The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.

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