Sagebrush in Prisons

The sage-grouse in the project’s new logo was drawn by a sagebrush program technician, Lawrence Jenkins.

By Stacy Moore, Institute for Applied Ecology Program Director, Ecological Education, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

“For the first time in my life I’m actually doing something right and I’m making a difference. Most importantly, I believe in what we do more than anything else in my life.” ~ Lawrence Jenkins at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington

“Yes, I’ve made mistakes, we all have, but the one I don’t want to make is missing the chance to give back to the world that has taken care of me. Given the chance, you will see the goodness in us all.” ~ Toby Jones at Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, Oregon (longer quote here)

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project is a multi-state restoration program including corrections center nurseries located in six western states: Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Montana. The effort is led by the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), a founding partner of SPP-Oregon, with funding from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The planting crew from Snake River Correctional Institution take a moment to pose with their sagebrush plugs. Photo by Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) staff.

The programs grow sagebrush for restoration of greater sage-grouse habitat and to provide restoration ecology education and training to incarcerated men and women. Inmate crews, staff, and educators assist BLM in planting sagebrush each fall/early winter. We estimate that these programs will plant 445,000 sagebrush plants this fall!

These women work with and learn about sagebrush in the program at Montana Women’s Prison (MWP). Photo by IAE staff.

Captain McCorkhill at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility helps loads plugs ready for fall planting. Photo by IAE staff.

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project completes the full circle of a native plant’s life: from seed collection to sowing, daily care, and then planting mature plants in the fall. The program is a win-win-win for the inmates, community and the environment. Inmates giving back to the community gain a new perspective on how we treat our natural heritage and each other. The community and local habitats benefit through healthier ecosystems and more wildlife.

The program generates balance within our environment and within the everyday lives of incarcerated individuals. It gives them some access to work valued by communities inside and outside the fence, and also may be a source of meaning and pride.

It gratifying to hear what incarcerated technicians think of the program, and what it has meant in their lives. Here are more quotes from the project, these from  Idaho State Correctional Center’s program, said by crew members as they boxed up sagebrush plugs for planting last October:

“In 19 years this is the first time I’ve been able to give back to the community.”

“It is a sanctuary out here. This is a huge blessing.” 

“This brings inmates together when we can work on a project like this. It breaks the walls down where it doesn’t feel like prison so much.”

We are impressed to see a complex conservation program replicated and maintaining integrity in a variety of corrections systems—speaks to the strength of the model! We know that the program would not be possible without the efforts of inmates, corrections staff, educators, contractors, and partners. Thank you to all of you who make Sagebrush in Prisons Project possible and successful. It’s a dream come true.

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