Healing people and the environment

by Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

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Susan Christopher holds a butterfly larvae so PBS Newshour’s Cat Wise can take a photo. Photo by Kelli Bush.

In the past, our environment has suffered from many injustices inflicted by society. Over-development, air and water pollution, toxic waste production and irresponsible use of natural resources have negatively affected our environment in ways it may take generations to overcome.

Incarcerated individuals also feel the affliction of societal injustices. While most of us assume responsibility for our actions that led us to prison, the underlying reasons for those actions many times stem from injustices we have suffered at the hands of others. Unlike environmental injustices, broken homes, neglect, abuse, and abandonment are issue most of us can relate to.

This is where the sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) steps in. SPP offers the amazing opportunity to simultaneously heal both the environment and incarcerated individuals by bringing science and nature together, inside prison walls.

As a butterfly rearing and breeding technician at Mission Creek Correction Center for Women (MCCCW), I can personally speak for the tremendous impact this opportunity has made on my life. This awe-inspiring collaboration of partners includes scientists, biologists, students, administrators, inmates, and other, from several state and federal agencies, zoos, colleges, and prisons. It is astounding to be involved with such a large partnership that works so well together.

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A technician shares a close up of an adult butterfly in the lab during the 2016 breeding season. Photo by Kelli Bush.

SPP’s vision of creating an intellectually stimulating environment in which we have key roles in conservation, sustainability, and the advancement of scientific knowledge has, without a doubt, been the most positive endeavor I’ve ever been associated with.

The successes of our program have proven the worth of everyone’s efforts. It is so personally rewarding to be asked for my opinions and insights on such a complex subject matter, especially when I see some of those ideas are incorporated into program protocols.

The amount of healing I’ve received through my involvement with SPP has been immeasurable. There is also an overwhelming satisfaction in knowing that we are contributing to our environment’s recovery.

Thank you SPP for righting some of the past’s wrongs. I really do believe justice is being served through your hard work.

See Susan Christopher in the PBS Newshour interview here.

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Reaching the Unreachable

by Cyril Delanto Walrond, Roots of Success Master Trainer/Instructor, Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

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Cyril Waldron teaches a class of soon-to-be Instructors how to teach the Roots of Success curriculum. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Just Sustainability must be about all of us and not just some of us. It must be less about policies and procedures and more about the people. It must be less about corporations and capital and more about the community. To have true just sustainability we must be willing to reach those deemed unreachable, those who have been marginalized and incapacitated by institutions that have been capitalizing on their ignorance and celebrating profit margins.

True just sustainability is sustainability that is no respecter of persons’ status; it is equal opportunity. A sustainability that is non-discriminatory and is accessible to all regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, social class, political affiliation, or even geographical location. However, we face a problem to this end that is much greater than the corporation or the market. In fact, I don’t believe the corporation and market are the problem at all as they both can be tremendous levers for great change. The problem lies in the institutionalized racism, sexism, and even classism that is embedded with bigotry running through its veins.

We can point to cases of environmental racism as a perfect example, where groups of people are targeted because of their race, ethnicity, lack of political power and representation, and capital. Or, what about where zoning laws perpetuate an environmental gerrymandering by drawing lines in the proverbial sands to protect the rich while victimizing the poor and disenfranchised.

This does not have to be the case, should we as a collective decide to stop lying down and allowing decisions to be made about us without us. Then we can change the narrative of how we see sustainability by changing the way that we see people.

Ironically, it is the people who are typically left out of the equation of sustainability. Trees are seen as sustainable while human life is not and has become more and more obsolete. We have gotten to the point where we have cut the thread that interconnects our natural environment to our humanity, forgetting the fact that human life is also a part of the natural environment. It is sad when we value the life of plants and animals more than that of humans.

If we see people as having value, we will value them. If we see people as valued resources, we will begin the work to protect them. Many don’t value life because many feel their lives have no value. One gorilla gets killed in a zoo and immediately policies are being changed. How many unarmed people were killed by law enforcement this year? …and counting! Cecil the lion gets killed and there is a public outcry. How many people have died this year alone as a result of gun violence in Chicago? How many people have lost their lives due to opioid overdoses? Or, how many lives have been aborted since Roe v. Wade? This is unsustainable! All Life matters! Black lives, white lives, blue lives, brown lives, plant lives!

To sociologists, economists, ecologists, and conservationists coming up with a uniform definition of sustainability seems elusive, like chasing the wind. All of these groups see the issue of sustainability uniquely from the perspective of their discipline, which is myopic while in fact addressing that sustainability is much bigger than one discipline. For us to have just sustainability these groups of esteemed intellectuals cannot work individually but rather collaboratively with each other, with the people and the environment.

We are caught in a conundrum of sustainability as we face the same hard questions we have been asking for decades. One such question being, “What is just sustainability?” While we seek ways to be more just in our sustainability practices, we must ask ourselves: What does it mean for something to be just? And, what do we mean by sustainability?

These terms are relatively subjective. Depending on how many people you ask, “What is just sustainability?” will be the determining factor how many answers you will get. Why is this? Because just for you may not be just for another. Sustainability for you may not be sustainability for anyone else.

The word ‘just’ denotes fairness and equality. It suggest that something is to be righteous or morally right. However, what qualifies one to be the author of morality or righteousness, equality or fairness? As a human race, we are fallible and tend to see life through our lenses and from our vantage points, which produce our perceptions of life.

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Roots of Success students work in small groups to discuss strategies and solutions to an environmental problem. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For many, when the term just is being used, it warrants a response of “I just don’t care!” ‘Just’ was often indicative of one’s social class or economic status. ‘Just’ice could be bought for ‘just’ the right price—a concept that has never truly sounded ‘just’.

How can we as a nation justify injustice when we have a moral obligation to the next generation? We speak about ‘just sustainability’ but no sustainability can be just or sustainable if it is inherently unjust and unsustainable. Encrypted in much of the corporate greenwashed rhetoric and falsified promises of justice are capitalistic practices of injustice, where the power to decide and the power to define fall into the hands of a few, versus being of the people, for the people and by the people. Yet we have the audacity to preach sustainability to the world but practice instability and unsustainability at home.

On the other hand, sustainability is a concept that we loosely throw around by the masses. A term typically associated with economic and community development as well as how this development seeks to meet the needs of the immediate or present generation without compromise the ability for needs being met for generations to come.

It is time we guard the treasures that have been entrusted to us. For far too long we have lived comfortably in the confines of our unsustainable lifestyles, selfishly retreating to our plethora of possessions while ignoring the plight of those suffering in silence.

As my colleagues and I prepare to teach another Roots of Success class, we are not only bringing a new world to our students but are introducing them to the world, a world they never knew existed, by exposing them to concepts that were previously foreign to the vast majority of them. It is not that they do not have the aptitude or attitude to learn, but have been denied the opportunities.

These previously unreachable students can no longer use that as an excuse because they have been touched by the gospel of sustainability. So one thing that we can say with all the work we have been doing and the success that our program has had, is that this is no longer about just sustainability but rather ‘just sustainability’.

Introducing Just Sustainability

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager, and Liliana Caughman, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

This issue is dedicated to Just Sustainability—sustainability redefined to include the needs and inputs of all populations and demographics.

Historically, the environmental movement has focused on the needs and views of a relatively small segment of Americans. This approach has often overlooked the sustainability needs and interests of people beyond the environmental mainstream. People of color, people without college degrees, people from the working class or living in poverty are rarely afforded the benefits of the environmental movement, such as sustainability education and easy access to nature. These populations also bear the brunt of most environmental hazards in the country. Just Sustainability sees cultural diversity as essential to the environmental movement, and resolving long-ignored environmental injustices as the primary focus.

x technician talks about his work growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants for the indoor spaces; his program area is one of many in Washington State Penitentiary's Sustainable Practice Lab. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dwayne Sanders talks about growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants. His program is in Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practice Lab, which hosted nearly 300 program tours in a year; tour guide and program clerk Ray Chargualaf stands in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Even less attention has been paid to how cultural diversity would benefit the environmental movement itself. To take on the scale and complexity of environmental challenges, the environmental movement needs more diverse buy-in and input. Extending ownership opens up myriad new ways for taking on environmental problems and creating solutions. Affluent, highly educated people cannot achieve national or global sustainability without help. “Sustainability will be achieved, if at all, not by engineers, agronomists, economists and biotechnicians but by citizens.” (Prugh, Costanza and Daly 2000)

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Butterfly technicians pose in front of educational poster set up for visiting Girl Scouts Behind Bars. Photo by Seth Dorman.

What does inclusiveness look like? It means inviting input and investment from all citizens and promoting sustainability programs in all communities and institutions. It requires us to learn across differences. Inclusive sustainability, Just Sustainability, is a path of mutual transformation.

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Lecture series students take in a presentation on raptor biology and conservation from West Sound Wildlife. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

In Washington State prisons, we have found willing, inventive champions of sustainability. They have transformed prison culture and operations. Because of their work, we are better prepared to transform the world at large. SPP staff asked a few incarcerated SPP partners—most of them Roots of Success instructors—if they would write what Just Sustainability means to them. This newsletter shares five responses, and we will publish several more on our blog in the coming months.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff who has been a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff and a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sustainability & Justice

by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
Photos by DOC staff

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times. Photo by DOC staff.by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times.

Too often we assume that the concept of sustainability is exclusive to the realm of environmental justice. That somehow the idea of conserving natural resources, protecting endangered species and habitats, or reducing our energy consumption will automatically result in a healed earth.

This assumption overlooks the most important factor in actually employing sustainability approaches and practices to meet the growing demands of environmental justice—the human being.

Transforming our earth requires the transformation of people, more specifically, the transformation of people’s attitudes and behavior, as it relates to the environment. The greatest potential and need for this change to occur exists within prisons.

Society has condemned and confined prisoners to prison because of their unsustainable (criminal) behavior. Their behavior has wreaked havoc and devastation within communities similar to the unsustainable human behavior that has led to the environmental crises we currently face. In this sense, the sustainability concept not only applies to radically improving our relationship with the earth and environment but also in our effort to redeem, reform, and rehab[ilitate] prisoners.

Einstein once said that the current dilemmas we face could not be solved at the same intellectual level in which they were created. We are going to have to revolutionize our thinking in how we establish responsible environmental and criminal justice practices. What better way to achieve this goal than to incorporate the solution of one with the other.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Roots of Success program (Roots) puts this wisdom of Einstein into practice. These types of programs provide prisoners with the necessary skills and experience to successfully reintegrate into society and find employment in the green economy.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

At Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC), SPP creates programs and opportunities for prisoners to engage in sustainability activities. For instance, the sagebrush project allows prisoners to acquire experience with the native plants of Washington State. The sagebrush plays an essential role in the eastern Washington landscape, as it provides numerous species with food and shelter. If the sagebrush were to become threatened or even extinct, this would have serious implications for the Washington State wildlife.

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A technician in the sagebrush program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center checks the health of a plant plug. Photo by Jeff Clark, Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, the Roots course empowers prisoners with its environmental literacy curriculum. While it builds environmental understanding, it also focuses on building the individual student. This means students are challenged to assess their attitude and behavior toward the environment and by extension their attitude and behavior toward society. By introducing the green economy and green jobs to students, Roots highlights the opportunity for students to become gainfully employed and be a veritable solution to our environmental problems.

Ultimately, what we do today determines our tomorrow. SPP and Roots are planting seeds that are sure to bear the fruit of sustainability and justice. So let us take a cue from these programs and dig our hands into the dirt to cultivate a better future.

In Service to the Earth

Mike Brown, a student in Mr. Scott Knapp’s horticulture class at Cedar Creek Corrections Center shared his poem with Mr. Knapp, who then shared it with us.  With Mr. Brown’s permission,  we now share it with all of you:

In Service to the Earth

To those who heal and protect the earth

In all ways and large.

To those who throw a protective shield ‘gainst

Industries toxic barge.

 

Endangered Checkerspot Butterfly from Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP Staff

Endangered Checkerspot Butterfly from Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP Staff.

 

Valued be the composters; gardeners;

Breeders of worms; frogs; bees and soil renewers.

To those who train dogs for the military vet;

Much appreciation, though we’ve never met.

To those who choose to purify the air.

Makers of clean water…all share,

From rivers, lakes, creeks and sea’s.

To those who plant trees.

 

Rearing Endangered Frogs. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

 

Valued are those who heal the prairies,

Grasslands, and renew the seeds.

Those who fight pollution by recycling and restore

The lore of fisheries

Herbs of plants (their healing salve),

Wildflowers that feed the gopher, butterfly,

And larks in the sky.

Valued are those who ask questions, “Why?”

 

Amending the Soil. Photo by SPP Staff.

 

Valued are those who heal cities.

Healing to them for whom the flock flows slowly.

To those with excitement and creativity.

Those who promote prison sustainability.

Beekeeping at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP Staff

Beekeeping at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP Staff.

Valued are those who’s wounded and bled,

Who risk themselves in service to the earth.

To all who give, nature will sing:

“Thank you for life,” courtesy of everything!”

-Mike Brown

Going Above and Beyond for Sustainability

by SPP Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

DOC Classifications Counselor, Gina Sibley was the SPP liaison for Cedar Creek Corrections Center for almost two years.  We want to thank her for her partnership and support and congratulate her on her recent promotion.  She will be missed!

Gina Sibley always went above and beyond while supervising the technicians in the bee, turtle and frog programs at Cedar Creek.  Supervising was not all she did.

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

She joined in the experience by participating in seminars on science journal articles, facilitating the creation of a turtle emergency response team,  staying late to participate in and supervise the bee keeping certification classes, assisting in capturing honey bee swarms, coordinating clearances for tours of the program and the list goes on!

Ms. Sibley Helping Mr. Boysen Measure Shank Length

Ms. Sibley helping turtle technician Mr. Boysen measure an endangered Oregon spotted frog. Photo by Sadie Gilliom

Thank you so much, Gina.  You have made your mark on SPP and we know you will continue spreading the word of science and sustainability wherever you go.

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Ms. Sibley with a tomato grown in the aquaponics greenhouse. Photo by SPP staff

Saving Resources at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is located in eastern Washington, far from the environmental activism of the Puget Sound. Yet, the prison has become a statewide leader for conserving and recycling resources.  

AHCC is a model for energy conservation. Facility staff regularly check and restore their equipment, fixing it before it breaks. The approach improves performance and life expectancy, and staves off epic fails. By practicing preventative maintenance, they have become a model of efficiency.

garbageThe prison has also set the standard for sorting waste. Without any fancy equipment, they have figured out how to turn the waste stream into valuable commodities. They sort their waste at the source, or “up stream.” Every day, porters (we call them waste stream technicians) sort the waste stream into dedicated cans, and the results are impressive. Nearly everything is reclaimed or recycled; all that’s left is a tiny can of mixed-materials (see photo).

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A porter (waste stream technician), AHCC’s Kraig Witt, and Sustainable Operations Manager Julie Vanneste discuss that it’s hard to know what “garbage” means anymore.

In the many gardens, staff and inmates have transformed hardpan into thriving soil with compost. They use no fertilizers or pesticides, and make their compost in small batches on site. The result is gorgeous, healthy produce.

An inmate gardener harvests high quality radishes outside his living unit. Each living unit has its own garden, and each has its own personality. The three gardeners who were tending this one with enormous enthusiasm.

An gardener harvests radishes outside his living unit.

Each living unit has its own garden, and each garden has its own personality, shaped by the gardeners who tend it. The three gardeners I met showed enormous enthusiasm for the work. They turned 1 strawberry plant into 1,200. They gleaned tomato and cantaloupe seeds from cafeteria food. They figured out how to reclaim seeds from everything they grow. They can boast a truly closed-loop system!

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This Horticulture Porter said that adding masses of compost transformed this area from an unproductive low spot to the gorgeous plantings of garlic there now.

Larch Corrections Center – An Upcoming Beekeeper’s Paradise

SPP had another fantastic meeting with Larch Corrections Center. We went to the prison to talk about beekeeping and were met with enthusiasm for this new educational program.

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Larch has a turtle program that has been wildly successful. In partnership with the Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others, endangered Western Pond Turtles with a shell disease came to Larch for rest and recuperation. The technicians did such a wonderful job caring for the turtles that they were all released back into the wild earlier this season! While they await the arrival of more turtles this fall, the technicians are pursuing a new science education opportunity- beekeeping. With support from SPP and beekeeping partners, Larch Corrections Center plans to offer an apprentice level beekeeping certification class sometime this fall.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and CC2 Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

This course will not only educate technicians to be state certified beekeepers, but may also provide opportunities to assist in hive research. In addition, with the help of Classification Counselor 2 Shawn Piliponis, technicians are piloting a program to build bee hives out of recycled, untreated pallet wood. They eventually want to donate the bee boxes to local schools and organizations to support pollinator recovery. Programs like these can reduce idleness among incarcerated individuals. Reduced idleness leads to reduced violence and infractions.

While there aren’t any bees at the prison yet, Stafford Creek Corrections Center is generously donating one of their hives so Larch can get started this August. Next season we aim to have six hives of two different hive types in operation.

We are confident this collaborative program will be a great success with education at the center of the endeavor!

 

Airway Heights Abuzz with Beekeeping

By Kay Heinrich, Associate Superintendent at Airway Heights Corrections Center

AIRWAY HEIGHTS — Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) has introduced honeybees to not only help the facility’s gardens but to sustain a healthy bee population for AHCC and the local community.

The four beehives will provide an educational opportunity in sustainability and help improve local community for AHCC. Photo by DOC Staff.

The four beehives will provide an educational opportunity in sustainability and help improve local community for AHCC. Photo by DOC Staff.

The four bee hives arrived this summer, courtesy of Jim Miller, a master beekeeper associated with the West Plains Beekeepers Association and members of AHCC sustainability committee. The bee hives are located near the facility gardens with access to a water source, and safely out of the way of normal foot traffic. Participation in the bee program is highly competitive and increases facility safety by serving an incentive for infraction-free behavior as part of the application and screening process.

Two incarcerated individuals begin their educational work with the honeybees. Photo by DOC Staff.

Two incarcerated individuals begin their educational work with the honeybees. Photo by DOC Staff.

The master beekeeper is facilitating a class for those interested in becoming certified bee apprentices. Completion of the course and passing of the Washington State Beekeepers Apprentice Certification will qualify a participant as an apprentice beekeeper. The goal is to include multiple groups in working together for safer communities through knowledge, education and collaboration.

Over the past year, the gardens, bees, vermiculture, recycling, and providing wood for local community members in need during the winter months has been engaging and a uniting effort for staff and inmates to work toward a sustainable environment and a way to give back to the community. The sustainability projects have earned enthusiasm from staff and provided hope and education for the incarcerated population.

Setting up the new beehives on arrival. Photo by DOC Staff.

Setting up the new beehives on arrival. Photo by DOC Staff.

The Washington State Department of Corrections has earned a national reputation for its efforts to make both its operations and facilities more sustainable while increasing facility safety. By being innovative and forming unique partnerships, such as the Sustainability in Prisons Project, facilities have been made safer through reduced infractions and the incarcerated population has been provided with new skill sets while being meaningfully engaged.

Larch Corrections Center – Ricky Osborne Photo Gallery

A special thanks is in order for Ricky Osborne! He’s doing an internship with SPP this summer. He’s been coming along with us on our prisons visits and taking amazing photos of our programs. Check out these photos from our recent trip to Larch Corrections Center. Thanks Ricky for the fantastic pictures!

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

An incarcerated individual proudly shows off the cat he is rehabilitating. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

An incarcerated individual proudly shows off the cat he is rehabilitating. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another member of Larch's cat program poses with his cat. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another member of Larch’s cat program poses with his cat. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A houseplant in one of the living units. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A houseplant in one of the living units. Photo by Ricky Osborne.