Dick Meyer Brings Fair Trade to Prisons

On October fifth in Gig Harbor, Washington, Olympia resident Dick Meyer walked through the security gates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) headed for the visit room. “When I worked here thirty years ago,” he said, “they didn’t have all this security.”

The reason for his visit? To bring fair trade education to prisons through the Sustainable Prisons Project’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, a program geared toward scientific education and sustainable practices.

A former counselor for WCCW in the early 1970’s, Meyer left social work to become a small business owner in the Puget Sound region. The founder of Traditions Café in Olympia and owner of The Antique Sandwich Shop in Tacoma, Meyer currently uses his storefronts and free time to promote fair trade partnerships and awareness.

Guest lecturer Dick Meyer demonstrates a Tibetan singing bowl inside his fair trade shop in Olympia, WA.

“I view talking about fair trade and doing outreach as something that’s motivating for me to do. Whatever opportunity to engage people in talking about values and relationships is important to me,” Meyer said.

Each month, the Sustainable Prisons Project hosts guest lecturers in three of Washington’s prisons to speak with offenders and DOC staff about topics related to science and sustainability. Speakers include scientists, engineers, environmentalists, farmers, business owners, and community activists, with topics ranging from bear ecology to sustainability in poetry.

Seated in a circle with DOC offenders and Sustainable Prisons Project staff, Meyer began his talk with a brief history of the fair trade movement. According to the Fair Trade Federation, of which Meyer is a member, fair trade is an economic partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. Fair Trade organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change.

Stories about various products, such as clothing and chocolate, stimulated an hour-and-a-half long discussion between Meyer and the offenders about the issues surrounding fair trade. Having brought sample items from his stores, Meyer demonstrated what fair trade products look like and how the average person can go about finding and supporting such partnerships. Nearly all the products were hand-made by women cooperatives in developing countries.

Through the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, the Sustainable Prisons Project seeks to connect lecture participants to the larger world of scientific research and conservation while introducing offenders to educational and employment opportunities they may pursue upon release. A large part of this involves presenting on lecture topics that have relevancy and meaning to the offenders’ current situation as prison residents.

Meyer discussed the connection he saw between the women sitting with him in the prison and those working across the globe in conditions and economies that fair trade is trying to change. “The information is not readily available about how much the rest of the world has to work to survive,” he said. “And to a certain extent they can’t control their own destiny. The message is not exclusively, but predominately, about women, and to the extent women inmates can empathize and understand; I think that at least one part of it becomes a shared empathy.”

For more information about fair trade, visit www.traditionsfairtrade.com.

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