Workshops in the COVID-19 Era

Text and photos by Erica Benoit, SPP Workshop Series Coordinator

Unfortunately, the Environmental Workshop Series may be facing the greatest impact of all SPP programs due to COVID-19. While we are proud of the programs’ large crowds, we know that the coronavirus thrives in such environments. In an effort to protect our incarcerated and staff partners, the workshop series has been temporarily paused at all facilities. It is our goal to resume the regular workshop schedule and reschedule canceled workshops once it is safe to do so again.

Just before the shut-down, Fawn Harris brought Princess Remington back to prison.

As a part of our efforts to adapt and evolve, we are also test-driving a remote workshop learning plan at Stafford Creek Corrections Center so workshop students can continue to earn credit towards their workshop certificates. Beginning this month (May 2020), in lieu of in-person workshops, students will be able to watch videos on a specific environmental topic through an in-facility TV channel. In addition to viewing the selected videos, students will be required to reflect on what they learned in writing. Submitting this assignment will earn the equivalent of 1 regular workshop credit. Depending on the success of the remote learning plan, it may be expanded to additional facilities.

Still, we miss the workshops and the in-person interaction and knowledge gained from them. So, please enjoy these images of the last few in-person workshops we had in late February and early May.

Raptors of the Pacific Northwest, Workshop on March 6 at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

Fawn Harris and Michael William Etgen are from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Fawn used to coordinate one of SPP’s conservation nurseries and she facilitates wonderful workshops! (A photo of her and Princess Remington is at the top of this story.)

An Introduction to Permaculture, Workshop on February 20 at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

Sheilia Canada led a workshop on a sustainable living system that supplies all the needs of humanity while it benefits all creatures on Earth.

Hard to imagine when a class this size will feel safe again.
Following an in-class brainstorm session, a student shares with the class how he applied the zonal model of permaculture to an everyday life scenario.

Climate Crisis Solutions: Healthy Soils & Food Forests, Workshop on February 26 at Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

Julianne Gale, Zephyr Elise, and James Landreth from Mason County Climate Justice led a session on healthy soils and food forests as a potential solution to the climate crisis.

Student Impact Statement

By Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator and MES Student

Graham recently presented on the SPP-supported project at an International Association for Landscape Ecology – North America conference; see his virtual poster here.

The team examines and discusses new root growth; two of the technicians, Ronald Snider and Toby Erhart, seen here with Graham. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) affords Master of Environmental Studies students an endemic and indelible academic and professional-development opportunity. My experience as the Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for the programs at Stafford Creek and Washington Corrections Center for Women (SCCC and WCCW) gave me the chance to promote my academic and professional passion: promoting the restoration and enhancement of marginalized populations of Pacific Northwest prairie plant communities. While I contributed to the ecological functions of the Pacific Northwest’s most endangered ecosystems, I also learned how to better support the basic human functions of endangered and marginalized populations of people.

Working with incarcerated technicians continually revealed their resourceful creativity and their desire to meaningfully contribute to the society from which they have been disconnected. Masters students such as myself support technicians’ connections to ecological concepts, while we also connect our (my) consciousness to our nation’s culture of incarceration.

In the project, this was the first violet to bloom! Photo by Graham Klag.

My thesis research project uses coconut coir mats for the restoration and enhancement of the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) for the larval development of the Oregon silverspot butterfly. The project has been possible only due to the combination of resources and partnerships that SPP has afforded me. As part of my work coordinating SPP’s Prairie Conservation Nurseries, my position helped me access hoop house space, seed, materials, staff, input, and other resources that have led to the success of my research project. The experience allows me to see the value of project-based adaptive management, scientific research, and education to advance the skills and education of technicians and myself.

The team discusses trials of mat substrate types; Toby Erhart and Bien Van Nguyen are the most-visible technicians. Photo by Shauna Bittle.
SCCC’s place-made prairie; the technician holds the garden’s design template. Photo by Graham Klag.

During my time with SPP, I have learned that this connection to place is a basic human need. While dealing with incarcerated technicians’ unfortunate connection to the place of prison, we fostered their connection to other ecosystems — ones that need our help. The fortune of those rare ecosystems can be found from more and more connections to conservation science.

I see restoration ecology as a place-making process. Through my research design and implementation, technicians and I shared in the scientific method, connecting us to the coastal prairie environments of the Washington and Oregon coast. As part of that process, this year we constructed a prairie garden inside the facility at SCCC; we planted extra prairie plants that we had grown for various restoration sites within the Salish lowlands and created a bit of prairie inside the prison.

At the basis of all life’s functions is the need for connection. My position with SPP combined with my studies provides me a connective power. I wish to share that power with individuals disconnected from our modern society. SPP is a true asset to The Evergreen State College’s mission and core values, providing academic and professional empowerment opportunities to students, staff, and the greater community. I feel lucky to be a part of this special community experience and reflect on human ecology and empathy. I have new insight into how the landscape reflects how we treat each other and the good life of being a Greener.

Graham at the Rock Creek coastal prairie research site with ready-to-plant plugs of early blue violet (Viola adunca), Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri), and coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). Photo by Rolando Beorchia from Institute for Applied Ecology.

Are you right for the garden & is the garden right for you?

By Carly Rose, Curriculum Development Coordinator at SPP-Evergreen

Gardeners work together at WCCW. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

What makes a garden in prison worth tending, and how does an incarcerated person know that gardening is a good fit for them? The history of agriculture in the U.S. has encompassed both incredible advances in supporting human health while also contributing to historical oppression. Especially given that history, whether or not to garden should be the decision of the gardener. Especially in prison, how does an incarcerated person know that gardening is a worthy part of their journey?

Horticulture students at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) harvest potatoes. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

I have created a list of conditions that I believe signify that the person is right for the garden and the garden is right for them. These principles may be considered by any gardener, whether inside or outside of prison.

1. You want to grow plants.

Two gardeners wash and bag bok choi harvested at WCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

2. You find joy in growing plants. Gardening is an act of dedication, patience, and surrender, and not everyone finds joy in such a commitment. When you are in the garden, if you lose track of time, if you find yourself reveling in the small details of the garden,  if you find yourself a student of the garden, then the garden is for you.

3. The act of gardening reflects your inner self. You can see yourself in the cycles of the garden.

4. Your body, mind, heart, and spirit want you to tend the garden.

Ben Aseali poses in his garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

5. Gardening connects you to your community. Whether you produce beautiful flowers and food for people, animals, or insects, aquatic plants to oxygenate bodies of water, shrubs, and trees to oxygenate the air, you will be able to sense the ways that gardening connects you to your world.

6. Gardening connects you to your culture. In almost every culture of the world, people cultivate plants to feed their community. If gardening connects you to your culture, it is a gift to you and your loved ones.

A gardener steps on her shovel at WCCW. Photo by Benj Drummond & Sara Joy Steele.

Gardening is not everyone’s cup of chamomile tea – and it shouldn’t be. As a collective, we are made stronger through a diversity of interests and talents, and gardening is only one. For those of you who are willing, joyful, and overwhelmed with the beauty (ok…and work) at harvest time, I hope the seasons are kind to you this year.

The garden crew shows off a prize cauliflower at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Don Carlstad.

Like honeybees, we are working together

Honeybees often form chains while they are building honeycomb. Some beekeepers call the chains a “festoon,” suggesting a decorative garland; visually, it is a beautiful metaphor for teamwork.

Text by Carrie Hesch, Beekeeping Liaison for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Sandy Faranara, President of West Sound Beekeepers Association

Honeybees destined for the program at Washington Corrections Center for Women are settling in well to their temporary foster home. They are under the expert care of foster parent Sandra Fanara, program partner and president of the West Sound Beekeepers Association.

Due to COVID-19, Sandy and the bees have been unable to come into the facility. The incarcerated beekeepers and I are excited for when we can start caring for these new hives. In the meantime, Sandy is adding to our shared story by sending us photos and updates frequently.

The image of the workers forming a chain between the frames makes me think of how we are all working together around a common goal to preserve life. Despite everything, the bees are an iconic view of resilience. Have an inspired week!

The hive’s queen, named the Queen of Diamonds, is labeled with a blue dot (helps beekeepers take special notice of her). You can see some of her eggs in the cells behind her; they look like tiny grains of rice.

An earlier story about his program is available here: 

Welcoming the bees back to WCC

Photos by Jenn Bullard, Washington Corrections Center
Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP-Evergreen, Laurie Pyne, Centralia College, and Jenn Bullard

WCC’s Intensive Bee Management Unit buzzes with new honeybees.

Joslyn Rose Trivett: Last week, Washington Corrections Center (WCC) welcomed bees back to the program. While it is still tough for volunteers and contract staff to give support in-person, this bee program is blessed with experienced beekeepers and supportive corrections staff. April 18th was the day to receive and install the new honeybees; here are a few photos and thoughts from partners.

This is a 3-pound “package” of bees with a queen….a common way to start a new hive. These bees belong to the Italian subspecies known for its calm temperament.

Jenn Bullard: What a great afternoon! The sun was wonderful, the air was fresh, and the bees were absolutely amazing! They were calm and collected, which was great. ☺

After pouring a package of bees into the hive, a beekeeper carefully places the frames. Notice the queen cage sitting on the edge of the hive box (upper left), waiting to be installed next.
Beekeepers placed added quart jars of sugar syrup to the hives. These will feed the bees while they get established in their new home.

The 4 incarcerated beekeepers did a great job installing the hives–each one got to empty the box into the hive, and they all did a fantastic job!

Laurie Pyne: It’s a very jazzy thing to install a package of 10,000 bees into a hive on your own…and a real confidence builder.

Thank you, Jenn and Andy [Williams], for all you did on the ground there to make today happen. I so appreciate you both and the ongoing support for the beekeeping programming at WCC.

Another beekeeper eases frames into a newly-populated hive.

Letter to in-prison partners

By Erica Benoit, Kelli Bush, Carl Elliott, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP-Evergreen

As is true for so many folks, recent weeks have been demanding. Responding to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19) in Washington State has presented challenges. Every SPP program is a partnership, but maintaining these partnerships and programs is more difficult from a distance. Despite this, we continue to find innovative ways to maintain our commitment to SPP programs and maintain our partnerships with staff and incarcerated individuals.

To provide some insight on how SPP is adapting during this time, we share a letter sent to corrections partners. This general letter was also adapted for different partners and programs to provide next steps for each programs. As has been the case generally, our plans will likely continue to evolve as the situation changes. If you have specific questions related to SPP programs at this time, please contact spp@evergreen.edu.

Dear SPP technicians, students, educators, and corrections staff,

We want you to know that we are thinking of all of you during this challenging time. Your safety and well-being are our highest priorities. To reduce the risk of spreading infection to you and in alignment with Governor Inslee’s executive order to “stay home,” SPP staff program visits with incarcerated people have been suspended. We will resume our in-prison interactions when it becomes clear that we can do so safely, and based on advisement from Centers for Disease Control and WA Corrections Administration.

During hive cleanup in early March, bee program liaison Carrie Hesch holds a piece of honeycomb that broke off in a heart shape. Can’t think of a more fitting recipient — her approach to teamwork is compassionate, life-affirming, and productive. Photo by Shohei Morita.

Over the years and in partnership with many of you, we have found ways to offer innovative science and sustainability education programs in prisons. We care deeply about our shared efforts and your role in this partnership. We don’t want to lose what we’ve created together. These challenging times call for further innovation, compassion, and resilience.

To make the best of the current situation, we are turning our attention to developing more education and training materials.  We are working to identify safe ways to continue education and program operation as we can. For most programs, we plan to follow up with ideas for projects you can be involved with, as you are in good health and available to participate.

In a photo from last year: a member of the lawn and garden crew at Stafford Creek shows care one of his peers. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

We welcome your ideas for safely maintaining programs, education, and partnerships. We’ll do our best to respond to letters and other communications from you as quickly as we can. 

Thank you for your understanding and patience in this uncertain time. We are thinking of you and your well-being.

Sincerely,

Sustainability in Prisons Project Staff at Evergreen

(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!