AHCC Roots of Success Graduation

By Dawnel Southwick, Airway Heights Corrections Center
Originally published in DOC Digest, a weekly update for WA DOC staff

AIRWAY HEIGHTS – Friday, December 18, 2015 at Airway Heights Correction Center, ten offenders successfully graduated from the Roots of Success program. This was the first class to be recognized at Airway Heights for the hard work and dedication for sustainable, environmental practices.

Roots graduates show their certificates alongside Superintendent Key and the staff sponsor for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

Roots graduates show their certificates alongside Superintendent Key and the staff sponsor for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

The Department of Corrections is committed to sustainable practices by implementing and promoting a culture of positive environmental awareness and conservancy. Areas in which prisons target sustainable practices are: Reducing environmental impacts; containing costs; offer employment, education, training, re-entry, and therapeutic opportunities for offenders; and to provide needed services to the community. Facilities establish their own Sustainability Action Plan to address efforts towards meeting objectives and goals outlined in the Department’s Sustainability Plan.

Roots of Success is an environmental literacy course created by Raquel Pinderhughes, PhD. Dr. Pinderhughes specifically designed this curriculum for offenders and it is taught in many prisons and juvenile detention centers across the Country, including Washington State. Currently, Roots of Success is being offered at Airway Heights, Clallam Bay, Coyote Ridge, Larch, Mission Creek Corrections for Women, Stafford Creek, Washington Corrections Center for Women, and Washington State Penitentiary.

The program is facilitated by offenders who have completed an instructor’s course, are committed to teaching, and are passionate about the material. Instructors encourage critical thinking and problem solving throughout the course, which creates an environment where inmates can brainstorm and thoroughly discuss the implementation of sustainable practices within correctional facilities. The information is presented in modules covering fundamentals of environmental literacy, water, waste, transportation, energy, building, health⁄food⁄agriculture, community organizing and leadership, financial literacy and social entrepreneurship, and application and practice.

While sustainable education and development are the obvious benefits of the course, it’s the focus on environmental justice and community advocacy that may have the most significant impact on these men and the neighborhoods they’ll eventually release to. Focusing on human rights and unity changes the student’s motivation from preserving non-renewable resources and reducing carbon footprints to considering the needs of those who are disproportionately affected by environment-related matters.

The byproducts are:

  • Strong sense of responsibility for one another and a profound increase in empathy for our communities
  • Meaningful and gainful employment once released
  • Environmental conscious living
  • A positive force for social change and environmental sustainability
  • Improve prison culture
  • Sense of purpose while incarcerated
  • Continuous sustainable efforts within the prison

Found within Roots of Success is a great potential to reduce negative prison culture, increase the sustainability of the facility, and motivate students to want to be a positive force for social change and help transform their community both in the institution and in society.

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