Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons

By Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

A WSP Beekeeper gets geared up and ready to check on the hives. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You might think that beekeeping in prisons is a nice idea, but not a big idea: maybe it’s a small, fanciful project that would crop up here or there. Not the case!

In Washington State prisons alone, we already have seven beekeeping programs up and running, and at least three more are in the works. Beekeeping is also in the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and many corrections facilities nationwide, including Georgia, Maryland, IllinoisOregon, Florida, Nebraska, and LA County. Beekeeping programs can also be found in foreign prisons like England, New Zealand, Italy, and France. We’ve  been contacted by prisons interested in beekeeping in Massachusetts, Albania, and Canada!

Three Maryland facilities host honeybee programs to provide training for inmates and boost the local population of pollinators. These hives are at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Photo by Anthony DePanise of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Outside of prison, reentry programs, like Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, offer meaningful work experience. The founding executive  director of Sweet Beginnings, Brenda Palms Barber, found that “Fewer than 4% of Sweet Beginnings participants go back into the criminal justice system, compared with the national average of more than 65% and the Illinois average of 55%.” How amazing is that?

Adding to the honeybee focus are countless prison gardens that are accessible to many types of pollinators: beds of flowers and herbs, small-scale vegetable production, and full-scale farms. Corrections facilities typically don’t use any chemical pesticides, so don’t contain the systemic poisons that threaten foraging pollinators; prison plantings are helping to rebuild pollinator habitat by offering a safe food supply. Some prisons add habitat structures for native pollinators, such as mason bee boxes at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (see photo) and a literal-log delivered to the retention pond at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

These programs tap into the many therapeutic benefits of working with nature, which has been widely documented in scientific research. Working with honeybees is particularly soothing; it’s impossible to get good results with bees without calming down. Both inmates and staff sorely need relief from prison stresses, and nature programs can be a place of refuge and recharge.

Also these programs provide a way for inmates to “give back ” to communities and the environment.  In recent decades, pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy: we depend on pollinators for more than 30% of human food and drink. Generally, nearly all plants with flowers need pollinators; 85% depend on insects for their reproduction! We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. In 2015, pollinator health was declared a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is has societal recognition and value. This is no fanciful endeavor—we need bees to thrive so that we can thrive.

A professional beekeeper devoted her summer vacation to teaching about bees in a prison; how cool is that. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In Washington, we are ramping up to a full-day Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons, to be hosted by Washington Corrections Center for Woman on March 3rd. More than 100 people are registered, and they will come from all 12 Washington prisons, the Evergreen State College, various non-profits and community groups, and multiple beekeeping associations, including the statewide association that oversees beekeeping certification. A major bonus of holding the summit inside a prison is that incarcerated beekeepers will be able to participate. All partners will share best practices, future prison beekeeping plans, safety ideas, community outreach plans, and pollinator health knowledge. We can’t wait to hear what great ideas and thoughts come from our many, fantastic partners!

Each program depends on partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and expert beekeepers. They are united in learning about and tending to something beautiful, complex, and a little bit scary…until it becomes second nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prison Shares Earthworm Wealth with Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Text and photos by Sadie Gilliom, current SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator and previous Northwest Trek employee

The worm bin built for Northwest Trek with the team who created it.

Inside the three rows of razor wire, Monroe Correctional Complex houses more than incarcerated people. A partnership between an incarcerated individual and a correctional staff member initiated a waste reduction program that now is home for millions of thriving earthworms. Under the supervision of an officer, and with support from SPP-Evergreen, Nick Hackney—now a world renowned worm expert—and his team grew 200 worms into more than 10 million that process up to 40,000 lbs of food waste per month! The worm farm’s success has inspired addition of other programs; all are housed within a larger Sustainable Practices Lab. All the lab’s program have the benefit of coordination and oversite provided by Officer Jeff Swan.

This program has been around for over 6 years now, and the worm technicians have been spreading their worm wealth.  Most recently, the crew came built a heated outdoor worm bin for Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (Trek).  Trek plans to use the worm bin as a public engagement tool and will feed the worms with the scraps from the staff lunchroom.

Mr. Hackney shows Rachael Mueller how to use Trek’s new worm bin.

I had the privilege of coordinating the delivery and escorting a member of Trek’s conservation team, Rachael Mueller, up to Monroe for a tour and pick up of the finished product. I was present as two unlikely sustainability partners came together. It was a beautiful moment!

Mr. Juan shows how they use Bokashi bran to ferment meat before feeding it to the worms.

A few of the vermiculture techs helped load the bin into the truck.

Vermiculture Tech’s, Sadie Gilliom and Rachael Mueller pose at the end of the worm program tour.

The worm team at Monroe gave Trek a well-designed worm bin, shared their knowledge on how to maintain it and gave them a sample of black soldier fly larvae from a pilot program to see if they would want to use them as animal feed. Northwest Trek will be sharing the knowledge and story of the worm team’s impact on sustainability practices with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I would call that a great partnership!

Mr. Hackney and Rachael Mueller shake hands after the exchange

Thank you to Northwest Trek—especially the Conservation and Education Curator Jessica Moore—for being open to the idea. A big thank to the Monroe worm team and Officer Swan for donating their knowledge and a beautiful worm bin to Trek and their generations of visitors to come!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part One

Part One: Surveys Say…!

Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Figures by Liliana Caughman, SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series Coordinator

Brittany Gallagher receives a completed survey from a student at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Every SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture since 2009 has included surveys about the program. Before and after each lecture, we ask students to fill out surveys and hand them back, and usually they do. Lucky for us, the current lecture series coordinator, Liliana Caughman, is also a whiz kid with data. Building on the work of Tiffany Webb and Brittany Gallagher, Liliana examined answers from 15,874 before and after surveys from SPP lectures (do you see how big that number is?? It blows me away!).

The data show patterns that are impressive and statistically defensible. Here is a summary:

  • Figure 1.

    The students are gaining environmental knowledge from the lectures; not a big surprise, and always nice to have confirmation!

 

  • As the years pass, students are learning more from our lectures (see Figure 1). We wonder, does this mean they are becoming better students, or that the lectures themselves have improved?

 

  • Figure 2.

    As Tiffany Webb found in 2014, students’ attitudes about the environment have been steadily increasing over time (see Figure 2). Many students do not become more positive about the environment as a result of a single lecture, but most started with such positive regard of environmental topics that no change is still a good thing! I see this as confirmation of what we’ve experienced: that there has been a positive culture shift within Washington State prisons.

 

  • Figure 3.

    Liliana devised 3 criteria to describe how engaging a lecture is. She assigned a score for how much a lecture 1. provided hands-on experiences 2. empowered students to be helpful to others who are important to them 3. built community and connections between people. She compared each lecture’s engagement score with how much environmental attitudes increased for the same lecture, and found a lovely correlation (Figure 3). These results suggest that Liliana’s engagement score is valuable measure of a lecture’s quality. More importantly, I think, is that the 3 criteria become guides for guest lecturers going forward: we will ask them to make presentations with hands-on activities, ideas on how to help others, and ways to connect students to people inside and outside the prison.

Last week, we took these survey results to the classroom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. We asked the students for their input on how the program is offered, lecture topics, and the surveys themselves. They had so much valuable feedback that I will save it for Part Two of the story. Part Three will come when we take the same presentation and questions to Washington Corrections Center for Women in March!

To kick off discussion of the lecture series, Liliana Caughman described what the word sustainability means to her. Photo by Elijah Moloney.

 

Evergreen’s President for Climate Action

Letter from Higher Education Leaders on Climate Action

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Late last week, Evergreen’s President George Bridges joined hundreds of his colleagues nationwide in signing the Letter from Higher Education Leaders on Climate Action to president-elect Trump and members of Congress. In the letter, they urge the government to support:

1. Participation in the Paris Agreement, with the resulting national carbon reduction and clean energy targets, to protect the health of our current communities and our future generations.

2. Research in our academic institutions and in federal agencies to ensure that our national climate, energy, and security policies are based on leading scientific and technical knowledge.

3. Investments in the low carbon economy as part of a resilient infrastructure to ensure the country can adapt to changing climate hazards. These investments will also help grow American jobs and businesses. (Full text available here.)

In his associated statement to the Evergreen community, George said:

Our study and practice of environmental stewardship are deeply linked to our commitment to addressing global concerns about the health and welfare of all communities. Evergreen also assumes that understanding and solving environmental challenges such as climate change or food security requires firm grounding in research in the natural and life sciences. Equally important is understanding the role that social, political and economic forces play in causing these challenges and remedying them fully and effectively. Advancing knowledge about the challenges is critical. (Full text shown below.)

At SPP, we are tremendously grateful that the college’s president has taken a stand on what may be the most confounding, complex, and critical challenge yet faced by humankind. Thank you, George!

Here is George serving the campus community at the 2nd annual Clams with George free lunch; he loves to treat us! Photo from Evergreen archives.

New Turtles and New Technicians!

Text and photos by Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers programs just received new turtles last week!

New turtle at Larch Corrections Center

New turtle at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

These turtles just finished their treatments at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center and the Oregon Zoo and moved on to the prisons to be cared for and monitored by the trained turtle technicians at the prisons.

Technician Eldridge holding a new turtle at Cedar Creek

Speaking of turtle technicians, we would like to welcome two new technicians who joined the Larch program at the same time the turtles arrived. A big salutations to Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Larson!  They are getting some great training from current lead technician, Mr. Goff, before he moves on to try out the new dog program at Larch.

Two new turtle technicians at Larch posing with new turtles

Here’s to new turtles, new technicians, and to the future release of these turtles back into the wild!

Happy New Year!

Snakes in a prison

Text by Giovanni Galarza and Joslyn Rose Trivett
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Last week, SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center brought Giovanni Galarza and two snakes into the classroom. Giovanni is an Evergreen student and herpetology enthusiast, and he gave an exceptionally compelling presentation. Thank you to Ricky Osborne for his powers of photography—seeing these images is almost as good as being there!

Sierra, a Desert Kingsnake, investigates his enclosure before the lecture. Desert Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes native to the Southwestern United States, and are immune to the venom of Rattlesnakes which they prey on.

A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.

Giovanni passes around Brandy, a young Corn Snake, for students to touch.

Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.

Giovanni assists a student with proper handling of the Corn Snake.

For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with live snakes. Everybody seemed to gain a new appreciation for these beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.

 

The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.

Collecting Sagebrush Seeds

Article and photos by Gretchen Graber, Sagebrush Grower Contractor at the Institute for Applied Ecology

Seed collectors pose with their seed collection bags.

As part of the Great Basin Sagebrush partnership, we collected sagebrush seed twice this November. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Coyote Ridge off-site inmate technician crew collected first at Swanson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and then in the Saddle Mountains on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Both properties are part of Washington State’s sagebrush steppe landscape.

Seed collectors take turns viewing sagebrush seeds through a scope.

For the Saddle Mountain collection, many local native plant society members volunteered, and we were joined by a Juvenile Justice Center work crew. For both collections we had great weather. We enjoyed being outside learning about partnership efforts to restore shrub-steppe habitat for the continued existence of the imperiled greater-sage grouse.

We gathered seed from a subspecies of big sagebrush, called Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). The seeds will be shipped and cleaned at the Seeds of Success seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon. Then it will sent back to Washington State to be used to grow next year’s crop of 60,000 Wyoming big sagebrush plugs in Coyote Ridge’s Sagebrush Nursery. We collected enough seed to create a reserve supply for the program, and share with other programs for research and conservation purposes.

Seed collectors smile from the field, surrounded by mature sagebrush.

Seeds of Success intern Shawna Kelley supported both collections, along with BLM botanist Molly Boyter. Seeds of Success supports BLM’s Native Plant Materials Development Program whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring resilient ecosystems. The Wyoming sagebrush plugs will be planted onto fire damaged lands occupied by the greater-sage grouse. The entire seed collection and sharing process ensures the availability of genetically-appropriate seed for the recovery of the greater-sage grouse in Washington State. Funding for the program is provided by BLM in Washington D.C., the Institute for Applied Ecology coordinates programs regionally, and Sustainability in Prisons Project runs the Washington State program.

During seed collection, they discovered a dead lizard atop a spiny hopsage plant; it was probably intended for later eating by a loggerhead shrike (the Cornell laboratory describes the species as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits”).

What is an Aquatic Emergent Pre-Vegetated Mat?

By Amanda Mintz, Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery Coordinator, and Master of Environmental Studies student

EVM tech at work

Technician Kent Dillard inspects the plants for evidence of pests. Photo by Fawn Harris.

In SPP’s new Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we are growing native wetland plants in coconut fiber mats for wetland restoration projects. The program relies on a team effort from incarcerated technicians, prison maintenance staff, Evergreen’s program coordinators and managers, Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Center for Natural Lands Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife. All have done an amazing job meeting the challenges of the innovative program’s technical demands.

EVM meeting

DOC’s Jim Snider, technician Brian Bedilion, aquaponics expert Daniel Cherniske and SPP Program Manager Kelli Bush tour the nursery. Photo by Fawn Harris.

Coconut fiber mats, or “coir” mats, are commonly used in restoration for erosion control and suppression of weeds such as reed canarygrass. We are pre-planting them with wetland sedges and rushes, giving those beneficial plants a head start under nursery conditions. These plant types are known as “emergent” for their ability to grow through—emerge from—the water’s surface. Our hope is that the plants will be able to out-compete weeds and provide superior habitat for wildlife, such as the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

To grow the plants, we are using an aquaponics system. Two large fish tanks contain more than 100 koi, which produce waste that the plants use as nutrients. The water from the fish tanks circulates through the plant beds and then back to the fish tanks to pick up additional nutrients. The plants grow directly into the coir mats and do not need soil. By using an aquaponics system, we save water and reduce the need to weed or fertilize the plants.

We installed the first mats at Joint Base Lewis McChord in early November, and plan to have new mats ready in just a couple of months.

carl-and-mat

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott prepares to unroll a mat at JBLM. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

 

vegetated-mats-at-jblm

The first mats have been installed! Photo by Amanda Mintz.

New Turtles Arrived!

Text and photos by Sadie Gilliom, SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator

After a few months of waiting, Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers have each received a new batch of turtles for their Western Pond Turtle Rehabilitation Programs!

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One particularly adorable turtle who recently arrived at Cedar Creek.

During this waiting period, the turtles received acute care for shell disease, which included antibiotics, antifungal medication and shell surgery.  The turtles that have arrived have completed treatments and just need watchful eyes and extra time to heal and wait out the winter months. The technicians provide all of this and more. They were excited to have new turtles to care for and prep for their eventual release back into the wild!

Mr. Hill, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Hill, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Goff, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Goff, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

I delivered the turtles with the help of WDFW biologist, Emily Butler, to Cedar Creek on Monday November 1st and just this Monday  Larch received their turtles. We were honored to have Dr. Matt Brooks, a nutritionist from the Oregon Zoo, to help us transport the turtles to Larch.  This was Dr. Brooks’ first visit to the turtle program.  He is helping us to improve turtle health by increasing the nutritional value of their diets. We are so thankful for his help, as we are always looking for ways to improve the quality of care provided to these endangered turtles.  Thank you Dr. Brooks!

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Dr. Brooks and the Turtle Technicians posing with a bin full of mealworms. Dr. Brooks took a sample of mealworms back with him to test their nutritional value.