Author Archives: Bethany Shepler

Pathways to Successful Re-Entry

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

This illuminated handshake was between James Faircloth and  Raven from Pioneer Human Services. During Pathways to Reentry, Raven and Gregory (in the background) spoke with many men about Pioneer’s work with previously incarcerated individuals in Washington State. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

On April 16th, Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) hosted a re-entry event called Pathways to Reentry. This event was different than most for two reasons: 1) it was open to everyone regardless of their release date, and 2) it featured several guest speakers and experts who were previously-incarcerated. While every presenter was clearly welcome and appreciated, there’s no question that stories and guidance from the previously incarcerated were the most impressive. Their pathways to re-entry were the most resonant and relevant.

The event highlighted two successful pathways: education and employment. We invited re-entry navigators from across the state, second-chance employers, re-entry resources, justice-involved college students, Washington State Department of Corrections education leadership, and college coordinators to share about the work that they do. The event was a beautiful example of collaboration and we’re so excited to co-host more events like this in the future. Thank you to everyone involved in this event!

Below is a photo journal of the day. Enjoy!

SCCC Facility Manager Chris Idso, kicked off the event with a welcome and shared his ideas about successful re-entry. The event’s co-MC’s Joe and I stand in the bottom right of the photo.  Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.
Darin Armstrong released from Cedar Creek Corrections Center last year and currently works with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Environmental Services. Darin is shaking hands with co-MC Joe. Darin was a guest speaker and spoke about his work with SPP during incarceration and his work with WSDOT since being released. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
From left: Brian Bedilion, Carolina Landa, and Billy Sweetser answer questions about incarceration, addiction, and the pathways they took to being successful. Carolina urged everyone to plan for release now, saying: “This is the most ‘you’ time you’re ever going to get. Use it. When you get back out there, life is going to hit.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.
James Jackson, JJ, works at The Evergreen State College as the Re-entry Navigator (reentry@evergreen.edu) and has been a foundational member of Evergreen’s Justice Involved Student Group (JISG). He spoke about his time during incarcerated and the strength he’s gained by standing on his story; he told us, “I don’t live in no shame and no guilt; I stand on my story”. He said he’s “giving back by using my story.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.
Just before lunch, everyone who was willing posed for a group photo. This event was made possible by collaboration and support from SCCC staff and the many outside organizations involved: Evergreen Justice Involved Student GroupGatewaysWSDOTGrays Harbor CollegeDepartment of Corrections (Re-Entry and Education), WorkSourceThe Evergreen State College, WA State Board for Community and Technical CollegesCivil SurvivalEdmonds Community CollegeBates Technical CollegeMod PizzaPioneer Human Services, Weld Seattle, Centralia College, and Skagit Valley College. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
WSDOT’s Robyn Lovely talked through how to apply for State jobs: where to find applications, how much time an application requires, and how to find out more about any position. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
Jamal Kahn speaks to Lei from the Evergreen’s JISG during one of the tabling sessions. Mr. Kahn is an instructor for the Roots of Success program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.
From Left: SPP’s Co-Director Kelli Bush, artist Marvin Faircloth, and SCCC’s Sustainability Liaison Kelly Peterson pose with a gift to the Evergreen team. Mr. Faircloth created the piece as a thank you gift to SPP’s Evergreen team. Kelly was SCCC’s the lead coordinator for the event, and it would not have been possible without her support. Thank you! Photo by Ricky Osborne.
This is a photo of SPP’s favorite photographer Ricky Osborne. It’s tough to get a photo of him because he’s always moving! We love the photos he takes and his generous, considerate presence. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Learning about gentleness from honeybees

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Journeyman Beekeepers at AHCC pose in front of their hives. Photo courtesy of AHCC staff.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)  beekeeping club. At the ceremony, Travis—a Journeyman Beekeeper—shared an analogy about bees we all found rather striking. He told us, “Before I took the class, I always looked at them as the enemy.” Like everyone, he saw bees as pests. He reminded us: “Think about barbeques or picnics— you’re there with your family and friends and everyone is having a good time and sharing food and fun. Then, bees show up and start buzzing around your food. Maybe someone gets stung. Pretty soon these tiny creatures have ruined the picnic.”

A bee collects pollen from a flower growing by a housing unit at AHCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Then Travis described learning about honeybees, and how his perspective started to shift. When AHCC’s hives were delivered, he was part of the team that kept those bees alive and even thriving. He came to see this responsibility as a force for “good” in his life. He needed to change to care for those bees, and he noticed how that change lined up with the “theme of change” throughout the facility. He told us: “In my change, the hive is my focus. The center of my change.” Then, he went back to the earlier metaphor and brought it full circle:

He realized that society thinks he is going to ruin the picnic, too; criminals and incarcerated people are regarded as the pests of society. He wanted us to understand that, like the bees they care for, incarcerated individuals aren’t trying to ruin things for everyone else. Just like anyone, they’re there to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the day. “We’re not here to ruin the picnic or barbeque, and through programs like this one we learn positive change.”

The bee hives at AHCC have their own yard, called the “honeybee yard.” Photo courtesy of SPP staff.

MCC-SOU graduates Beekeepers: their excitement is contagious!

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

This is a poster created by staff at the SOU to advertise the program to inmates at the facility. Photo by SOU staff.

We are so excited to announce that Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit (SOU) just graduated their first class of Beekeepers! Since the beginning of their program last year, the SOU has been incredibly enthusiastic about beekeeping; it has been a pleasure to see their willingness to learn and try new things.

Honeybee comb formed in a top-bar hive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The program partners with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, and Association member Kurt Sahl volunteered as the program instructor. While every other prison bee program in the state has opted to use the Langstroth hives, the SOU uses primarily top-bar hives. Top-bar hives forgo pre-made, rectuangula frames, and leave space for bees to shape their comb as they wish (see photo for example).

Kathy Grey is the staff liaison for the beekeeping program, and one of the new Apprentice Beekeepers! With her permission, I’m sharing her description of the people and programs of the SOU.

All of the hives SOU has are painted by inmates at the facility, this one has flowers, bees, and the Earth. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
An observation window on the side of the top-bar hive allows you to see what’s going on inside the hive without opening, and disturbing, the hive. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The Special Offender Unit (SOU) houses and treats mentally ill, intellectually disabled, and brain-injured inmates and is part of the larger Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. In addition to providing psychiatric care for the inmates, SOU also offers mental health counseling, educational opportunities, and innovative, sustainability programs for its incarcerated population. These programs include vegetable gardens and an animal rescue program that is still going strong with close to 900 animals adopted since its inception in January 2006. In addition to those programs, SOU offers Yoga Behind Bars, a University of Washington sponsored Book Club, a Community Visiting Volunteer Program and most recently the Beekeeping Program that was started last year. Beekeeping has been a fascinating outlet for the men at SOU and their excitement is contagious.

SOU is an interesting, dynamic facility with men who are eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can this spring. Lastly, it’s important to note that volunteers are often pleasantly surprised by the genuine gratitude shown to them by the SOU inmates in recognition for their time, effort and talents.

Keep up the good work, SOU! We’re excited to see your continued successes unfold!

First Graduates in 4 Years!

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Graduates from the Roots of Success class proudly display their certificates; from the top left, you see graduates Jill Robinson, Dara Alvarez, Shannon Marie Xiap, Nikkea Marin, Katlynn Draughon, and instructor Chelsey Johnson.

We’re so excited to announce that Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) just graduated their first Roots of Success (Roots) course since 2015! Five students completed the 10-module course, and they are excited to put their education to work, and continue learning more.

These graduates are about to lose their instructor to release, leaving a potential void. The SPP team at Evergreen sees this as a worthy challenge, one that we are happy to address. We have put together a package of supplemental education materials that don’t require a certified instructor: movies, books, and articles that relate to the material presented in the Roots curriculum.

Roots instructor Chelsey Johnson presents
Nikkea Marin with her certificate.

Graduates have the support of MCCCW staff who also want to implement some of the things students learned about in the Roots course. For example, they hope to start working with the folks from TerraCycle to recycle the “non-recyclable” waste the facility generates. We can’t wait to hear about their continued successes – keep up the good work!

Resourceful Art

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Creating fine art is rarely described as an easy activity—inspiration and skills have to be cultivated. Creating art in prison is even more difficult. Many inmates don’t have access to the materials needed to do artwork, whether that be painting, drawing, wood burning, or any other type of art. But some artists seem to take this as an interesting challenge and, working with Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff, they find a way to create the art they envision. During my recent trip to the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I got to see some of the beautiful artwork being created in the Sustainable Practices Lab, and that will be going on display at a local gallery in Walla Walla; they will be showcasing not only the talent, but resourceful nature of art that is created in prisons.

The inmates at WSP have to make their own canvas. They use old bed sheets and pull them tight over a frame – made from recycled wood – and then seal the sheets with 4 coats of wax. The final product is similar to a canvas you might buy at an art store.

A close-up of canvases inmates made from recycled and reclaimed materials.

These pieces are created by two men who feel a sense of freedom when expressing themselves and their opinions through their art. They are clearly both skilled artists, but chose one creative lead for the project with the underlying theme – social critique.

Take a look!

The artist told me that this piece will have more color on the masks before it’s complete; even though it’s not done yet, it looks so cool!

Welcoming New Roots of Success Instructors

Text and Photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

During my time coordinating Roots of Success (Roots) we struggled to complete new instructor trainings, but in August that all changed. Washington Corrections Center (WCC) hosted a training at the end of August, Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) hosted a training in October, and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) just hosted a training. We’re so excited to welcome 12 new instructors into the Roots family!

Three instructors went through the training at WCC taught be Grady Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is one of 5 Master Trainers in Washington State. Master Trainers are certified by the director and creator of Roots, Dr. Pinderhughes, to be able to train new instructors.

Five new instructors were trained at the SCCC Roots training led by Master Trainers Cyril Walrond and David Duhaime. The Roots liaison at SCCC, Kelly Peterson, added interviews to their instructor candidate selection process because they had close to 20 Roots graduates applying to be new instructors. I sat in on some of the interviews and candidates repeatedly cited the Roots community and the interactive and inclusive teaching styles of other instructors as their reasoning for wanting to become instructors. 

Four instructor candidates went through the training at CRCC led by Master Trainer Keith Parkins. They engaged in conversations about facilitating the course in a way that was accessible to students of every background and how to engage students in complex conversations like environmental issues and social equity. 

Thank you to DOC for making these trainings possible and thank you to Roots of Success for entrusting the training of new instructors in WA to our Master Trainers. And to all of the new Roots instructors, welcome!

The Value of Education

Written by Alexandra James, Conservation Nursery Program Coordinator, and Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator; Photos by Alexandra James

Students discuss environmental issues, their complexities, and how to approach finding solutions. Everyone was encouraged to discuss issues that were important to them and the ways they could research those topics to develop a better understanding of them.

Education is a core component of our mission. Our aim is to provide diverse formal and informal opportunities for education, and to offer new knowledge and new skills to inmates, staff, and community partners. We integrate education into every one of our programs, acting on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all participants. In addition, we have two dedicated programs with education as a central focus. These programs are the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series and Roots of Success, an environmental literacy program.

Bethany shares some of the experiences and opportunities that accompanied her education.

For our October Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) we decided to focus on the practice of education itself. Bethany Shepler, SPP’s Green Track Program Coordinator, led the workshop and asked students to think about what education is and what it means to them. Students tackled conceptual questions, investigating the benefits of education for themselves and their community, whether they’re incarcerated or otherwise.

To demonstrate the value of education, Bethany talked about the impact education has on reducing recidivism rates. Recidivism is when a previously incarcerated person returns to prison after release, and while this can occur for any number of reasons, usually this happens because they fall back into their old lives. To illustrate education’s role on reducing recidivism, she highlighted the many academic studies that cite education as the most successful means of reducing recidivism.

Roots instructor David Duhaime talks about how education enables you to become better at critical thinking; roots instructor Cyril Walrond is behind the podium.

None of this progress in reducing recidivism or bringing education into prisons would be possible without the support from Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC). WA DOC stands apart from many states because of their drive to work with incarcerated individuals instead of controlling them. WA DOC focuses on education and is an advocate for positive personal change. Dan Pacholke, the previous Secretary of Prisons, gave a TED talk in 2014 where he talked about the changes WA DOC made to how it operates and thinks. It is SPP’s belief that the changes Dan Pacholke talks about and initiated are partially why WA DOC is becoming more successful at reducing recidivism.

Bethany was joined by three Roots of Success instructors who engaged their peers and facilitated a discussion on the direct benefits of learning. Participants were excited to share their perspectives on education and how education has positively impacted their lives. Through dialogue and facilitated discussion, participants worked collaboratively to explore a topic of interest and report core aspects discussed back to the group – sparking great conversation and peer mentorship.

Roots instructor and Master Trainer, Cyril Walrond, encourages students to take up the initiative to start classes or projects they want to see at their facility.

There was a feeling of excitement pulsing through the room as the workshop neared its end. Two SCCC staff, Kelly Peterson and Mark Sherwood, took advantage of the excitement and shared information with participants on how to engage in various educational and trade skill opportunities within the facility, noting that opportunity starts with a general interest. Through curiosity, inquisitiveness and encouragement, education flourishes; that’s what happened at SCCC on October 18, 2018.

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

Caring about people, caring about place

by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is a fair trip from the Evergreen team’s offices in Olympia—a six hour drive, or a flight to Spokane and renting a car. Even so, each of us who has been before looks for excuses to go again. AHCC positivity and enthusiasm are infectious, and it is great fun to join them whenever we can.

A likely source of the positivity is the staff culture; it is easy to feel the influence of AHCC leadership and staff wellness and productivity throughout the facility. They take on new projects expecting to succeed, and work hard. At the same time, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They laugh a lot! They talk openly about their own faults, and poke friendly fun at others.

AHCC staff make fun during a sustainability meeting. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

AHCC’s waste sorting program is so effective that the incarcerated porter didn’t understand what the corrections staff meant when asking about “garbage.” That word starting to lose its meaning was so delightful that we all started to laugh.

Before a nature illustration class, Associate Heinrich talks with an incarcerated student. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Just as important, they also listen intently to others’ ideas and questions. They believe in each other, and do a grand job of celebrating everyone’s successes. The work environment is pervaded by a can-do attitude. As Kraig Witt, Recreation Specialist 4, has said, “This is our giant coloring book. Let’s play…there’s no can’t. We can do anything.

Their optimism finds many willing partners. AHCC hosts extraordinarily productive sustainability programs. To name a few: a thriving in-prison beekeeping club; Pawsitive dog training supported by two humane societies; more than 500 cords of firewood processed for donation to low income families each year; new quilting and vermicomposting programs. Most of the prison grounds are devoted to gardens, and when regional water contamination meant they needed to suspend growing vegetables, they planted flowers instead; they know how to make lemonade from lemons!

Correctional Program Manager Mike Klemke describes the Computers 4 Kids program. In the last year, incarcerated technicians refurbished 4,321 computers.

At the heart of these efforts is investing in AHCC staff. Associate Superintendent Kay Heinrich has said, “It really engages the staff to care about the environment of where they work. People care about where they’re working; it increases their morale.” A previously incarcerated SPP technician and current Evergreen student advised us that taking care of staff makes the prison experience better for everyone. We look to follow AHCC’s example on what that can look like.

AHCC dedicates a huge area to cutting and stacking cords of firewood for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP). Photo by Bethany Shepler.

 

Beans to Bluebonnets

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator
All photos by SPP-Evergreen staff

This May I visited Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC). It was about a year after the town discovered their drinking water was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.

The town of Airway Heights was greatly impacted by the contamination, and the local prison was no exception. AHCC has a large agriculture and gardening program that was forced to throw out about 100,000 pounds of fresh vegetables grown on site because of contamination concerns.

A view of a field inside at AHCC where inmates grow produce. This picture was taken in early spring of 2016.

This is the same AHCC field when I visited in late May. No produce was growing, and none would be for the remainder of 2018.

A year later, things have mostly righted themselves in Airway Heights. Prison administrators told me that soil tests have shown their soil has low amounts of contaminants in it, if any. Even so, they wanted to be sure the soil was completely clear before planting produce again. For 2018, many of the vegetable gardens were growing flowers only. Flowers can “clean” the soil by pulling the contaminants out of it.

The courtyard at AHCC full of produce in Spring of 2016.

This Spring, showy flowers are found throughout the courtyard and gardens, in most places where you could find vegetables in recent years.

The inmates and staff are confident they will be growing produce again next year. Until then the flowers look beautiful, and the pollinators love them!

A honeybee collects pollen from bluebonnets growing in the prison courtyard.