The Smell of Hope

Written in November, 2012 by compost-technician and inmate at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Deep within each human being there lies an enigmatic force, or power, if you will. This power lies dormant until activated by something unique to each individual. Children often have this force brought to life by their parents, a role model, or teacher. What is this spark that can change the course of a young life? What can motivate someone to fly to the moon? What can cause dreams to become reality? What can make an incarcerated person believe in a bright future? One word: HOPE! Unfortunately, this fuel of dreams is rare, to say the least, in the place where these words originate. You see, I write from behind the fences of a Correctional Facility. I am one of the truly fortunate ones, however, for this power I write of was brought to life in me by a visitor. The irony is that the person who instilled hope in me is most assuredly unaware of the gift they gave me. Let me explain.

During a tour of the SPP national conference, the author demonstrates sifting compost at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, September, 2012. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

During a tour of the SPP national conference, the author demonstrates sifting compost at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, September, 2012. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

I was invited to attend my first Live Green, Learn Green lecture at Stafford Creek Correction Center approximately four and a half years ago. Dr. Nadkarni from The Evergreen State College came to Stafford Creek to speak. I don’t remember much of the content of that first lecture, what I do remember was that the good Doctor brought pine bows with her and placed them at each table. While pine bows might seem a bit insignificant to people who are not incarcerated, their significance increases a hundred-fold if you have been living in a concrete house for a decade. I found myself inhaling the sweet fragrance of pine that took me back to a better time. I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, so of course pine has the smell of memories clothed in innocence and nature that have always held a special attraction for me. I still find it amazing that an odor can inspire, and a simple touch of something from nature can bring to life something in me that had lay dormant for far too long.

Another photo of the author from a tour of the SPP national conference in September, 2012. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Another photo of the author from a tour of the SPP national conference in September, 2012. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

After that first lecture, I attended nearly thirty-six more lectures on various topics. I learned about butterflies, birds, bats, riparian areas, forest canopies, bears, salmon, and my absolute favorite, Apis mellifera (honey bees). The foregoing is not a comprehensive list, but a smattering of the gifts given to me by The Evergreen State College and the many fine people that brought the lecture series to the concrete habitat I lived in.

I don’t want to be misunderstood when I make this reference to concrete. I made my bed and I certainly must sleep in it. My point is that in prison there is a lack of things of nature. So, as I sat in the lectures, I became more and more interested and looked forward to the day when I could be actively involved in things green.

After approximately one year of attending the lecture, I was introduced to a young man by the name of Sam Hapke who was an entomologist from The Evergreen State College. Mr. Hapke taught me and several other inmates the wonderful art of beekeeping. I was previously afraid of bees, so it was with much trepidation that I forged ahead and gained an appreciation, no a love, for these wonderful and oh so necessary creatures. I studied the literature and paid close attention to Sam’s teaching and soon found myself as the sole inmate tasked with caring for the bees at Stafford Creek Correction Center. I love bees and plan to be actively involved with them in some capacity upon my eventual release.

Entomologist Sam Hapke from The Evergreen State College works with an inmate technician in the beekeeping programming at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo from 2009 by Benj Drummond.

Entomologist Sam Hapke from The Evergreen State College works with an inmate technician in the beekeeping programming at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo from 2009 by Benj Drummond.

I have left Stafford Creek and am now at Cedar Creek Correction Center, a minimum security camp. I am currently working in the garden and composting area of the camp and am actively involved with sustainability. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in several tours for the public, including people from Paris, New York, and Washington D.C., as well as many folks from the legislature here in the state of Washington. I don’t believe any of this would be possible had it not been for the sweet smell of that pine bow so long ago. Thanks Doc!

As the author says, smelling something green can be a rare delight for those incarcerated; this image from a 2012 lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

As the author says, smelling something green can be a rare delight for those incarcerated; this image from a 2012 lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to all the people who gave their time; that myself and others not only learned of sustainability, but actually felt like we could become contributors to our communities and the world as a whole. The future seems brighter than it has most of my life. I have a new found and lasting respect for this planet I live on. I understand more than ever that I am a steward charged with the care and sustainability of wherever my feet touch. I cannot go backwards for I am also tasked with sustaining the hope that was instilled in me.

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