“Participating in the transformation of the world” : Roots of Success at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

We watched a compelling video about Chester, PA’s struggle to fight polluting industries’ presence in their town (watch the 9-minute video here). Instructor Walrond asked the class why someone in the video said that problems wouldn’t be solved if people in Chester waited for someone else to handle them. Students came up with various answers, including that solutions to problems had to come from communities themselves, or at least have community buy-in; and that citizen science, or developing community-generated data, is important for communities to have facts to bring to decision-making tables where they possess no recognized seat. The instructors compared the class itself to community organizing within SCCC, likening knowledge of SCCC from the inmates’ perspectives to the perspectives of community members in the video: while they weren’t professionals or recognized experts, they still had valuable knowledge of what was going on.

The instructors asked for examples of environmental injustice beyond prison, and students discussed places they lived before incarceration. One student’s neighborhood had foundries which blew up twice. Another lived in Georgetown in Seattle, which is both an industrial and residential zone; he remembered the tremendous exhaust from trucks going by and putting all kinds of particulates into the air. Another person pointed out how sometimes in poor neighborhoods meth labs are not properly cleaned up, and this reminded another student of the ASARCO copper smelter in Tacoma, which left tremendous deposits of arsenic and lead in the soil. In Olympia and Lacey, a student described the smell from a dump on one side of the freeway and a mushroom farm on the other. One person used to test a company’s soil for contaminants, noticing that later the company raised what levels were considered allowable. Finally, someone pointed out that SCCC itself was built on a previous landfill!

Instructor Walrond leads discussion of exposure to pollutants and environmental toxins

Instructor Walrond leads discussion of exposure to pollutants and environmental toxins: “Let’s try this again– raise your hand if you’ve lived near a landfill!”

The instructors balanced playing up their individual strengths while maintaining a cohesive collective tone with remarkable nuance and flexibility, both among themselves as a team and within the class as a whole. The three hour class flew by.

Towards the end of class, Superintendent Pat Glebe and Deputy Director of Prisons Scott Frakes stopped to visit and connect with the class. The instructors made a point of telling students that if they had ideas for what could be done to make SCCC mores sustainable, they should write them down because the superintendent comes at the end of every course to hear suggestions and answer questions. They pointed out changes already made at SCCC in response to Roots of Success students’ suggestions. I was moved by the dedication and camaraderie of the inmates participating in Roots, as well as staff’s commitment to supporting the program.

Superintendent Pat Glebe and Deputy Director of Prisons Scott Frakes visit the class

Superintendent Pat Glebe and Deputy Director of Prisons Scott Frakes visit the class.

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  2. Each One, Teach One | Sustainability in Prisons Project

    […] had the privilege of working with and visiting several prison classrooms delivering the Roots of Success environmental literacy curriculum.  I’m encouraged to see inmates challenging themselves […]

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