Kale has been a consistent success in the system, growing well through the winter.

In an increasingly environmental and sustainable focused world, these alternative agriculture practices prepare incarcerated individuals to have skill sets that will compete with the changing times. While incarcerated, we are not only educated in this alternative aquaculture practice but we get to provide the fruits of our labor to the kitchen for mainline meals. The Cedar Creek aquaponics system is supported by the design team at Symbiotic Cycles. They also provide consultation and informational on-site visits conducting hands-on question/answer seminars for Cedar Creek SPP Technicians and Centralia College Horticulture students.

Showcasing “Art is Freedom”

Text and photos by Erica Benoit, SPP Environmental Workshop Series Coordinator

SPP artwork presented at the Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington

Incarcerated artists at Stafford Creek Corrections Center recently showcased their art in two venues. First, organizers of the Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington asked if they could display a selection of workshop series screen-prints at the conference exhibit on October 30. Soon after, Stafford Creek hosted an art show that allowed several talented artists to promote their art to the local community.

Nature & Health Symposium Exhibit

The Nature & Health Symposium is organized by University of Washington’s EarthLab. Their Nature and Health Director reached out after seeing the SPP blog about screen-printed art created in the SPP Workshop Series.

In addition to art and images from the workshops, the exhibit included writing and artwork from artist and former Sagebrush technician Lawrence Jenkins.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center Exhibit

SPP table at the Stafford Creek art show.

Soon after, SPP-related artwork was featured at the Stafford Creek art show. In addition to a few of the screen-prints, colored pencil portraits of North American perching songbirds (passerines) and an Anna’s hummingbird by artist Michael Gorski were included.

Artist Edmund Ball crocheted a beautiful piece that featured flowers, a butterfly, and a bee against a backdrop of prison bars.
Marvin Faircloth’s artwork

One particular artist, Marvin Faircloth, who has contributed his time and artistic ability to SPP previously, painted a colorful piece that he cut into business card sized squares to distribute to visitors to illustrate our interconnectedness. On the back of these cards, he included his name along with short quotes. I chose a card that said “Art is freedom,” which I think beautifully sums up the ability of art to reach beyond the walls of prison.

In addition to SPP art, the show included many more talented artists, some of which featured nature prominently in their work. Please enjoy the selection included below:

This artist finger painted his pieces!

Rolling out wetland plants for the Samish Indian Nation

By Anna Duron and Carl Elliott, Coordinator and Manager for the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program

EVM technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center loaded up jelly-rolled mats for delivery to the Samish Indian Nation. Photo by Anna Duron.

This year, the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program grew fifty mats for the Samish Indian Nation. Each mats was 15-feet-long and embedded with native wetland species Carex exsiccata, Glyceria elata, and Juncus supiniformis. Program technicians were instrumental in improving germination protocols, resulting in early spring plant growth. These young plants were ready for transplanting into the coconut mats by early summer. Again thanks to improved cultivation techniques, the plants grew vigorously; by September, the lush growth covered 80% of the mats’ surface. 

In mid-July, Josh Hieronymus, Graham Klag, Joseph Oddo, and Anna Duron check on wetland plants growing in the EVM nursery. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

We rolled up the mats in October, put them in a 24-foot truck without good shocks, and drove them to the Samish Indian Nation–a bit of a loud and  bouncy ride. Access to the planting site was by water, so we unloaded the mats into a warehouse and drove back south.

The mats were loaded onto boats to reach their destination across the Samish River. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.
The Samish Indian Nation team shuttled the mats by boat. Photo by Charles Biles.

The restoration site is along the Samish River in an area recently confirmed as inhabited by the state-endangered Oregon spotted frog. Employees and volunteers from the Samish Indian Nation boated the mats to the site. They unrolled each mat and staked it in place. With the help of our prison-grown mats, they hope to improve the site’s native plant communities and create a better home for Oregon spotted frogs.

They placed the mats in a habitat recovery area. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.
The mats were successfully put into place by these hard workers. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation
Oregon spotted frog seen checking out the newly placed mats. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.

See Go Skagit’s news coverage of the project here.

Aquaponic knowledge, from one program to another

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

This week, students and conservationists gathered in the greenhouse at Cedar Creek where Anna Duron led a workshop for the aquaponics program. Anna serves as the SPP Coordinator for the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program at Stafford Creek and drew from her background in utilizing aquaponics for conservation initiatives. The workshop focused on best practices when working with aquaponics and the chemistry behind maintaining a stable system.

SPP Coordinator Anna Duron and SPP Biological Science Technician Will Rathgeber show workshop participants how to test pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia for the water in the Cedar Creek aquaponics system.
Anna describes her work with the EVM aquaponics system at Stafford Creek, detailing the differences between varying approaches to aquaponics.

SPP Biological Science Technicians as well as students and TAs from Centralia College‘s horticulture program joined for the hands-on learning opportunity. They tested the pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels of the water in the aquaponics system, discussing why certain results were more desirable and how the plants respond if any of the readings are too high or too low.

Many of the workshop participants were current TAs or students in the Centralia College horticulture program at Cedar Creek.
Workshop participant watches the fish enjoy their breakfast.

Since many of the workshop participants were horticulture enthusiasts, they compared successes and challenges, finding commonality in obstacles like plant nutrition and integrated pest management. We look forward to continued collaboration with such an engaged group of students!

Workshop participants discuss plant health.