New Biological Science Technician Position, and One of the Newest is Feeling Thankful

By Adam Mlady, Biological Science Technician, Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Coordinator

Editor’s Note: Participation in the turtle program at Cedar Creek is evolving to take on new, complementary areas of study and contribution: woodpecker nest monitoring project and an aquaponics pilot project. To represent and accommodate for these additional projects, we hired more technicians and changed their titles to “Biological Science Technician,” We are very happy to welcome Adam Mlady to the technician team; here he shares his gratitude and thoughts on his new position. 

Sustainablog

Biological Science Technician, Adam Mlady holding two of the Western Pond Turtles currently housed at Cedar Creek Correctional Center.

November 27, 2017

It’s one week into my new job with the Sustainability in Prisons Project as a Biological Science Technician, and so far I have been pleasantly surprised at just how great this assignment really is. My team members have been very welcoming, and are a wealth of knowledge to pick from. Working for Ms. Brown is inspiring, and I’ve been lucky to be chosen to do this work. I have spent some days of charting the habits of the northwestern woodpeckers; there is tons of video footage, so I’ll always have job security!

Also, the endangered pond turtles need our attention; currently we have two females, one male, and are expecting 7 more to be dropped off later today. We all arrived early this morning in the program area, and are eagerly awaiting our new aquatic friends. Taking care of them is very rewarding. I get a sense of unity and accomplishment in ensuring they are clean and fed, and working them back to health. It’s even a sustainable project to feed them! They eat a mix of goodies, but one of the days the pond turtles get mealworms, which we grow and harvest ourselves. Eggs to larva to pupae to beetle, we are hands-on (gloved of course!) the whole way through.

I’m really excited about the upcoming aquaponics pond we will be building. It is huge, and tucked away safely up in our camp’s greenhouse. Once we get the plumbing correctly set up, the koi fish will be able to fertilize our selected plants and vegetables. Brilliant system. I’ve seen it in action on a much smaller scale back at home with my beautiful wife’s beta fish successfully sustaining bamboo, kale, and dragon plants. It’s pretty sweet to be reminded of home while doing my job here.

Biological Science Technician team at Cedar Creek from left to right: John Fitzpatrick, Modesto Silva, Jessica Brown (SPP Coordinator), James Meservey, William Anglemyer, Adam Mlady.

December 7, 2017

Brrrrr…it’s cold! The new addition of the space heater in the turtle hut is a blessing though. I’m a few weeks into my stint as a Biological Science Technician and finding my groove. This is hands down the best job available in the whole camp. Watching my woodpecker videos in the turtle hut, with classic rock thrumming in the background, comfy chair, fresh coffee, and the basking skylight is by far the best part of my day. It’s become my fortress of solitude, or my batcave: I’m truly at peace here.

Adam Mlady recording activity of a Northern Flicker cavity nest in an old snag.

Video footage of a Northern Flicker leaving its nest.

Putting in work with my fine feathered friends, I’m witnessing some excellent parenting skills by these endangered avian aerialists. To them: family, home, and the future mean the world to woodpeckers. That’s admirable. Every time I see the mama and the papa woodpeckers in action, feeding, cleaning, defending their fledglings and nest; it warms my heart. They work together as a team wonderfully, as nature has created a well-oiled machine. They split the duties masterfully, and complement each other’s attributes with all their hard work. So thorough, like a living, breathing, flying, drumming version of a discount-double check–they are that good.

It feels great knowing that the work I’m putting in here will help keep these families together, and lasting throughout the ages.

It’s not all just bonding with the birds, with my head in the clouds. No, the turtles also are well taken care of by my Biological Science Technician team. The new turtle group we got last week are loving the warmth of the basking lights and the water heaters, that’s for sure! We all love our heaters. These new female pond turtles are so little, but thankfully the older, larger turtles haven’t been too hard on their itty-bitty shells. The care they are getting here is amazing, and their shell damage is showing its rehabilitation as the days progress. Another stellar week. We’ll keep up our end, and keep you posted. Until next time…

 

Turning a new leaf with emergent vegetated mats!

Photos and text by Amanda Mintz, SPP EVM Program Coordinator

In mid-October, SPP delivered our third batch of Emergent pre-Vegetated Mats (EVM) to wetlands at West Rocky Prairie, Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) and Mima Creek Preserve. At these sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) is conducting an experiment using the mats as part of a reed canarygrass suppression strategy. Replacing the reed canarygrass with wetland plants will help restore habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. This project is supported with funding and resources by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, CNLM, and JBLM.

Prior to delivery, we rolled up the mats and let them drain for 24 hours. Even with reduced water, each mat weighs about 60 pounds when it is delivered—healthy roots and shoots are heavy!

Each mat contains a combination of native wetland plants: spreading rush (Juncus supiniformis), tall mannagrass (Glyceria elata), and creeping spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris). The mats were produced in Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s aquaponics greenhouse by a team of corrections staff, incarcerated technicians, and SPP-Evergreen staff.

Staff and volunteers from CNLM and JBLM lay three, 1-meter by 3-meter mats side by side and anchor them with biodegradable stakes.

At each site, the mats are arranged in squares, three meters on each side. Staff and volunteers from JBLM and CNLM prepared the sites using a variety of combinations of herbicide, mowing, and solarization to remove the reed canarygrass; on the day of mat installation, they removed dead grass and root material with weed cutters making it easier for the plants in the mats to make contact with soil and establish themselves quickly. Teams will revisit each square to determine which of the various reed canarygrass treatments best allowed the native wetland species to take hold.

At the site shown here, reed canarygrass was treated only by mowing; in the background, you can see its pre-mowing height of up to six feet tall. Sarah Hamman deploys a water depth gauge–believe it or not, this is a wetland!

Will the coconut coir mats prevent reed canarygrass from growing back? Will the native plants grow quickly enough to establish healthy populations, competing for space with the reed canarygrass? Stay tuned to find out!

Three, 3-meter square mats in each replicate (experimental copy), three replicates per site, and three sites!

Climate Change Symposium in Prison: Incarcerated people creating solutions

Text by Erin Lynam, Workshop Series Coordinator
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On October 18th at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we held the first ever Climate Change Symposium in a prison. The five hour event brought together 91 environmental students, eight SPP-Evergreen staff members, five guest speakers, and five DOC staff members.

First up was Mike Burnham from Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) who gave a presentation about region-wide planning and action for climate change resilience. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

TRPC asked participants to break into small groups to play their board game, Resilience Road. Each group collectively selected and prioritized responses to a climate change challenge for a hypothetical community. This small group included SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The exchange of ideas and insights was a highlights of the symposium. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Students had the chance to show just how knowledgeable they are regarding environmental issues. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

But the game wasn’t all work, it was fun too! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

TRPC graciously donated a copy of Resilience Road to Stafford Creek Corrections Center so that students can continue to play and inform their work as environmental stewards. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During the symposium students were given an opportunity to mingle and engage with guest speakers and SPP staff about climate change. Here they talk to SPP’s former Turtle Program Coordinator Sadie Gilliam. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Next up was incarcerated environmentalist and longtime SPP participant, Toby Erhart. He shared what climate change means to him and what actions he’s taking to address it. He is an active member in the conservation nursery program, beekeeping, and the composting program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

After staff, guests, and students had a lively discussion over a shared lunch, members of Got Green gave a presentation. Johnny Mao, Johnny Fikru, and James Williams of Got Green presented on Got Green’s social and environmental justice work in low income and communities of color. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During Got Green’s presentation, James Williams stated that even though the students may be apart from their community, they were not forgotten and he considered them part of his community. This acknowledgement of oneness is an incredibly rare moment in the prison environment and was moving to witness. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To wrap up the symposium and reflect on everything they learned, SPP invited the students to share what they found most important and what steps to take next. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To have the opportunity to spend the day learning alongside individuals who are emphatically committed to keeping our planet healthy was inspiring. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big news for the SPP-Evergreen team

Dear SPP partners and friends,

I am pleased to make some Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) announcements!

The Evergreen State College recently decided to change SPP’s campus status from a Faculty Project to a Public Service Center. SPP had grown far beyond the scope of a Faculty Project since I took over the co-directorship in 2011. An exciting outcome of this new transition is that establishing SPP as a Public Service Center allows a new model for the directorship.

I am pleased to announce Kelli Bush as SPP’s new Co-Director! She is filling my former role leading the Evergreen side of the partnership. Kelli and her excellent counterpart at Washington State Department of Corrections, Steve Sinclair, will oversee SPP’s programs statewide, and guide and consult on SPP-modeled programs internationally.

Kelli Bush releases Oregon spotted frogs in 2015. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In her 8 years as Program Manager, Kelli has shown herself to be an effective, detailed, and diplomatic leader. She has handily managed the Evergreen side of the SPP partnership, is a thoughtful and supportive supervisor, and has kept all the bits and pieces of this program working smoothly. During my tenure as Co-Director, I could not have asked for a more capable Program Manager than Kelli. As my responsibilities as a faculty member at the college cycled through more demanding transitions, Kelli took up much of the ambitious and challenging work of shaping and implementing programs. I am delighted to formally recognize her talent, vision, and capacity as a leader.

Kelli Bush and Steve Sinclair co-present SPP at American Correctional Association’s conference in August, 2017.

SPP’s Director for WA Corrections Steve Sinclair shares a high regard for Kelli:

“I have had the privilege of knowing Kelli since around 2008. Since that time and as I assumed new roles for SPP, my interactions with Kelli have increased and re-affirmed what I know from my earliest interactions: Kelli is truly dedicated to the mission of SPP, she brings organization and a steadfast determination to the work of SPP. Kelli has played a key leadership role in maintaining operations throughout the many transitions. In her new role, I am sure her vision will drive SPP to new and greater accomplishments.”

This transition to a Public Service Center is essential: organizational and program development and operations require day-to-day decision-making at every level. Even with this shift, SPP will still receive important faculty support and input. As Senior Science Advisor and a member of SPP’s Advisory Panel, I will ensure the ongoing academic strength of SPP programs, and optimize my involvement around scientific contributions. Relieved of administrative duties, I will be able to give more focus to engaging additional members of the faculty which will increase the range and diversity of expertise available to staff.

Dr. Carri LeRoy ready to release Oregon spotted frogs in 2012. SPP staff photo.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to all of you for your roles in helping us to build and champion SPP. We extend special gratitude to the college’s leadership and the Board of Trustee‘s for supporting this organizational transition. I look forward to my interactions with all of you in the future. Thank you for all you do for SPP!

~Carri
Carri J. LeRoy, Ph.D.
Member of the Faculty, Freshwater Ecology
The Evergreen State College

In 2011, Carri and Kelli celebrating the butterfly program with partners, filling up the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly greenhouse at MCCCW.

Kelli and Carri share a laugh with Joslyn at SPP’s ten year celebration in 2013. Photo by Danielle Winder.

Letter from one of the Roots Master Trainers

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator and
Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Instructor

Because Youngblood is a Master Trainer for Roots of Success, he can certify new instructors. Youngblood certified Reyes (left) and Berube (center) for the program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in 2015 and 2017; Reyes and Berube have facilitated 7 classes of Roots students. Photo by DOC staff.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of our Master Trainers for Roots of Success in Washington State, Eugene Youngblood. He recently relocated from Coyote Ridge Corrections Center to Monroe Correctional Complex and spoke at a class graduation in the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL). I was struck by his words because, not only were they relevant to the people assembled, but to so many other people inside and outside prisons. He said “to give praise is to assign value and the people here need to know that they are worthy of value.” Too often in our world, people tend to believe they don’t have value. Perhaps Youngblood is on to something: Maybe by assigning value to those we’ve locked away, we can began to change the world.

 

A Roots of Success class graduation at CRCC in 2016; Youngblood is at the far right. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I want to convey more of Mr. Youngblood’s wisdom, and have a letter from him to share:

The great George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to him. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Sustainability in prison sounds like an oxymoron to most people, I am sure. Prisons going green and prisoners being at the forefront of this movement sounds unreasonable, if not outright unbelievable. Yet, here we are at the Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit, attempting to adapt the world to us, understanding that all progress depends on us… “The unreasonable”.

At our SPL (Sustainability Practice Lab) we are supervised and supported by Correctional Officer Jeffrey Swan, who has done an amazing job creating an atmosphere that is both professional and positive. In these positions, we are gaining valuable job skills and invaluable knowledge that will help us in our quest for successful reentry. I would be remiss if I did not say how much support we get for programs such as this from administration here. CPM Williams continues to be the unseen helping hand, extending to us the support we need to continue the work we are able to do, even when we don’t know how far she has gone to make this all possible. We have a thriving vermiculture program, along with wheelchair and bicycle restoration programs. The wheelchairs are refurbished and restored then donated to those in need across the world. Our last three shipments went to Ghana, Guatemala, and Thailand. The bicycles are refurbished and restored then gifted to local Boys & Girls clubs, YMCA, and to the local police department for their bike drive giveaway. On top of all this work, we are learning at the same time. We have just completed the second Roots of Success environmental literacy class for Monroe Correctional Complex.

The Roots of Success program has become a real agent of change for us in prison. If you want to help people change their actions, the first thing you have to do is help them change their thoughts. How do you help someone change his or her thoughts? You provide them with more information and then you give them the tools to turn that information into knowledge. Real change takes place from the inside out – what is under the ground produces what is above the ground. Thus, we have “Roots” of success and not “Fruits” of success. Environmental literacy helps us understand the impact we have on the environment. Roots of Success helps take that to the next level with prisoners; we are learning about ourselves and the impact we have, not just on our immediate environment (Prison) but the impact we have on our friends, families, our own communities, and ultimately our extended environment (Society). We are helping to make prison sustainable, helping to contribute to the sustainability of society, and all the while helping ourselves become better people in the process by taking what we know and turning that into what we do. In the true spirit of the quote by George Bernard Shaw, we are being “unreasonable” and thus producing progress in THE world and in OUR world as well.

Youngblood (far right) stands with another graduating class from CRCC, in 2014. Photo by SPP Staff.

Farm to Table Celebration at WCC

Text and photos by SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator  Alexandra James

Harvest Pizzas line up.

The Farm-to-Table concept is making headway in Washington state prisons. In general, the concept promotes the use of local food in restaurants, schools, and community centers adjacent to regional farms. This growing season at Washington Corrections Center, SPP’s Conservation Nursery crew tended the vegetable plots adjacent to their violet beds; the crew sowed, grew, and harvested hundreds of pounds of food to support the local food banks, making farm-to-table possible for people with the greatest need.

SPP hosted a pizza party for the crew in celebration of their efforts. Pizza toppings and salad fixings were harvested from vegetables growing in the horticulture garden. The crew worked together to create colorful pizzas to share amongst the SPP nursery crew and DOC staff.

Colorful Pizza topped with edible flowers.

The vegetable garden served as an educational forum, where crew members learned about organic agriculture and the implications of food systems in the United States. Hard work and long hours were a common attribute needed to sustain the gardens. Along with the produce from the horticulture program, WCC produced over 24,414 lbs. under the leadership of Benri Deanon, Grounds Supervisor. The WCC staff and crew members did an incredible job working together to support their local community outside of the prison walls.

The celebration not only marked an important milestone for the gardening season; it was also a joyful transition for SPP staff in the Conservation Nursery. Joey Burgess, SPP coordinator for two years, is moving on to be a horticulture and literacy instructor at WCC. He will be working for Centralia College and will bring his dedication and expertise full time to incarcerated students.

Alexandra James will step in as the new SPP coordinator at WCC. Alex joins the SPP team with experience in environmental education and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and passion for nature with the WCC crew. She hopes to enhance her understanding of environmental education by engaging, empowering, and learning from our incarceration community.

Salad with kale, collard greens, lettuce, edible flowers, chives, and tomatoes.

Beekeepers are hard at work at Stafford Creek

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Class photo of beekeeping apprenticeship students with Ed Baldwin (far left) and Duane McBride (second from the left).

The bees may have turned in for winter, but beekeeping students at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) are still hard at work. Their first beekeeping apprenticeship course is almost done and we are impressed and thankful.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on the last class in the series at SCCC, taught by Duane McBride from the Olympia Beekeepers Association. The students came well prepped for class and full of thoughtful questions. Ed Baldwin, a Grounds Specialist at Stafford Creek, is taking the class as well. Ed hopes to continue to expand the beekeeping program—it has been in place since 2009, but is doing better than ever with the renewed attention and education.

Duane McBride answering questions about a test the students took in an earlier class.

Students that go through the beekeeping apprenticeship course graduate as certified beekeeping apprentices and can put those skills to further use upon release.

Since last spring’s Beekeeping Summit, we have seen beekeeping programs booming statewide – adding nine programs in only six months! We are thrilled by all of the support and enthusiasm surrounding the beekeeping programs. Beekeeping is really taking flight within Washington State prisons and we can’t bee-lieve how fast the program is growing. Keep up the hard work, Stafford Creek!

Students chuckle at a beekeeping pun during the class…we were buzzing with bee puns.  

A student looks up something for reference as Duane McBride talks about hive care.

Students listen as Duane explains hive care techniques.

As class wraps up, students talk and laugh a little before returning back to their normal activities.

This is where the bees are housed at Stafford Creek. The inmates constructed the shelter, painted it, and made the beehives that now homes for two healthy hives.

My First Few Months at SPP

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

When I first heard about a job opening at the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I couldn’t believe there was a group that combined two of my passions. I called my best friend and excitedly shouted at her all I had learned about SPP. Her response was simply “you’re applying for that, right? Cause it’s perfect for you.”

Well, I applied for the position of Green Track Program Coordinator and practiced for my interview over and over. I would like to think I projected an air of confidence during my interview, but I desperately wanted to make a good impression so I made myself quite nervous. A few days later, I received the call offering me the position! I don’t really remember the call, I just remember being so excited I could hardly breathe.

For the second time in my life, I knew I was on the right path.

Emily Passarelli and Bethany Shepler observe nursery technicians at WCC picking buds from violets that will be used for re-seeding later. Photo by SPP Staff.

Sitting at my desk a few months later, I still know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I still get excited to go to work, I love the challenges this job brings, and I can’t wait to find out what I learn throughout my time here.

Although I don’t get to go to prison as often as my colleagues do, when I do I find that I’m always surprised by how normal everything feels “inside.” I sometimes forget where I am until I see the barbed wire and guard towers.

Group photo of Climate Symposium at SCCC. This was an incredible event about climate change and the actions people can take to mitigate it. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The thing that surprises me the most is how inspiring the inmates are. They are full of hope. Out of all the inspirational speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in my lifetime, the most powerful voices are those of the incarcerated individuals I work with. I often leave prison feeling hopeful and positive about the state of the world. Regardless of the tweets or breaking news, it’s the people who we’ve locked away that are showing me the way forward.

Happenings at Cedar Creek Corrections

Text and photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator

After several months of planning, a new wildlife conservation program at Cedar Creek Correctional Facility will soon be up and running. We are excited to team up with biologists from the U.S. Forest Service to implement the woodpecker nest monitoring program. The program is mainly a research project: technicians review video footage of endangered woodpeckers at their nests, and document activities of animals that may depredate the nest.

Partners in endangered species conservation for Cedar Creek Corrections Center, from left to right: Technician, John Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Douglas Cole, Loretta Adams (SPP Liaison), Philip Fischer (U.S. Forest Service), Kelli Bush (SPP Co-Director), Teresa Lorenz (U.S. Forest Service), Technician William Anglemyer

In part to allow the new program, Cedar Creek’s conservation efforts will be served by a larger group of incarcerated technicians, adding about 6 more individuals to the existing two turtle technicians; the larger group will rotate through turtle and woodpecker programs, plus a future aquaponics program. Woodpecker technicians in the prison will receive similar training and education to that of undergraduate students who perform the same work. They will learn about topics such as wildlife species identification, ecology, conservation, and data documentation.

New turtle technician, Mr. Fitzpatrick leads a tour of the turtle facility at Cedar Creek.

Last month, U.S. Forest Service biologists, Teresa Lorenz and Philip Fischer were able to visit the Cedar Creek facility and turtle technicians treated them to a tour of the western pond turtle program. The newest turtle technician Mr. John Fitzpatrick did a great job of leading his first tour for an outside group. Mr. Fitzpatrick, the first incarcerated winner of a Mike Rowe Foundation scholarship, has been an excellent addition to the turtle team; he brings an infectious, positive attitude, and zest for learning. We are thankful for the animal handling skills, training, and wealth of knowledge he is receiving from veteran turtle technician Mr. William Angleymyer.

Mr. Fitzpatrick explains the mealworm rearing setup. The mealworms are a source of food for the turtles.

Cedar Creek currently has three resident western pond turtles, including one healthy turtle that was found by someone on the side of the road. Because this turtle is disease-free, he is being kept separately from the other turtles—in quarantine—until he can be released in the spring. The three turtles at Cedar Creek will be joined by 7 more by the end of November.

Training for the woodpecker nest monitoring project will take place in November where we will be joined with newly-hired technicians and members of the horticulture team.

 

Mr. Anglemyer shows the healthy turtle to Teresa and Phil from the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Turtle technicians Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Anglemyer pose with the healthy western pond turtle.

 

SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica with turtle technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Fitzpatrick

Inmates Assemble Life-Saving Clean Drinking Water Systems

By Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications
Originally published to Washington State Department of Corrections Newsroom

WALLA WALLA – More than 3.4 million people die each year from diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.

A group of inmates is doing their part to help change that.

Inmate crews at the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) transform discarded and donated materials into usable items such as refurbished bicycles and furniture. The lab’s latest venture is a new type of water filtration system that will be sent to developing countries plagued with waterborne illnesses.

Inmates form an assembly line around a table surrounded by materials needed to build SafeTap water systems.

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab assemble SafeTap water systems. The systems will be used to provide clean water to people living in developing countries. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Penitentiary Sustainable Practices Lab)

The SafeTap water filtration system is the brainchild of Andy Pierce, a former plumbing contractor who founded the California-based non-profit, Project 41. A volunteer humanitarian trip to Haiti following a deadly earthquake in 2010 inspired Pierce to start the organization. He’s taken subsequent trips to developing countries worldwide that often have hospitals and health clinics where water supplies are contaminated with harmful bacteria.

His humanitarian work involved installing large-scale water systems. While he was doing this, he came up with the idea of creating a small, portable water filter made from pipes, fittings and valves. The filters are stuffed with hundreds of tiny straws made of a hollow-fiber membrane that blocks bacteria. The SafeTap devices can be connected to existing water filtration systems to produce clean water. His invention can filter up to three gallons of water per minute.

“The Sustainable Practices Lab was just a huge answer to prayer,” Pierce said. “I was impressed with how well these guys have taken up the cause and keep pushing forward toward excellence and refining the (assembly) process. I’m really blown away.”

Impact of Partnership

The partnership between Pierce and the penitentiary resulted from a chance meeting at a national conference last year on environmental sustainability. The conference, held in Albany, Ore., had dozens of vendors from around the country. Pierce was one of the exhibitors.

Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Christopher McGill and Robert Branscum, two correctional specialists who oversee the penitentiary’s Sustainability Practices Lab, stopped at Pierce’s booth and learned about the SafeTap system.

At the time, Pierce was running his plumbing business by day and building SafeTap units at his home by night, but production time was slow, McGill said. “That’s when I told him about the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab.”

For the past few months, a crew of nine inmates has been assembling SafeTap water filtration systems.

Project 41 funds the materials with donations from a private foundation, Pierce said.

Pierce ships the materials to the penitentiary. Inmates assemble the filtration systems. Once assembled, the systems are shipped to countries in need of clean water.

Inmates have assembled more than 150 SafeTap units. Thirty-five of the units have been sent to various countries, including eight to Puerto Rico to assist with Hurricane Maria relief efforts. A total of 115 units are heading to the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands and more are headed to the East African Republic of Uganda and Ghana.

Sustainable Practices Lab’s Kieth Parkins has transformed his life sentence into a life of service. He expresses his empathy for families needing clean water by building water purification systems that will meet their needs. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

While the SafeTap systems are saving lives overseas, the partnership is transforming lives at the penitentiary.

Kieth Parkins, 49, is serving a life sentence for multiple robbery convictions. He knows his actions in prison won’t have any impact on the length of his sentence, but the project has helped him find something meaningful behind bars.

“As a prisoner, I have always felt like I was a drain on society,” Parkins said. “But now, through the Sustainable Practices Lab and the water department, I am able to be a part of something that is literally saving lives throughout the world. In the process, it’s saving my life as well.”

Editor’s note: The SafeTap water filtration system was also a finalist in the 2017 Chasing Genius contest, sponsored by National Geographic. Entrants competed against other groundbreaking humanitarian projects for a cash prize. Watch the video entry with inmate interviews.