Garden expansion and delicious prison bananas: Olympic Corrections Center Horticulture Program

Text and photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Planted and cared for by the horticulture students at Olympic Corrections Center, these roses, are ready to bloom.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) in June. I was excited to see all of the gardens’ growth and expansion since my visit last year. After my visit last year, I published a blog about the different sustainability programming at OCC. Though my visits were in different seasons, comparisons were still clear.
OCC is on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by the PNW’s famous temperate rainforest and gets rain most days of the year. OCC is referred to as a “camp”–meaning it houses people who have 4 years or less on their prison sentence–and currently houses about 380 incarcerated individuals. OCC offers some incredible sustainability programs including horticulture, a pre-apprenticeship trade skills program similar to TRAC, wastewater treatment, composting, wood shop, and dog training. OCC also partners with Peninsula College to offer educational opportunities. OCC’s horticulture program, sponsored by instructor Jamie Calley, allows students to take classes, plant and maintain gardens, design and implement projects, and earn certificates for their work.

This landscaping surrounds the greenhouses at OCC… the “H” is for horticulture!

When I first arrived, the facility looked pretty much the same: fences, buildings, lots of tan outfits. But, once I got inside and I was blown away by all of the plant growth and garden expansion in the horticulture area. The horticulture program’s hard work and innovation were well apparent: they’d added whole garden areas, flowerbeds encircling the greenhouses, and additional landscaping in the established garden area. In just over a year, the horticulture students and Ms. Calley have transformed OCC.

Below are pictures of the horticulture area from both my visit in March of 2018 and my most recent visit in June. They really illustrate how much the program participants have accomplished in a year.

This vegetable garden is a new addition since I visited last year. The horticulturists have been busy!
These bananas grow inside the greenhouse – I got to eat one and they are delicious!
Jamie Calley is the staff sponsor for the horticulture program at OCC. Here, Jamie is looking at some of the beautiful landscaping and gardens the horticulture cared for by students. Without a doubt, her enthusiastic support and advocacy for this program has enabled progress and expansions in the program.

Growth!

Text and photos by Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator.

Following some adjustments this past winter, the aquaponics system at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) is now thriving. It took a lot of work and perseverance from Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) Biological Technicians, but their dedication has paid off.

Earlier this winter, SPP technicians noticed that these plants were looking a little yellow, an indication that they weren’t getting enough iron.

In January, Nick Naselli and Daniel Cherniske, co-founders of Symbiotic Cycles, assessed the state of the system and found that the pH, at 7.8-8, was too alkaline for plant life. The high pH had made the iron in the system inaccessible to the plants, resulting in yellowing of the leaves and stunted growth. In order to combat these problems, Symbiotic Cycles and SPP Biological Technicians changed the system’s bio-media from grow stones to red pumice rock and added iron nutrient to the system. Take a look through the photos to see the impact of these adjustments!

SPP Biological Technician, Lorenzo Stewart, situates the plugs in the system’s raft beds.
With the adjustments to the pH and iron levels, the greens started to take off.
SPP Biological Technician, Donald McLain, checks the plants for insects. Technicians spray plant leaves with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, natural soap, and water to deter the aphids.
Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder, Daniel Cherniske, assesses system progress during a recent site visit to Cedar Creek.

Plants that do well in an aquaponics system include leafy greens like lettuce, kale, chard, mustard greens, and bok choy. Cilantro and chives also thrive, and they even help keep away aphids.
The greens from this system are used in Cedar Creek’s kitchens to help provide the facility’s incarcerated population with fresh, healthy meals.

The greens are looking much better, well on their way to harvest.
After a little TLC, the plants are looking plush! The fan in this photo helps improve air circulation, which is beneficial for the plants and can help deter aphids.

With summer around the corner, SPP Biological Technicians will soon have to combat rising temperatures and increased sun exposure, but the introduction of a fan and shade cloth will help maintain a healthy and productive system.

Connecting to science

By Situe Fuiava, SPP Conservation Technician at Washington Corrections Center. Mr. Fuiava wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

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

My name is Situe Fuiava and I have been incarcerated since the age of 16. When I first came into prison I only knew about street knowledge. I didn’t really know much about anything academically let alone science.

Situe Faiva receives seeds picked by a program visitor; program technicians collect seeds from violets and other prairie plants for Salish lowland restoration efforts. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

What led me to this path of learning is when my nephew asked me to help him with something in school. I couldn’t even answer him. I glamourized and answered everything he asked me about the streets, but could not give him anything academically. That was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. That was when the light finally turned on for me. I knew that I had to change something before I was going to have a family reunion in prison instead of the community.

During my time of incarceration, one of the programs that dramatically changed my life is the Sustainability in Prisons Projects (SPP). The SPP program is responsible for involving incarcerated individuals in multiple sustainable programs in the United States. In Washington State, in conjunction with Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), this program is working towards the restoration of prairies in the greater Northwest. To assist with the program, at Washington Correction Center (WCC) incarcerated individuals work with the largest violet nursery in the world. We also have created the very first demonstration prairie in Department of Corrections (DOC).

The Prairie Conservation Nursery Crew: pictured from left to right are technician Fred Burr, TAs John Thompson and Situe Fuiava, and technicians Michael Johnson and Dustin Sutherland.
Situe Fuiava collects violet seeds in the nursery. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I love that we have our own demonstration prairie garden here at this facility because it shows everyone the relationship between the violets and other species that are also found in the prairies of the South Puget Sound area. For me, the best ways of learning and teaching about prairies is by providing hands-on experiences and allowing people to see what happens in a natural prairie. This teaches us what species grow best around the violets and what species are not as beneficial for them. This is one of the few times being incarcerated has been a benefit to me. Having the ability to care for the violets around the clock (besides weekends) is pleasant as well as challenging. We have the ability to sustain life. We built the demonstration garden in 2018 and have seen it flourish in the first season. This is our way of teaching and learning; science in its finest form. 

I have worked in many places in the prison system.  Some of my jobs have been gym porter, barber, kitchen worker, unit porter, dayroom porter, and plumber. Only now do I have a job that challenges me mentally.

A good brother of mine was already working in the program introduced me to the SPP program and horticulture program. I decided to go into it without expectations and have an open mind. I was eager to learn something new and further my academic education, but I did not want to expect to get something from it and end up disappointed.

This job has been the best I have had.  It gives me the opportunity to work and to gain knowledge I would have never taken the time to learn otherwise. Since starting my job with the SPP program, I’ve taken classes on bee handling, record keeping, seed germination, stratification process, transplanting, watering techniques planting depth, how to check the soil, water P.H levels, and when the first and last frost are so that we know when to sow.

I have also learned that everything is connected in one way or another. Everything has the same needs. These are things that we might not understand because we did not grow up learning them. All matter on earth is made up of one or more of the 118 chemical elements that are found on earth. The chemical element carbon is essential to everything because it is the building block for all living organisms. Just as carbon is vital to the foundation of an organism, water is also needed to sustain life on earth. We need soil because the soil is the building block for the evolution of vascular plants. Vascular plants played a big role in a plant’s ability to live further away from water. Without one of the three elements, life on earth as we know it would be nonexistent. Without carbon or water, life on earth would be stuck at the Bryophyte stage.

We need “Nature”. Nature is a great teacher of science. It has a way of creating great relationships within its own ecosystem. I find it interesting that this planet has been here for billions of years. Humans take up a small fraction of that timeline. With minimal time we inhabited the earth, we caused more harm than good to our planet. I believe that if we start paying attention to the relationships that happen organically and naturally in nature, that knowledge can give us the answer of how to prolong our time on earth.

Viola adunca blooms in the beds at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Alexandra James.

Like I said, the more I learn, the more I believe that everything is connected.

When I first started talking about nature, I thought of nature as a place that hasn’t been touched or bothered by humans. I have learned that nature is everything. Nature is everything that the earth produces naturally. So if everything provided by the earth is considered nature, would we consider a manmade environment nature? If everything on earth is created on earth, why would we say that everything that is manmade isn’t nature when the things that we use to make these structures are from earth. In the wild, animals use everything within their means to survive. When we humans take from nature we take more than what we need. I believe that when we build man-made structures it’s still nature as long as it has a way to give back to nature, instead of just leeching off the eco-system.

When I think of sustainability I think of the ability to keep life going. What we are doing here at Washington Corrections Center is helping with sustaining the life of the silverspot butterfly by growing Viola adunca and Viola praemorsa. With growing these species we are naturally creating an environment for the pollinators.  

Someone’s in-prison experience with science can positively affect his or her choices by simply using the scientific method. Most men incarcerated are here because we tend to make claims without even having any evidence to back up what we claim to have been real or true. If we are never taught to research or question what we learn, it can have a negative effect on our behanviors. What we display on a day-to-day basis are learned behaviors. If we are raised up and we see everyone doing the same thing, whether right or wrong, we automatically think it’s the norm.    

Amazing GRACE: Garden Grows Vegetables, Hope

By Rachel FriederichDOC Communications
Originally published July 31, 2019, in DOC Communications newsroom; reposted here with permission

A member of the offsite crew tends the GRACE project garden, located near Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.
Violet Rose Garcia (left) and Maria Jones (right) harvest some green onions. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

POULSBO – Violet Garcia crouches among rows of lush, green kale and lettuce. Her tan work shoes are caked with dirt, evidence of her hard work.

Between her gloved fingers is a robust bundle of green onions. She smiles as she trims back their long roots with a pair of garden shears.

“I’m giving them a haircut,” Garcia, 37, says. “I didn’t know green onions could get this big!”

Kaela Glover (left) and Jamie Hugdahl (right) hold some purple cauliflower they grew and harvested from the GRACE garden in Poulsbo. The women are part of an incarcerated work crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women who maintain the garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

The project is called the GRACE garden. The acronym GRACE stands for Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education. Besides the food bank, the garden is used as an educational demonstration garden for community groups.

Garcia is one of five incarcerated women who have traveled from the Belfair, Washington prison, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women to a garden in Kitsap County. The work crew does all the planting, weeding and harvesting of produce, which is given to the Central Kitsap Food Bank.

Solving a Problem

It’s all part of a partnership the Department of Corrections has with the Kitsap Conservation District.

Last year, the district opened the garden, a project made possible by a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts. The grant focuses on projects that reduce food insecurity and address food deserts.

A crewmember harvests cabbage. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Approximately 11.6% of Kitsap County’s population, or 30,000 people, experienced food insecurity in 2017, according to data collected by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. Statewide, nearly 849,000 people, or 11.5% of the population, experienced food insecurity during the same period. Food insecurity can be especially rampant in areas defined as “food deserts,” or areas that lack fresh foods due to a lack of grocery stores, farmer’s markets or healthy food providers. They often occur in impoverished and/or rural communities.

That’s where organizations like food banks and the Kitsap Conservation District can assist.

Boxes of kale and green lettuce sit at the Central Kitsap Food Bank. Women from Mission Creek Corrections Center in Mason county grew the produce in a garden in Poulsbo. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Besides running the GRACE garden project, the Kitsap Conservation District holds workshops that teach people how to grow their own food. As a partner with Kitsap County’s Clean Water Kitsap program, it also performs work with farmers and livestock owners to protect the health and wellbeing of their animals, increase crop productivity, and protect water quality and soil erosion. Members of the garden work crew also work with the conservation district on stream restoration projects. Crews remove noxious weeds from salmon habitat and replace them with native plants, which helps improve and restore salmon habitats.

Opening Doors

The work the incarcerated women perform doesn’t just impact the community. It also goes a long way toward their rehabilitation, according to Diane Fish, resource planner for the district’s agricultural assistance program.

“When you see how their attitude changes and their understanding changes, their desires change over the time that they are able to be on crew,” Fish said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”

For example, the garden helped one of the crew members pursue higher education. Fish said one of the incarcerated women shared that many of the topics she was learning through her work on the crew—biology and the environment—were many of the same things she was learning in the science class she was taking to earn her GED. Through some encouragement from her correctional counselor and Fish, the woman decided to get her diploma. A few months later, the woman was part of a graduation ceremony at Mission Creek. She’s now enrolled in college courses at the correctional facility. The incarcerated crew member recently told Fish she’s working on a degree in environmental studies so she can one day work with the Squaxin Island Native American tribal community on salmon habitat restoration.

Gardeners harvest greens from the GRACE garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Fish says the work crews do more than just pull weeds – they learn to describe their skills and credentials to potential employers. Things they learn about on the crew– habitat restoration and knowledge of native plants and noxious weeds, for example– can lead to jobs in agriculture, commercial greenhouses, farming, and horticulture industries.

Garcia is scheduled to release from incarceration in two years. She’s still exploring her career options. She is a Native American and wants to use her newfound knowledge about the environment to find a job within her tribe, the Squaxin Island Tribe.

“That’s where my heart stands,” Garcia says. “It’s changed my outlook on a lot of different things. I’ve got to plant things and watch them grow and, at the end of the day, when we (work crew) look and see our work and say ‘Oh my gosh. We did that. We did that.’”

Safety and Eligibility

The Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District makes sure everyone at the worksite as well as surrounding communities are safe.

A correctional officer supervises the work crews at all times. Crew members must meet a strict set of requirements, including being classified as a minimum-security custody level. They can’t have any serious infractions for six months, nor any drug-related infractions for at least a year. Crew members can’t have ties to family members, victims or gangs in the community in which they’ll be working.

At the GRACE garden, there are no public tours when the incarcerated gardeners are present.

The crew also receives occupational safety training on working outdoors and how to properly use garden tools. Conservation district staff inventory tools after each shift and secure them when not in use.

Additionally, correctional staff provide conservation staff who will be working with the crew orientation and continuous safety training.

Susan Keeler, a correctional officer who supervises the work crew, says getting to leave prison for a few hours a day might seem like a special privilege to outsiders. “But what people may not realize is that in addition to this being hard work, all these women are getting out of prison at some point. They need to learn how to fit back into society and be a part of it again. It makes them feel good and they’re doing something positive and contributing to society.”

Impact

A gardener cleans up a small cabbage before adding it to the transport container. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communictions.

Peggy Knott, 39, says she’s an example of that. She has just under two years left on her prison sentence. She says while she’s been on the work crew, she’s learned many jobs she could qualify for after prison, many of which she might not have considered otherwise, like wastewater management or working on a farm.

“I’ve taken so much from my community in the past and giving back gives me a more positive aspect on the type of person I can be,” Knott said. “For us to come out and do this, it makes us better people. You really push yourself and you feel really proud of yourself at the end of the day.”

Second Chances and the WAG Program at Clallam Bay

Main text by Douglas Gallagher, Incarcerated Dog Trainer at Clallam Bay Corrections Center
Introduction by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Incarcerated dog handlers reunite with a dog they trained at the second annual reunion on October 17, 2017. Photo by Brian Harmon, taken from http://www.wagsequimwa.com/PrisonProgram.html

At the Sustainability Fair at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC), I had the chance to learn about the Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) dog program. WAG works with incarcerated dog handlers at CBCC to train dogs who have been labeled as “unadoptable.” Since the program’s inception in 2012, incarcerated dog handlers have trained over 200 adult dogs and puppies. This training often includes teaching the dogs to trust people, interact with other dogs, and perform for common commands. 99% of the dogs that have gone through training at CBCC has been adopted into a forever home! Each one went through WAG’s rigorous adoption process including applications, interviews, and inspecting the potential house. Check out WAG’s Facebook page and their website for more information about the work they do (and for beautiful dog portraits).

Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC). Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The dog program sponsor at CBCC, Tanja Cain, worked with WAG to establish a “Reunion Day.” Dogs return to the prison for a day along with their adoptive parents. Incarcerated dog handlers get to see dogs they helped train and meet the people who adopted them. And the dogs get to see the people who gave them a second chance at life. When the dogs arrive, they know exactly where they are and rush to their former handlers with wagging tails and lots of kisses.

Mr. Gallagher is a certified trainer working at CBCC and he gave a speech at the Sustainability Fair about the WAG program and what it means to him.

The WAG program and what it means to me

My name Douglas Gallagher and I have been in the dog program here at Clallam Bay since March of 2014. In the last five years, I have had the pleasure of training 26 dogs. I have also become a Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer Instructor otherwise known as a “CBATI” something I am very proud of.

Mr. Gallagher was one of the incarcerated handlers who helped to train Andy. Even though Andy is a little shy, he agreed to pose for this photo. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

When I first got into the program, I knew nothing about training dogs, and in fact, felt a little overwhelmed by it all. I was lucky to move in with someone who had trained a few dogs, and he assured me that if I read all of the books and paid attention, I would learn fast and become confident in my abilities. As nervous as I was about my newfound responsibility, I took to it as a fish takes to water. I read all of the books that were provided to us, watched the videos and worked with the other handlers who had more experience than I did. And I learned how to work as part of a team. It was a challenge, and coming from a background where I only cared about myself, it took some time for me to adjust to it all and I love it.

Here’s Andy’s portrait picture from WAG’s Facebook page. Photo credit: Dog Light Photography.

You see, like most of the dogs that we get from WAG, I too was broken. When I came back to prison with my third strike, I was at my wit’s end. Drug addiction had broken me, and I had a long road of recovery before me. Over the last several years in the program, I have become a new person.

I could identify with the dogs that WAG brings us because like most of them, I knew what it was like to be cast off. The program has taught me more than I ever thought it would – how to be responsible, how to be patient, to have empathy, how to work with others, and most of all, how to love. When I get a fearful dog who won’t even take treats, and nurse it back to health and watch it transform into a new dog, it brings me great joy. There are just no words to describe it. Each dog has its issues, just like us. Each dog is unique in its own way, just like us. Each day I look forward to learning something new. When I first joined the program I knew that it was going to be a challenge, and take a lot of dedication, yet I had no idea just how fulfilling it would be. There is no greater feeling than watching a broken dog become whole and go to its forever home. I want to thank WAG and Ms. Cain for allowing all of us handlers to participate in this life-changing endeavor. Now I will share some quotes from some of the other handlers.

“The dog program gives me a sense of purpose and allows me to make a positive impact on the lives of dogs as well as myself. All while giving me skills that I can use to help me to be successful out in the community and prevent me from re-offending.” Mr. Thompson


“What the dog program means to me is: love, passion for life, teaching, and learning!” Mr. Parren

“This dog program has helped me grow as a person. It showed me how to be responsible and not be a selfish person. Now I have someone that depends on me for everything and I love it. This program gives me a sense of self-worth.” Mr. De Le Cruz

“It has made me less selfish.” Mr. Osalde

Life in a cell/cell/cell

by Shappa, Journeyman Beekeeper at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Shappa wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Living in a prison cell is a combination of living in a honeybee hive and a monastery: a place where active growth where peace and contentment can be attained once you realize your vocation in life. In all three — prison, hive, and monastery — there is growth in a small space for each transitory life (inmate, bee, and monk) living in the cell. All are organized, by either custody level, colony, or community, in a structured, and hopefully disciplined way. One of the strangest and yet unsurprising aspects of each is the frequency of death, disorder, or disruption.

A queen bee (marked by a pink dot) is surrounded by worker bees in this healthy hive. Photo by Rachel Friederich.

The lives of honeybees are spent mostly working and living in a colony, or a hive, that has combs consisting of numerous cells. Their lifespans are short: 3-5 years for the queen, about 6 weeks for the female workers, and only 3 weeks or so for the males, called “drones.” The queen governs her colony, but she can and will be replaced if she’s not healthy enough or some other deficiency exists as determined by the worker bees. After mating with several drones, the queen lays hundreds of eggs daily, and the hive’s operation produces honey, wax, pollen, and royal jelly. In each magnificently-engineered comb (every cell is perfectly constructed at 70° angles), a honeybee’s life begins, honey is stored, wax is produced, and workers function in many other ways to furiously try to keep pace with a healthy queen in her hive.

Recreation of a monk’s cell in the Museum of the Sierra Gorda in Mexico. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

Monks live in cells within a community where efforts to “die-to-self” begin. An abbot or prior manages the monastery; he instills obedience and becomes, in most cases, a spiritual counselor for the monks housed there. The monastery is a place of spiritual growth through prayer and work, referred to by Benedictine monks in Latin: ora et labora. It is a world far removed from secular society where a monk can fine-tune his prayers from the heart and hone skills of contentment and discernment using solitude, silence, and stillness. The unsatisfying, competitive consumerism of the world is abandoned and replaced when the monk surrenders to his higher authority, even at the cost of needed sleep when he’s called upon by God (or his abbot) to asceticism and self-sacrifice: intercessory prayer day and night can help those suffering; fasting can discipline oneself to exercise self-control over the flesh and build the virtue of temperance to overcome sin; and other forms of penance can excise vices. The consecrated life of a monk includes the three evangelical counsels: vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. A vow of stability is also included for Benedictines. Contemplative prayer, humility, and obedience — even in solitude when the monk is quietly alone with God and only God — are critical components of spiritual growth and heightened discernment, which is granted to the ones who have experiential encounters with Christ in the ineffable mysticism discovered in his cell.

Inmates live in a prison where they’re assigned to a cell: the place where you flourish, fail, or die depends on the choices you make. Prison is controlled and managed as a quasi-military organization with teams of officers who respond to situations ranging from an emotionally disturbed patient’s hurt feelings to hostage negotiations. Sometimes it’s a hostile battlefield where small wars erupt, both within oneself and without engagement of the mind. Other times it’s just an overflow for Eastern State Hospital. For the man who’s willing to honestly assess himself, put in the often difficult work necessary to change, start to properly order his life in a healthy way and answer his calling, there’s plenty of time and available resources to better their lives with spiritual enlightenment and enhance the future for themselves, their family, and their community.

Beekeepers at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with their hives. Photo courtesy of Kay Heinrich.

An incubation period is always good for growth, whether it’s in a honeybee hive, a monastery, or a prison.

Turtle Release Day for Cedar Creek

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos by Bill Anglemyer, Evergreen student and former Turtle Technician.

SPP Biological Technician, Jeramie Inge, and Evergreen student, Bill Angelmyer, with a western pond turtle. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

With the technicians responsible for their rehabilitation, on April 10th, ten turtles made their way back to the ponds at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. Three incarcerated Biological Technicians working for The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) had spent the last five months caring for the turtles and monitoring their progress. The turtles had been healing after being treated for the mysterious shell disease that has been afflicting their population.

Left to right: SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, and SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

The turtles are western pond turtles, a state-listed endangered species. The historic population had been devastated by human harvesting. Their numbers were lowered additionally by habitat destruction and an influx of invasive species. Twenty-five years ago, the population of western pond turtles in Washington State was estimated to be only around a hundred and fifty. Efforts were taken to protect and enhance their numbers. These efforts have been successful. The current population is estimated at eight hundred.

SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing one of the western pond turtles he cared for at Cedar Creek.
SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing a western pond turtle.
From left to right: WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological technician Donald McLain, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, and SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge.

Tragically, the shell disease appeared in the last decade, and it is seriously impacting western pond turtles. While Washington State Fish and Wildlife biologists and veterinarians attempt to find the cause of shell disease, they are trying different tactics in treating the turtles that are most afflicted. After the treatments, which involve removing diseased sections of the turtles’ shells, the turtles need a place to heal. The technicians at Cedar Creek make sure that the turtles are well-fed and have clean habitats. Additionally, the technicians keep detailed records of the healing progress of the turtles’ shells. Lots of effort goes into keeping them as stress free as possible. The rehabilitation area is kept quiet because loud noises and other external stimuli cause stress in the wild turtles, which hampers their ability to heal.

WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy.

Releasing the turtles back into the wild was a fairly simple and fanfare-free procedure. The technicians, SPP coordinator, SPP liaison, corrections officer, Fish and Wildlife biologist, and myself walked the strategically placed wooden planks that grant access to the edge of the pond. The plastic shoebox containers that were used to transport the turtles were opened, and the turtles taken out and gently placed in the water. Most of the turtles looked around for a second, as if to gain their bearing, and then swam off disappearing into the pond. Although the turtles need the treatment, they are wild critters, and they don’t like to be in a captive environment; they take to the murky pond like a prisoner to freedom.

WDFW Biologist Emily Butler shows Biological Technicians from Cedar Creek how she identifies each turtle.
WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It was a great experience seeing the turtles swim off into the pond. It was great to talk to the technicians about their experiences caring for the turtles. To hear the technicians talk about their plans for the future was inspiring. This is because I was a turtle technician at Cedar Creek for three years. I was caring for turtles inside the prison only a short year ago. The current technicians seemed to be inspired by my presence too. We talked about education—I’m currently in college. I was elated to hear that each one of the technicians was seriously considering furthering their education once released. I hope to be invited to future releases and to meet with new technicians.

Left to right: Donald McLain, William Rathgaber, Jeramie Inge, and Bill Anglemyer. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

What is the goal for tomorrow?

By Christian Betancourt , Student and Teaching Assistant at Grays Harbor College

Christian presented to guests, incarcerated individuals, and corrections staff. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Christian Betancourt was one of the first speakers during the day-long Pathway to Reentry event at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (learn more about the event here). He graciously shared his speech for publication on the SPP website.

Like most, it took me quite a while to finally attain my GED. From the day I started taking my pre-test to the day I finished my final test, I was a nervous wreck…It had been so many years since the last time I had done only academic studies that I was unsure if I could actually attain my GED…Thankfully, I had a patient and understanding teacher…

What also motivated me to succeed were my children. I didn’t want them to come to a crossroad in life where school seemed too hard and they want to drop out like I did…How could I convince my kids the importance of education if I, being their father, could not do the same?…I wanted to show them that no matter the adversity, all things are possible…To show them their futures are worth investing time into…

Derrick Bason gives his full attention to a speaker. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I remember a conversation with my two youngest, that I was taking a couple of classes to better myself…Do you know what they said? They said, “Dad you’re old; why are you going to school?” I explained to them that even though you grow up in life, your mind doesn’t have to become stagnant…Education continues on in life…That there is knowledge and educational value in all facets of life…

Students take notes during the event. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

There is something I ask my kids at night prior to bed…I ask them, “So, what’s the goal for tomorrow?”…They will both say, “to learn something, Dad.” You see, I want school to be exciting for them…I want them to remember to be receptive and to learn even just one thing, because you never know when said information will become useful.

Eddie “Truck” Gordon once said, “If your actions are not in line with your beliefs…then stop lying to yourself.” How could I tell my kids about the importance of continuing education if I neglected my own educational responsibilities…

I need to leap over my hurdles

I started the BT One class…we covered a lot of information I believed to be useless…I didn’t take the class seriously…I thought, “What’s the point of all this book work?”

Slowly but surely the class stared to peak my interest…It covered all types of important information…The type you knew, for one, needed to be written down or else you might forget what you just learned…For two, you knew that even if you didn’t do what you learned for a profession, you could utilize what you learned on your own home…

An attendee looks at a map of the Evergreen State College campus; many talked about coming to the college post-release. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You would be surprised how quickly class went by for me…However, I was ready to do other things…still not taking my situation seriously…I tried all that I could to not take any more classes. Regardless of my non-acceptance of this class, I was none-the-less enrolled… I made up my mind to do the bare minimum

Christian talks with Kingsa McKnight. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

When I started the BT 2 Class, I met my instructor, Mr. Kelly Richters…He had a very different way to instruct his students…He allowed us to be creative when it came to our capstone project and our modules…He promoted individual creativity and then for us to come together for a collaborative project…Mr. Richters asked me if I wanted a job as a TA…I stand here in front of you today having been roughly two years major infraction free…I have been TA’ing for close to a year now…I still learn new things each and every day…I won’t say it’s been easy…I’ve never been a people person…I truly don’t like giving big speeches…But, to head where I want in life, I need to leap over my hurdles. Change is scary, but truly worth it, if we apply our whole heart and soul into our tasks.

No one is meant to know everything, but if you continue to focus on learning all that you can, you’ll be able to maneuver around this life with relative eases…There will still be up’s and down’s, yet if we are better equipped for these days, we can break the cycle of recidivism…

We want to have the right tools to push our little ones, our younger relatives in the correct direction…that way they can succeed and have a fighting chance in this world…Aside from ourselves, they are the ones we should be doing this for…helping the next generation be great.

So, I say again to those gathered here today: “What is the goal for tomorrow?”

Attendee Curtis Johnson speaks with other attendees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.