Sustainability… in Prison? SPP Coordinator and MES Graduate Candidate, Tiffany Webb, shares her experience of working in prisons.

By Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Cross posted from the Evergreen State College, Master of Environmental Studies Program blog.

I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone with dreams and aspirations of working in a prison. I can certainly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied for an internship position with the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2013. I was set on Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies Program, but wasn’t quite sure where my professional life was headed.

Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Moving from Alabama to Washington State was a huge step, but I was excited and ready. I had just finished my B.S. in earth system science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, completed a grant-funded sustainability project, and rounded out some climate vulnerability work I had been doing with the NASA DEVELOP National Program.

Now I was looking for exciting justice-oriented work in my new Olympia home, and SPP offered that. But I found myself questioning my place in prisons. How could I fundamentally disagree with a system, yet work within it? Even further, how can I apply “sustainability” to a system I don’t actually wish to sustain? These questions have been a driving force throughout my time with SPP. I have worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project for nearly two years now, and have come to realize the importance of inside-out change makers. So often, those who want to make broad-scale cultural and systemic change clash with institutions of power, sometimes stifling the efficacy of their campaigns. SPP has taken a unique approach by forming a long-term partnership with such an institution, while simultaneously initiating programs that benefit those who are currently incarcerated. From organic gardens to inmate-led environmental classrooms, the SPP model has been integrated widely in WA prisons over the past 10 years. This has inspired changes within individual prison facilities and more broadly across the entire department of corrections—SPP now has a national network!

 

Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

SPP is also connected to Evergreen, which allows a bridge between higher education, students and faculty, prisons and staff, and prisoners. Through the partnership between Evergreen and Washington State corrections, I am not only able to learn about issues of mass incarceration and theories of prison reform within a classroom, but I am actually able to be part of providing resources and educational programs for incarcerated men and women. Inmates constantly express interest in environmental resources and information for how to be part of the green economy once they are released, and it has been eye-opening to try and meet their needs. This is a population and perspective that many environmental organizations tend to neglect and I have witnessed the importance of these incarcerated individuals within the broader environmental discussion.

Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Working with corrections staff, prisoners, and environmental community organizations has broadened my understanding of environmental justice— just how many populations are we leaving out of environmental initiatives? This position has inspired me to speak out as an ally for incarcerated individuals and to further advocate for prison reform, both from an environmental and social justice lens. I plan to stay involved with SPP and volunteer with other organizations working inside prisons, with ex-felons, as well as tackling prison policy and other issues in the criminal justice system. While this endeavor has presented a plethora of professional opportunities, the most important thing it has offered me is the experience of meaningful work with people who have a diverse range of perspectives and interests. This is an experience I will carry with me far beyond my time at Evergreen and with SPP.

SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

I am sad to be leaving my position this year, but excited to know that a fresh mind will be joining the program. Leaving SPP also means losing connection with some of the most inspirational people I have met: prisoners who teach and facilitate environmental courses; people of color who empower themselves and fellow prisoners through amazing spoken word and art pieces about racism in America and the criminal justice system; and even corrections staff who are trying to make prison conditions better, dedicating what little spare time they have to supporting and furthering SPP programs. That doesn’t begin to cover the surprising range of inspiration I have felt in prisons; these memories and emotions will be with me no matter where my journey takes me next.

Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

 

Each One, Teach One

by Christina Stalnaker, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant

I’ve had the privilege of working with and visiting several prison classrooms delivering the Roots of Success environmental literacy curriculum.  I’m encouraged to see inmates challenging themselves with material designed for graduate students (some lessons are similar to what we are learning in our MES core classes). Yet I am even more struck by the classroom atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie.  These prisoners come from many different backgrounds and their identities often pit inmate against inmate.  I can’t help but ask myself: In this potentially volatile environment, how is a Roots course able to generate productive discussions?

Our dedicated education programs include monthly science and sustainability lectures at three prisons, an environmental literacy program at three others, and many vocational horticulture programs offered in partnership with community colleges and WSU Extension offices.  Photo by SPP staff.

Roots students at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) work in groups to finish assignments in their workbooks.  These activities challenge inmates to think critically about the environment. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

One unique aspect to the program is the teacher. The course is lead by inmates trained as facilitators, similar to the model for the Redemption Project. I’ve heard from pupils of both programs that they prefer to learn from other inmates. They feel the message delivered is more genuine, and not driven by authority. Chadwick Flores, Deputy Director of Roots of Success, refers to these instructors as “internal advocates.” The facilitators become supporters of sustainable practices within the prison system and inspire other offenders to work in the green economy, start green businesses, and consider how their own actions impact the environment.

Roots brings inmates from all walks of life to focus on the health of our environment. The many environmental issues we face today are sometimes overwhelming, yet they are issues that we all face. The environment is a common denominator across these diverse populations: a better future for all provides enough reason to set aside our differences and learn how to find solutions to these problems together.

Jason McDaniels teaches the Roots of Success curriculum to fellow inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC). Photo by an inmate at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.

Jason McDaniels teaches the Roots of Success curriculum to fellow inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC). Photo by an inmate at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.

Mr. Youngblood, Roots Instructor at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, shared with us the unique dynamic of their classroom:

Roots of Success is not about getting an A+ on a test, making the Dean’s list, or getting a degree based on the number of credits you have compiled. This is real education—student-centered learning in an environment where “Each one, Teach One” is our Mantra. The students are inspired to “be more” simply because they are involved in the process of their own learning.

In the instructors evaluation there is a question that asks: “What is the single most valuable thing you gained from teaching?”  My response follows: I was amazed at the dynamic that developed… students from different cultures, races, religious beliefs, and even gang affiliations all came together and worked as a team. That was and is truly invaluable.

Coyote Ridge's Roots instructors; Mr. Youngblood is on the right. Photo by Joslyn Trivett.

Coyote Ridge’s Roots instructors stand in front of an SPP banner created by one of their peers; Mr. Youngblood is on the right. Photo by Joslyn Trivett.

Inmate Blog: “Hard Time Café”

By Austin Mays, an inmate, student, and cook at Stafford Creek Correction Center

Written November, 2014

The way food is prepared is an art. From the choice to the plate, it’s all about painting a picture. I live in a world where the art is lost. The simple things that make food taste good have been removed and replaced with mayonnaise labeled as “salad dressing”. When the best part of the meal is the water, you know something’s wrong.

My name is Austin Mays and I have been eating this food since I was 15 years old. This food is in prison. You may automatically put up your guard reading this, but I encourage you to keep an open mind.

After serving 10+ years, I have seen that the price of food has increased exponentially and in turn nutritious foods have fallen out of the reach of the budget. Feeding 1900+ inmates at one facility is quite expensive.

Cyril-Ruoso-cucumbers

An inmate gardener at Cedar Creek Corrections Center talks about the fresh cucumbers he just harvested. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

Fresh vegetables make all the difference

In 2013, I began a job that opened my eyes to the larger picture. I became chef in the “Hard Time Café”. This is the dining hall for all staff. On a daily basis I, along with three other individuals, serve anywhere from 40-60 staff members. What do we serve them? Leftovers. We dress up the meal that was previously served to the 1900 other inmates. A difference between the “Hard Time Café” and the main chow halls is the fresh vegetables. Each day, a salad bar is prepared with mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, carrots, celery, fresh green leaf salad, and four premade salads. This is a lot of produce used daily.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center has been taking measurable steps in the direction towards becoming more self-sustaining. In the last four months, I have been able to use the produce grown by the sustainability garden in all of my salads and main course meals. For example, in October 2014, the garden produced close to a hundred pumpkins. Now, November, we are gearing up to make homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pies are nearly $5.00 a piece and purchasing enough for 1900 inmates would hold a heavy price tag.

A pie pumpkin grows in a prison garden. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

A pie pumpkin grows in a prison garden. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

Prison is its own city

Living in a place where you have little outside interaction causes you to be left behind. We, in prison, fail to see the world consuming itself. I recently graduated from “Roots of Success” (an environmental literacy curriculum) and during this course my eyes were opened. Prison is its own city. The overhead is huge and anyway we can work together to create the best living conditions, by using the natural resources around us, is the best way.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center grows flowers and vegetables in every part of the prison campus. From early spring to late fall it is a multicolored display! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center grows flowers and vegetables in every part of the prison campus. From early spring to late fall it is a multicolored display! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Changing lifestyles

Sustainability is not about cutting cost. It’s about changing your lifestyle and taking into account the future of your children. We are a world that feels the need to consume. Why? Because our parents tried to teach us what their parents taught them. Once we prove them wrong, we write our own path and neglect to see the big picture. Instant gratification, I want what I want and I want it now.

So, next time you buy a tomato or cut an onion, think of how far it traveled, how long it took to grow, how much money was spent on labor to process it, and how much you enjoy it. Think of… the “Hard Time Café”.

September flowers bloom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

September flowers bloom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 2

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

This blog is the second photo gallery from my visit to the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla (see part one here).

wood-shop

Roy Townsend runs the wood shop, and when he describes his work he lights up like he’s singing. The shop fixes desks, chairs, and guitars. With donated/reclaimed wood, they also build beautiful chess boards, train sets, and other specialty pieces that become valuable auction items for non-profit fundraising.

Roots-classroom

The Roots of Success classroom is housed within the lab and the program serves as a ten week job interview for the SPL. Four days a week for ten weeks, students spend the morning in the classroom and the afternoon in various sustainability positions. About 70% of the 127 graduates so far have been offered jobs, and no one can recall anyone turning down the opportunity. It’s a great model for turning theory into practice.

SPL-Clerk,-Parkins

Kieth Parkins is an exemplary spokesperson for the lab, and knows its programs inside-out. Robert Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, stayed with us throughout the tour, but Kieth served as the primary tour guide. Throughout the tour, I was struck by the inmate technicians’ investment in the programs, and their eloquence in presenting them.

sign-shop,-Williamson-2

We met Ray Williamson in the SPL’s sign shop, and he spoke passionately about his investment in peer-led programs. He said that when inmates run programs, they feel ownership, and that they listen to each other in a way they would never listen to staff. He expects to be in prison for life, and considers it his life work to help rehabilitate other inmates so that once they are released they never come back.

sewing-area-2

The sewing area is colorful and hopping with activity. They produce quilts, upholstery, and teddy bears for non-profit auctions. They see their teddy bears as their ambassadors.

teddy-bear-eyes

Nearly all the materials for the sewing area are donated–the only costs are the sewing needles and the teddy bear eyes, shown here.

sewing-area

Here is another view of the SPL sewing area. Some favorite pieces are displayed on the wall.

sewing

Gus started the teddy bear program. He said to me, “Never in my life—and I’m 60 years old—never in my life wanted to get up and go to work until I got this job.”

 

That seems to me the perfect last word on the Sustainable Practices Lab.

 

 

A Big Thank You for the Amazing New Turtle Shed!

by Sadie Gilliom, SPP Frog and Turtle Program Coordinator

The Amazing Turtle Shed. Photo by Mr. Bruce Carley.

The Amazing Turtle Shed. Photo by Mr. Bruce Carley

The horticulture program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) needed storage for their tools, and started using the turtle program’s shed. Soon it became apparent that the turtle program would require a new turtle shed.

The project was brought up to Mr. Bruce Carley, the building maintenance education instructor from Centralia College. He decided that if they were going to build a new shed they were going to do it right! He wanted the new building to reflect the uniqueness of the program and provide a new building challenge for his inmate crew. He successfully achieved both goals!

With the leadership of Mr. Carley and inmate Noblin, they created a turtle shed masterpiece! The most magnificent aspect is the giant turtle that acts as a roof for the building. The huge turtle head was sculpted by an amazing artist, inmate Burham. This was his first 3-D piece of artwork.

Inmate Burham and his artwork. Photo by Mr. Bruce Carley

Inmate Burham and his artwork. Photo by Mr. Bruce Carley

Except for some of the roofing supplies, the building materials were re-claimed and recycled products. Thermoplastic polyolefin was used as the stretchy material on the roof and was a new building material to both the inmates and Mr. Carley. In addition, a prismatic skylight was installed. This skylight brings heat and light into the shed and was a new installation experience for the inmate crew!

Mr. Bruce Carley and the Turtle Shed Crew. Photo by Sadie Gilliom

Mr. Bruce Carley and the Turtle Shed Crew. Photo by Sadie Gilliom

Thank you so much to everyone involved in the project and for providing the turtle program with such a unique and representative structure! Thank you to Mr. Carley for your initiative, expertise, guidance and skill building! Thank you to inmate Burham for your beautiful artwork! Thank you inmate Noblin for your leadership skills! Thank you inmates Gronholz, Torres, Gosney, Wharton, Easton, Ausen, Feltus, Jackson and Link for all of your hard work! Finally, thank you Superintendent Cole and all other staff involved for your support of this project!

This shed is currently used to store turtle supplies, but in the future it will also serve as a cricket house. CCCC and SPP are currently searching for the best form of green energy to use to power the turtle shed. We will keep you posted on this exciting new venture!

Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 1

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In late November, I had the pleasure of touring the Sustainable Practices Lab, or SPL, in Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The SPL started up only two years ago—a large empty space save for 15 sewing machines. Today it is a hive of activity and productivity. The lab houses numerous sustainability programs fixing and repurposing all kinds of donated and reclaimed materials. The SPL employs 139 inmates and has donated to more than 88 community organizations in the area. Astounding!

I will share a photo gallery of the first half of my tour in this blog, and the second half in a week or so; there is too much to cover in one posting.

exterior

The exterior of the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) provides little hint of the bustle and color it contains.

Learning-center-&-TV-repair

This is the SPL Learning Center. All the prison’s televisions are repaired here (saving about 12 TVs a month from the landfill), and the resident TV shows TED talks. Mr. Thang is the self-taught electronics technician; Rob Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, says Mr. Thang can fix anything!

The front office of the SPL

An inmate started an aquaponics program in spring, 2014. Now they are in the “proof of concept” stage, aiming to raise 700 heads of romaine lettuce each week. Waste water from the fish tank filters through a bed of tomatoes and pumpkins where ammonia turns into usable nitrogen…

These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

…then the nutrient rich solution passes through the roots of hundreds of lettuce plants. These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

bike-and-chair-repair

This is the bike and furniture repair area of the SPL. Technicians repair and customize chairs for hundreds of corrections staff, saving thousands of tax payer dollars every year–technicians throughout the SPL told me with pride that they are motivated to save tax payers as much money as possible.

bike-wheels

A collection of wheels will be put to use to refurbish reclaimed bicycles; once the bikes are fixed up they will go to children and adults in the outside community.

Sign-renovation

An inmate technician who goes by the name Turtle renovates signs for state agencies. He said, “We are much like this wood. We have our issues…the SPL is going to take the time to bring the good out, invest the time. Return us back to society in better shape than we came in.”

wood-reuse

Another quote from Turtle: “The Sustainable Practices Lab is an avenue; it gives us the psychological tools to choose to do the positive.”

vermicomposting2

The SPL vermicomposting program hosts 9 million worms. They compost one-fifth of the prison’s food waste: 2,500 lbs every week is transformed from garbage to the highest quality soil amendment.

vermicomposting-sifting

An inmate technician in the vermicomposting program hand sifts worm castings.

Thank you to Rob Branscum for starting the SPL, and for hosting the tour. I suspect that the lab’s success can be credited to Mr. Branscum’s belief in inmates’ abilities and creativity (and, of course, that he has the support of many others in WA corrections). Incarcerated men have been given a workplace in which they can thrive!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.

 

Washington State Monarchs Going the Distance

Just like many of us head south to escape the cold dark winters of the Northwest, so do butterflies! The Pacific Northwest Monarch butterfly population is thought to overwinter in coastal California and possibly central Mexico. This species is sensitive to fir tree and milkweed declines, and past research suggests that our butterflies are having difficulty making it to their ultimate destination each winter. The current extent of the Washington population’s migration and wintering area is largely unknown.

The Santa Cruz California Monarch Aggregation.  Two butterflies released just 4 days apart in August from Yakima, Washington traveled 675 miles (at least) to this same overwintering site!

Dr. David James, an associate professor at Washington State University (WSU) is studying this migration to learn more. In collaboration with the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, volunteers and inmates raise thousands of Monarch butterflies to be tagged and released every fall. Each butterfly carries a small, light-weight sticker showing an ID number and an email address. After release, they wait until a stranger in the south makes contact to tell them where their butterflies have landed.


Washington State Penitentiary Monarch Butterfly Rearing 2012

 

David James explaining monarch biology to inmates at WSP.

On November 22nd an observer counting Monarchs in Goleta, California found a butterfly that was tagged at WSP. Goleta is 825 straight line miles from Walla Walla! This is the longest travel distance recorded for a Washington Monarch making this the most important re-sighting to date! Previous recoveries proved migration only as far south as San Francisco.

One of the 50 monarchs released from Yakima in October.

This is a great example of how the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) model of collaborative partnerships with prisons allows multiple partners to participate in conservation efforts that reach far beyond Washington State. SPP staff at The Evergreen State College would like to congratulate WSU and WSP on this great achievement! We look forward to learning more about where our Monarchs travel in the coming years. To track the Monarch project yourself, follow their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterfliesInThePacificNorthwest

Monarch wanted from fb

CRCC Roots Course Leads to Inmate Interest in Sustainability

by Christina Stalnaker, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator

Travis Turley, Roots graduate and graduation speaker, poses in front of CRCC's Roots of Success sign after graduation.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett

Travis Turley, Roots graduate and graduation speaker, poses in front of CRCC’s Roots of Success banner after graduation. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) graduated 16 Roots of Success students November 25th, 2014.  Empowered by what they’ve learned in the course, these inmates were excited to share their experiences at graduation and are ready to become more involved in the sustainability of their facility.  Graduation speakers Travis Turley and Kuoy Chhong discussed how the class changed their views on environmental problems.  Chhong cited a teaching of the First Nations, “we are the protectors of the Earth.”  An avid snowboarder, Chhong wants to be more active in saving our winters to protect the snowpack.

CRCC's most recent Roots graduates: Kuoy Chhong, Christopher Edwards, Edwin Edwards, Seth Fulmer, Richard Johnson, James Lees, Neil Mitchell, Andrew Quinn, Jayson Smith, Travis Turley, Kimothy Wynn, and Jeffery Willis.  These inmates successfully completed the Roots of Success Environmental Literacy Curriculum where they learned about a variety of environmental issues and prepared for re-entry into the green economy.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett

CRCC’s most recent Roots graduates: Kuoy Chhong, Christopher Edwards, Edwin Edwards, Seth Fulmer, Richard Johnson, James Lees, Neil Mitchell, Andrew Quinn, Jayson Smith, Travis Turley, Kimothy Wynn, and Jeffery Willis. These inmates successfully completed the Roots of Success Environmental Literacy Curriculum where they learned about a variety of environmental issues and prepared for re-entry into the green economy. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next, Turley spoke of a common goal for humanity: “a better life and sustainable future.”  He referred to environmental challenges and said that to him, “this knowledge meant nothing.  It’s not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t know enough.”  Armed with new insights gained through Roots, Turley says he now has, “a chance to hope and a chance to change people like ourselves.” After Chhong and Turley’s speeches Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager, and Christina Stalnaker, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator, gave a virtual tour of SPP throughout Washington State.  Students were curious about existing sustainability projects at CRCC and had questions about what future programs for the institution might be.

Roots of Success Instructor Jason McDaniels welcomes graduates and guests to the ceremony.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett

Roots of Success Instructor Jason McDaniels welcomes graduates and guests to the ceremony. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

During SPP’s “peer to peer” planning event in June, education and culture change was one of the top three priorities voted for CRCC’s sustainable programming.  Educating inmates on environmental literacy through programs like Roots of Success is but one step towards that goal. CRCC is the nation’s first LEED Gold prison, and  since the structure itself is already so sustainable it presents a unique challenge to find ways to improve.

Thomas Brown, Derrick Martin-Armstead, Jason McDaniels, Jay Powell, and Eugene Youngblood, CRCC's Roots of Success Instructor staff, stand in front of their new SPP banner.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett

Thomas Brown, Derrick Martin-Armstead, Jason McDaniels, Jay Powell, and Eugene Youngblood, CRCC’s Roots of Success Instructor staff, stand in front of their new SPP banner. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Offenders are excited about sustainability and  have requested to be a part of CRCC’s Sustainability Committee.  This committee is charged with implementing sustainable initiatives throughout CRCC’s campus.  The first joint staff-inmate meeting will be in January 2015.  We are excited to hear what ideas arise and how recent Roots graduates will be putting their newly acquired knowledge into action!

Christina Stalnaker, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator, and Chuck Hudgins, Correctional Industries Food Group Statewide Sustainability Manager, talked about sustainability project plans and ideas after graduation.

Christina Stalnaker, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator, and Chuck Hudgins, Correctional Industries Food Group Statewide Sustainability Manager, talk about sustainability project plans and ideas after graduation. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Congratulations goes out to all staff and inmates involved in the success of this latest cohort!

SPP Bikes to Portland

By Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

An Unexpected Journey

When I signed up to present at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference, I had no idea what was in store. Then October rolled around and I found myself on a 140 mile bike ride from Olympia to Portland, in the name of sustainability.

I wasn’t alone. Along the way, I had encouragement and support from a small group of my fellow environmental studies graduate students, including Lindsey Hamilton, the SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator. When we signed up to present at the conference and committed ourselves to the bike ride, it was summer and we imagined a lovely jaunt. Unfortunately, October weather in the Pacific Northwest isn’t quite as favorable for a long bike trek, and our trip was cut short only 20 miles outside of Portland by 45 mph wind gusts and steady rain. Lindsey made a valiant effort to stick it out to the very end. She laughed as a headwind made even the down hills a struggle and gusted leaves into her face, but finally relented that conditions had become too scary. We made it to Portland feeling exhausted but accomplished, and—most of all—motivated!

Lindsey and Tiffany enthusiastically on their way to Portland. Photo by Nick Wooten.

Spreading the Word

We immediately immersed ourselves in the conference. Lindsey and I participated in the poster session and shared SPP’s model with many interested students, faculty, and staff from international universities and colleges. We presented on our experiences of being both graduate students at Evergreen and program coordinators with SPP. Many people who attended our presentation had never heard of anyone doing work quite like SPP, and they took ideas back to their campuses to share.

Lindsey and Tiffany arrive at the conference, bikes and SPP gear in hand.

The Way Home

I left the conference and Portland with a new state of mind. My own legs and willpower had gotten me so far, further than I ever thought possible, and in the process I had reduced travel emissions in a real way. On the train back to Olympia, I jotted this down in my journal, hoping to always have a reminder of this wonderful trip:

I’ve never felt such an attachment to an inanimate object like I do with my bike now. We’ve seen so much together, struggled together, explored Portland and the WA roads together. It has been an interesting 6 days of traveling without a car, from Olympia to Portland, finding my way around the city and public transit, and now back home. I’ve realized that we are capable of far more than we usually give ourselves credit for, and sometimes it just takes being in a situation where the most convenient option isn’t an option to push our choices in the right direction.

I feel refreshed and somehow stronger in myself and I’m done with those excuses for not living life by example as a true environmentalist. I’m done talking the talk but not pushing myself to lessen my impact on this planet as much as I can. I won’t be perfect, because we all have our vices, and it is a continuous process of learning and growing. But I am definitely approaching things from a different mindset now. Let’s change the world together and live in a way that makes us feel good about our choices and empowers us to recognize how much we can actually change in the world and in ourselves.

Something Annie Leonard said at the conference really hit me. She talked about how we make decisions based on our identities- how we view ourselves and how we want others to see us. We are often trapped in the identity of “powerless consumer” in our current society and that often influences the choices we make and the options we see ourselves as having. Instead, if we switch our identity and work towards recognizing when we are making decisions with that mindset and change it, we feel more empowered and start viewing our actions as self-possessed based on personal identity and not society-pressured identity. Instead of feeling powerless, we can start seeing ourselves as change-makers, movers, and citizens, and that will ultimately change the way we view our options and the way we make decisions. It is never an easy thing to recognize and shift these things in ourselves but I’m so pumped to work on this self-transformation until it becomes so typical that my mindset and actions automatically encompass this.

It is changes in myself like this one that makes me so thankful to work with the Sustainability in Prisons Project. The work I’m involved with as the SPP Lecture Series Coordinator constantly inspires growth and realizations that weren’t present in me before.

I wonder how Annie Leonard’s message relates to the inmates in SPP programs. Does being involved bring about a new identity for incarcerated people? Do they see themselves as stewards, environmentalists, scientists, and students instead of “just prisoners”? I’m excited to bring this new perspective to the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series and hear what it means to the incarcerated students that attend our lectures and workshops!

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the bike ride, check out this blog from another student who was on the trip and the intentionally dorky picture show of highlights from the trek.

 

First Beekeeping Certification in-prison for SPP-WA

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Master Beekeeper Renzy Davenport of the Olympia Beekeepers Association and the Pierce County Beekeepers spent six Thursday evenings with a class of inmates and staff at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. At the seventh meeting, he certified all students as Apprentice Beekeepers. As far as we know, this is the first in-prison beekeeping certification program in Washington state, and we hope it will be the first of many.

A newly-certified beekeeper receives recognition from Renzy Davenport of the Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

A newly-certified beekeeper receives recognition from Renzy Davenport of the Olympia and Pierce County Beekeepers Associations. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

The classes conveyed all the fundamentals of beekeeping, including how to build up colonies without buying more bees. Renzy provided practical guidance on how to turn beekeeping into a business. At an earlier class, the students sampled several varieties of honey and learned how to create the more tasty varieties—no one was very interested in how to achieve a “buckwheat honey,” as they thought it smelled like wet dog, but the raspberry and wildflower varieties were popular!

For those at Cedar Creek in the spring, they will have the chance to work with the in-prison hives. During the winter months, the bees are quiet and cannot be disturbed, but starting in April there will be plenty to do to care for the bees and their hives.

The first class of certified beekeepers at Cedar Creek Corrections Center pose with their certificates. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

The first class of certified beekeepers at Cedar Creek Corrections Center pose with their certificates. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

Many thanks to Renzy for donating his time to teach the program, and to all the students and administrative support at the prison. Thanks to Fiona Edwards for attending the certification ceremony so we could help celebrate this first beekeeping class.