Pathways to Successful Re-Entry

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

This illuminated handshake was between James Faircloth and  Raven from Pioneer Human Services. During Pathways to Reentry, Raven and Gregory (in the background) spoke with many men about Pioneer’s work with previously incarcerated individuals in Washington State. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

On April 16th, Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) hosted a re-entry event called Pathways to Reentry. This event was different than most for two reasons: 1) it was open to everyone regardless of their release date, and 2) it featured several guest speakers and experts who were previously-incarcerated. While every presenter was clearly welcome and appreciated, there’s no question that stories and guidance from the previously incarcerated were the most impressive. Their pathways to re-entry were the most resonant and relevant.

The event highlighted two successful pathways: education and employment. We invited re-entry navigators from across the state, second-chance employers, re-entry resources, justice-involved college students, Washington State Department of Corrections education leadership, and college coordinators to share about the work that they do. The event was a beautiful example of collaboration and we’re so excited to co-host more events like this in the future. Thank you to everyone involved in this event!

Below is a photo journal of the day. Enjoy!

SCCC Facility Manager Chris Idso, kicked off the event with a welcome and shared his ideas about successful re-entry. The event’s co-MC’s Joe and I stand in the bottom right of the photo.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.
Darin Armstrong released from Cedar Creek Corrections Center last year and currently works with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Environmental Services. Darin is shaking hands with co-MC Joe. Darin was a guest speaker and spoke about his work with SPP during incarceration and his work with WSDOT since being released. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
From left: Brian Bedilion, Carolina Landa, and Billy Sweetser answer questions about incarceration, addiction, and the pathways they took to being successful. Carolina urged everyone to plan for release now, saying: “This is the most ‘you’ time you’re ever going to get. Use it. When you get back out there, life is going to hit.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.
James Jackson, JJ, works at The Evergreen State College as the Re-entry Navigator (reentry@evergreen.edu) and has been a foundational member of Evergreen’s Justice Involved Student Group (JISG). He spoke about his time during incarcerated and the strength he’s gained by standing on his story; he told us, “I don’t live in no shame and no guilt; I stand on my story”. He said he’s “giving back by using my story.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.
Just before lunch, everyone who was willing posed for a group photo. This event was made possible by collaboration and support from SCCC staff and the many outside organizations involved: Evergreen Justice Involved Student GroupGatewaysWSDOTGrays Harbor CollegeDepartment of Corrections (Re-Entry and Education), WorkSourceThe Evergreen State College, WA State Board for Community and Technical CollegesCivil SurvivalEdmonds Community CollegeBates Technical CollegeMod PizzaPioneer Human Services, Weld Seattle, Centralia College, and Skagit Valley College. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
WSDOT’s Robyn Lovely talked through how to apply for State jobs: where to find applications, how much time an application requires, and how to find out more about any position. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
Jamal Kahn speaks to Lei from the Evergreen’s JISG during one of the tabling sessions. Mr. Kahn is an instructor for the Roots of Success program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
From Left: SPP’s Co-Director Kelli Bush, artist Marvin Faircloth, and SCCC’s Sustainability Liaison Kelly Peterson pose with a gift to the Evergreen team. Mr. Faircloth created the piece as a thank you gift to SPP’s Evergreen team. Kelly was SCCC’s the lead coordinator for the event, and it would not have been possible without her support. Thank you! Photo by Ricky Osborne.
This is a photo of SPP’s favorite photographer Ricky Osborne. It’s tough to get a photo of him because he’s always moving! We love the photos he takes and his generous, considerate presence. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Sticking with Success

Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett and Bethany Shepler

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

Roots of Success graduates applaud during the graduation event at Washington Corrections Center.

In May, we celebrated the third class of the full Roots of Success (Roots) curriculum at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton. Eight incarcerated gentlemen completed the fifty-hour course. Each sounded pleased to share in what he had learned and what he appreciated about his peers, the instructor, and the staff who support the program. Gratitude seems to be a key element of Roots; as visitors to the classroom or a graduation event, we are steeped in their gratitude….it’s pretty wonderful!

Two portraits of the graduating class. The second includes the primary staff who support WCC’s program.

All present took turns addressing the group and reinforcing mutual recognition. One graduate told his class, “Every single one of these guys valued my opinion, and that was awesome.” Instructor Grady Mitchell, one of the state’s most experienced teachers of the course, beautifully paraphrased Nietzsche to tell his students:

“I have left the house of scholars. Too long I have sat hungry at their table…I have not been hungry at your table.”

As testimony to the content of the class, a student said his thinking had shifted, from What programs are the best programs? to What do we need to learn to become good human beings? He and others suggested that Roots had helped them to learn about being with people, how to make decisions, and how to turn knowledge into action.

Thanks to Kathryn Shea for keeping WCC’s program alive; she has served as program Liaison for both the condensed and full curriculum since 2016.

Our thanks to the staff who have kept Roots alive at WCC. After several years of supporting the program, Kathryn Shea is promoting to a new position outside the prison. She told us that she never got to give Roots the focus she wanted it to have — like most program liaisons, she took on Roots administration on top of her regular duties. We are grateful that she kept the program alive and well.

Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the future of WCC’s program looks bright. At the end of the formal celebration, graduates, instructor, and staff chatted over cake and shared promising plans for building the program bigger. We all plan to stick with Success.

Instructor Grady Mitchell, SPP-Evergreen’s Joslyn Rose Trivett, and Correctional Industries’ Kathryn Shea congratulated each graduate as he received his certificate.

Sages in Cages

By Stacy Chen, a first-year undergrad at Duke University. Ms. Chen took an interest in SPP’s work after attending a talk by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, in which she described bringing her sustainability research projects into prisons.

A newly-graduated first-generation college student was incarcerated for accidental manslaughter at a party (Brown, 2009). During his 4 years at Cedar Creek Correctional Center, he read about 1000 books and authored his first scientific journal article along with an accomplished ecologist (Brown, 2009; Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008). Within 5 years of his release, he completed his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and is now a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine (“Craig Ulrich,” n.d.).

How did Craig Ulrich do that? He conducted ecological research in prison.

We have to stop assuming that human resources outside of academia are scientifically-handicapped and incapable of expanding the global pool of scientific knowledge. Sadly, scientists rarely look for research assistance outside of their expertise, believing their projects to be too lofty for the unschooled (Nadkarni & Morris, 2018).

A high school education is hard to come by for most prisoners, but that didn’t faze ecologist and entrepreneur Nalini Nadkarni (Brown, 2009). It wasn’t until she pioneered the Moss-in-Prisons project did the millions of marginalized inmates in American jails and prisons receive attention as potential contributors to conservation ecology (Nadkarni, 2019).

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni shows off a bag of moss in the Cedar Creek greenhouse, 2004. Raymond Price stands behind her in the photo and figuratively as well: he volunteered his time to ensure that the new programs operated day to day. Photo by SPP staff.

Today, 2.3 million people Americans live behind metal bars. Among them, around 60,000 are released each year, but more than half return to those cages within 3 years (N. M. Nadkarni & Morris, 2018). The recidivism rate isn’t so shocking after all. How are prisoners expected to make a living after years of idle incarceration, without any means to establish themselves as contributive, knowledgeable, and resourceful members of society?

In search of help for her research in ex-situ cultivation of epiphytic mosses—species essential for forest biodiversity and nutrient cycling—Nadkarni looked where no one else dared to (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2009; Gotsch, Nadkarni, & Amici, 2016). The goal of her study was to develop a method to artificially-grow and commercialize mosses to protect those that would otherwise be stripped from forests and sold in the long-exploited million-dollar florist trade (Muir, 2004; Nadkarni, 2008). Nadkarni was looking for “fresh eyes and minds to spot innovative solutions” (Nadkarni, 2008, p. 248) and decided that those inmates, like Ulrich, constituted the most “needful” and “desirous” population when it came to environmental education (Nadkarni, 2019). Incarcerated adults did not go in completely illiterate on the subject either, for many of them come from the Northwest where they have already been acquainted with the beauty, diversity, and dynamics of nature on their hunting and fishing expenditures (Nadkarni, 2019).

At a National workshop in 2013, Craig Ulrich and Tamara Dohrman, Assistant Director of General Services for Oregon Department of Corrections, discuss their work with SPP. Photo by Guinnevere Shuster.

Nadkarni gave the inmates free rein. These budding scientists engineered moss flats to shelve the specimens and did their own pen-to-paper data collection and calculations. After two years, this collaboration developed a water treatment method for the cultivation of mosses and discovered potential for commercial farming of 3 species of mosses (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008).

Several inmates co-authored the research paper that came out of the Moss-in-Prisons project, with Ulrich being the primary author (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008). Some of these inmates left Cedar Creek and became horticulturists (Nadkarni, 2008, p. 250).

Sages in cages for real! Incarcerated technicians work in the Sagebrush in Prisons Project at a prison in Montana. Photo courtesy of Institute for Applied Ecology.

In the end, this project not only enhanced scientific knowledge and forest biodiversity preservation at large, it also provided inmates better candidacy for jobs upon release, created a synergetic relationship between the scientists and prisoners, and fostered a better attitude toward the undereducated populations (Nadkarni, 2019). Nadkarni considers withholding nature from prisoners a “punishment”, claiming that bringing these mosses into these correction centers “encourage[s] not only prisoners but also their jailers to value the healing qualities of nature” (N. M. Nadkarni, 2008, p. 247).


SPP Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan regards golden paintbrush, a federally-listed threatened species, during a visit to the remnant prairie at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Taking a step back, the Moss-in-Prisons project piloted by Dr. Nadkarni was only a spark that led to the countless environmental education programs and sustainability projects in prisons across the State of Washington. Out of Cedar Creek Correctional Center, Nadkarni co-founded the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), an organization engaging inmates in butterfly-breeding, honeybee-keeping, and prairie restoration projects today (“Sustainability in Prisons Project,” 2019). It’s encouraging to see similar programs starting up in many other US correction centers; however, most of these start-ups are concentrated in the Pacific Coast, Midwest, and Northeast areas, whereas the Southeast is missing in action (“SPP Network Programs,” n.d.).

What would it look like for government funds to go toward educating inmates? Perhaps it would reduce the whopping 52% recidivism rate (Nadkarni & Morris, 2018). Perhaps it would reinvent our view of prisoners: Instead of seeing them as convicts deserving of punishment, we would see them as potential propellers of science—people who are desperate for a second chance and scholars who yearn for contact with the outside world. Just like how mosses depend on trees to grow, prisoners require interactions with nature to thrive.

References

Brown, V. (2009, February 24). The Ecologist and the Prisoners. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from Pacific Standard website: https://psmag.com/environment/the-ecologist-and-the-prisoners-3928

Craig Ulrich [University]. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2019, from Nevada Center for Bioinformatics website: https://www.unr.edu/bioinformatics/contact/craig-ulrich

Gotsch, S. G., Nadkarni, N. M., & Amici, A. (2016). The functional roles of epiphytes and arboreal soils in tropical montane cloud forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology; Cambridge, 32(5), 455–468. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S026646741600033X

Muir, P. (2004). An Assessment of Commercial “Moss” Harvesting from Forested Lands in the Pacific Northwestern and Appalachian Regions of the United States: How Much Moss is Harvested and Sold Domestically and Internationally and Which Species are Involved? [Report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center]. Retrieved from http://www.forestharvest.org.uk/pdfs/MossHarvestProjectFinalReportAugust242004.pdf

Nadkarni, N. M. (2008). Between earth and sky : our intimate connections to trees. Retrieved from https://find.library.duke.edu/catalog/DUKE008470535

Nadkarni, N. M. (2019, March). Science in Prisons – Bringing Conservation Biology and Environmental Sustainability to the Incarcerated. Presented at the Science & Society Classroom, North Building 232, Duke University. Science & Society Classroom, North Building 232, Duke University.

Nadkarni, N. M., & Morris, J. S. (2018). Baseline Attitudes and Impacts of Informal Science Education Lectures on Content Knowledge and Value of Science Among Incarcerated Populations. Science Communication, 40(6), 718–748. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547018806909

SPP Network Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2019, from Sustainability in Prisons Project website: http://sustainabilityinprisons.org/spp-network/spp-network-programs/

Sustainability in Prisons Project. (2019). Retrieved May 1, 2019, from Sustainability in Prisons Project website: http://sustainabilityinprisons.org/

Ulrich, C., & Nadkarni, N. M. (2008). Sustainability research and practices in enforced residential institutions: collaborations of ecologists and prisoners. Environment, Development and Sustainability; Dordrecht, 11(4), 815–832. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10668-008-9145-4

Fine Tuning Aquaponics at Cedar Creek

Photos and text by Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator.

Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli and SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain evaluate plant health.


The aquaponics system at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) received a new lease on life this winter. With assistance from CCCC’s technicians, Nick Naselli and Daniel Cherniske from Symbiotic Cycles first built the system at Cedar Creek in spring of 2018. To give the system a much-needed boost, they returned this January for a series of site visits and problem-solving sessions.

Nick Naselli introduces a suckerfish to the system. This fish eats algae and will improve visibility by cleaning up the water.

Aquaponics systems can be a great way to harvest food year-round, but they require some care and fine tuning to establish a system. It can take up to a year for a new aquaponics system to stabilize! SPP Biological Technicians have been putting in the work to ensure that the system thrives. And with the help of Nick and Daniel, Cedar Creek’s aquaponics is functioning better than ever, producing healthy and delicious greens for the facility’s kitchens.

SPP Biological Technician Lorenzo Stewart tests the water’s nitrate levels.
During this last winter, Symbiotic Cycles worked with SPP technicians to introduce the steel cables shown in this photo. The installation of this tensioning system to stabilize the raft beds will prevent further bowing of the system’s wooden sides.
After a few adjustments, we saw fast and impressive improvements in plant health.
Left to right: SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli, SPP Biological Technician Lorenzo Stewart, and Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Daniel Cherniske.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog with more details on the plant growth in Cedar Creek’s aquaponics system!

Sowing Seeds for Transformative Education

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager, The Evergreen State College

In early January, we welcomed Master of Environmental Studies graduate student Carly Rose to the Sustainability in Prisons Project team at The Evergreen State College (SPP-Evergreen). Her position, and now her presence, fulfills a long-held dream: that someone on our team could be solely devoted to coordinating, creating, and improving educational materials.

Photo of Carly by Keegan Curry.

The position creates a new focus on organizing and cataloging SPP’s existing educational materials and capacity for developing new materials that are in high demand. Three funders have made this possible. Via our Evergreen colleague Scott Morgan, we are delighted to host our first Sustainability Fellow, providing for about five months of the one-year position. Sustainability Fellowship positions at Evergreen are funded by a generous, anonymous donor. Matching that, we have a recent, very helpful gift from the Herb Alpert Foundation. With these two donations, there was only a small funding gap remaining and we were able to use funds provided by another anonymous donor from the Seattle Foundation to support Carly’s time for a full year.

The ability to add the position could not have come at a better time. In SPP programs, the demand for more educational content is higher than ever. Also, we have new allies in curriculum development, both within Washington State Department of Corrections prisons and in outside organizations. All these factors provide a tremendous opportunity and we’re so pleased to be able to make the most of it.

Our good fortune continued with Carly Rose’s application. She brings an optimal mix of environmental and social interests and expertise. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Western Washington University and professional experience from a variety of social service settings, including supported employment, foster care, and transitional aged youth mental health. An ideal complement comes from her studies in Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies program and her self-led exploration of organic farming, native plant identification, and other elements of sustainable living – she can easily relate to the students’ desire to learn more about such topics!

Gardeners at Airway Heights Corrections Center tend the prison’s “big” garden. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With SPP, Carly’s first priority is to coordinate efforts to create a peer-led gardening curriculum that is tailored to the particular interests and capacities of incarcerated gardeners. In her first four months, she has connected with the many partners and stakeholders in the effort, including two teams of incarcerated students, the Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper program. Again, Carly appears to be made for this work; she shows a partnership mindset with every contributor, carefully considering their input, limitations, and needs. When the curriculum is completed, SPP plans to work with partners to make it broadly available—matching interest we’ve heard from allied organizations across the country.

As envisioned, Carly is also making strides to catalog SPP-Evergreen’s existing educational files. She is developing templates for learning guides in all of our ecological conservation programs. Our unwieldy collection of articles, presentations, and handouts is beginning to take the shape of an accessible and powerful library.

With both efforts, SPP’s ability to offer meaningful, empowering education to people in prisons expands. We can better support staff turnover on our team, giving each new program coordinator ready access to a wealth of educational materials. This fall, we can support students and staff inside prisons as they try out the new gardening curriculum, and then still have capacity for gathering their suggestions for improvement. Carly sums it up well:

“I am so excited to contribute to and grow with the SPP team; a multi-disciplinary team that includes Evergreen’s SPP staff, Washington State Department of Corrections’ SPP staff, community supporters and partners, and most importantly the incarcerated technicians and students who invest their time and hearts into these sustainability programs.”

We are so grateful to the three donors who have made this position possible. With their combined contributions, we were able to take on this important work. Education is the most effective way to reduce recidivism, breaking the cycle of incarceration. The investment in Carly’s work has significant positive impacts on SPP’s ability to deliver empowering education to benefit people, communities and ecosystems.

Growing a Gardening Curriculum

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

In 2019, every prison in Washington State has gardens. Most prisons boast extensive plots of food and flowers, some cultivated for their beauty to pollinators and humans, others for verdant rows of herbs and vegetables. These gardens are a source of pride and solace; they are islands of beauty and vitality in an institutional environment.

Two community service crew-members from MCCCW transplant lettuce for Kitsap Conservation District’s GRACE project. Photo by Keegan Curry.

For as long as Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP)’s Evergreen employees have visited gardens in Washington State prisons, we have heard incarcerated gardeners ask for more information to refine their gardening skills. They want information on plant cultivation, healthy soils, garden placement and sunlight, beneficial insects, and pest management, and many other topics that would help them be better gardeners.

WCCW hosts extensive ornamental and vegetable gardens, lovingly tended by horticulture students and TAs. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A relatively small number of gardeners are also formal garden students—they get horticulture instruction from Centralia, Peninsula, or Tacoma Community College—and those opportunities are highly prized. In other cases, mostly in other states, volunteers from Master Gardeners or other non-profit organizations (e.g., Insight Gardening Program, Lettuce Grow, Rikers Island GreenHouse) bring gardening education into the facilities. These classes are sought after and celebrated by gardeners.

There are many more gardeners whose needs and interests aren’t yet met—they haven’t been able to get into a class, their prison is too remote for volunteers, or they already received a class and they want to learn more. Not only in Washington, but across the country, there are staff and incarcerated gardeners who crave more information and instruction.

Gardeners tend beds in the early spring at Monroe Correctional Complex. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

We know from the successes of peer-led education in other SPP programs, like Monroe Correctional Complex’s composting certification, technician-led workshops, and Roots of Success, that peer-to-peer education can work. Given proper preparation and support, peer education can be very effective and empowering.

A new collaboration has emerged to try and meet the requests of incarcerated gardeners, by working together to develop a gardening curriculum based on a peer education model. SPP has found kindred spirits in the Institute for Applied Ecology and the Oregon Food Bank. Even more valuable, incarcerated individuals and staff at two prisons in particular, Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, have volunteered to help write, review, and pilot the new curriculum. These incarcerated gardeners offer their technical gardening expertise, their lived experience in the prison system, and their insight into what incarcerated gardeners need to teach and learn. Their input is integral to creating a successful peer-led curriculum.

Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper provides the new curriculum’s core. It will be enhanced and augmented by prison-specific edits and added chapters. In this 2017 photo, Seed to Supper students discuss gardening in the SCCC classroom. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With so many authors and stakeholders, forward progress can be slow; it takes a lot of work to create and finalize plans, and to review and finalize products. The huge upside, though, is that the collective may produce a program that can be used across the state and across the nation.

To give the many partners and steps involved the recognition their due, we will write a series of stories on the gardening curriculum. We want to cultivate something practical, useful, and appealing—a curriculum worthy of a gardener.

Learning about gentleness from honeybees

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Journeyman Beekeepers at AHCC pose in front of their hives. Photo courtesy of AHCC staff.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)  beekeeping club. At the ceremony, Travis—a Journeyman Beekeeper—shared an analogy about bees we all found rather striking. He told us, “Before I took the class, I always looked at them as the enemy.” Like everyone, he saw bees as pests. He reminded us: “Think about barbeques or picnics— you’re there with your family and friends and everyone is having a good time and sharing food and fun. Then, bees show up and start buzzing around your food. Maybe someone gets stung. Pretty soon these tiny creatures have ruined the picnic.”

A bee collects pollen from a flower growing by a housing unit at AHCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Then Travis described learning about honeybees, and how his perspective started to shift. When AHCC’s hives were delivered, he was part of the team that kept those bees alive and even thriving. He came to see this responsibility as a force for “good” in his life. He needed to change to care for those bees, and he noticed how that change lined up with the “theme of change” throughout the facility. He told us: “In my change, the hive is my focus. The center of my change.” Then, he went back to the earlier metaphor and brought it full circle:

He realized that society thinks he is going to ruin the picnic, too; criminals and incarcerated people are regarded as the pests of society. He wanted us to understand that, like the bees they care for, incarcerated individuals aren’t trying to ruin things for everyone else. Just like anyone, they’re there to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the day. “We’re not here to ruin the picnic or barbeque, and through programs like this one we learn positive change.”

The bee hives at AHCC have their own yard, called the “honeybee yard.” Photo courtesy of SPP staff.

Beekeeping is Freedom

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager and Ellen Miller, President of the West Plains Beekeepers Association and Vice President of Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA).

This story also appears in WASBA’s April Newsletter.

Airways Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) beekeepers pose after passing their Journeyman level exams. Photo courtesy of AHCC.

In late February, beekeepers and associates gathered at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) for a celebration. It’s been an incredible year for AHCC beekeepers, with forming their own club and starting a queen rearing program – there was a lot to celebrate!

AHCC’s beekeeping program originated only a few years ago, when a local expert from Millers Homestead, Master Beekeeper Jim Miller made an unusually generous offer. For a fee of $0, Jim offered beginner beekeeping education for groups of prison staff, and to incarcerated students who had completed prerequisite programs Roots of Success and Redemption.

Jim Miller also donated program materials, including live honey bees. When delivering the hives to the prison, his show of generosity went ever further. An incarcerated beekeeper present for the bee’s arrival told us that Jim said: “They’re your hives. Do what you have to do with them. I’m just here for moral support.” They were understandably nervous about accepting responsibility of thousands of honeybees, but Jim’s faith in the new beekeepers meant they could learn by doing and build a program they could sustain.

Following the celebration’s speeches, beekeepers and visitors informally talked about ideas for the future of the program. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

Fast forward to 2018, and the results of Jim’s show of trust are clear. With the support of AHCC staff and members of the West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers formed their own beekeeping club—likely the only prison-hosted club in the nation. To date, 14 men have successfully completed the Journeyman test and are working on completing the requirements for the field test and service points that are part of the Washington State Beekeepers Association requirements for achieving Journeyman level certification.

The best part of the ceremony was hearing the testimonials from several AHCC bee club members. We heard about what they’ve learned and how the program has changed them for good. Despite growing up allergic to stings, Chuck Roark now finds that “everything I do in beekeeping translates” to other parts of his life. He told the assembled, “The thing is, I’m a beekeeper. I’ll be a beekeeper in the real world. I’ll be a beekeeper for the rest of my life.” He was also the one to tell us that “Beekeeping is freedom.” Given the positivity and creativity of all assembled for the celebration, those surprising words rang true.

AHCC’s Bee Club President described the profound, even spiritual experience of becoming a beekeeper. He said of the honey bees, “They not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.”

Thank you to all of the beekeepers who have given so much of themselves to this program. And thank you for inviting us to share in the pride of all that has been accomplished. 

Kevin Oldenburg, President of the Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), encourages members of the AHCC Bee Club to write and submit articles for the WASBA Newsletter. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

MCC-SOU graduates Beekeepers: their excitement is contagious!

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

This is a poster created by staff at the SOU to advertise the program to inmates at the facility. Photo by SOU staff.

We are so excited to announce that Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit (SOU) just graduated their first class of Beekeepers! Since the beginning of their program last year, the SOU has been incredibly enthusiastic about beekeeping; it has been a pleasure to see their willingness to learn and try new things.

Honeybee comb formed in a top-bar hive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The program partners with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, and Association member Kurt Sahl volunteered as the program instructor. While every other prison bee program in the state has opted to use the Langstroth hives, the SOU uses primarily top-bar hives. Top-bar hives forgo pre-made, rectuangula frames, and leave space for bees to shape their comb as they wish (see photo for example).

Kathy Grey is the staff liaison for the beekeeping program, and one of the new Apprentice Beekeepers! With her permission, I’m sharing her description of the people and programs of the SOU.

All of the hives SOU has are painted by inmates at the facility, this one has flowers, bees, and the Earth. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
An observation window on the side of the top-bar hive allows you to see what’s going on inside the hive without opening, and disturbing, the hive. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The Special Offender Unit (SOU) houses and treats mentally ill, intellectually disabled, and brain-injured inmates and is part of the larger Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. In addition to providing psychiatric care for the inmates, SOU also offers mental health counseling, educational opportunities, and innovative, sustainability programs for its incarcerated population. These programs include vegetable gardens and an animal rescue program that is still going strong with close to 900 animals adopted since its inception in January 2006. In addition to those programs, SOU offers Yoga Behind Bars, a University of Washington sponsored Book Club, a Community Visiting Volunteer Program and most recently the Beekeeping Program that was started last year. Beekeeping has been a fascinating outlet for the men at SOU and their excitement is contagious.

SOU is an interesting, dynamic facility with men who are eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can this spring. Lastly, it’s important to note that volunteers are often pleasantly surprised by the genuine gratitude shown to them by the SOU inmates in recognition for their time, effort and talents.

Keep up the good work, SOU! We’re excited to see your continued successes unfold!