Author Archives: Bethany Shepler

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.

Beekeeping at Clallam Bay

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Students observe a frame from the hive Mark brought in. This frame has wax on it and some cells were full of pollen.

Beekeeping has been growing in popularity throughout prisons in Washington State, with 12 facilities now housing hives! Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) is among them; the prison has 3 healthy hives tended by inmate and staff apprentice beekeepers certified by WA State Beekeepers Association. CBCC is located in Clallam Bay on the Olympic Peninsula adjacent to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes shows students a bottom board from the hive he brought in as a demonstration tool.

The liaison holds a drawing of bee drone biology made by incarcerated students.

Earlier in the spring, CBCC hosted a day-long intensive seminar for a new group of incarcerated beekeepers. Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes, the education lead for the North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers’ Association, led the seminar and fielded many questions from the inmate beekeepers.They covered topics such as bee biology, pathogens, and colony collapse disorder. Students came prepared, so that they could get as much out of the intensive as possible; all had read scientific articles, bee journals, and reviewed their class notes from WA State Beekeepers Association apprenticeship curriculum. They brought with them drawings of bee biology and model hives that aided Mark’s descriptions and demonstrations.

The CBCC officer who sponsors the beekeeping program told me many stories about how beekeeping has had positive impacts on the lives of inmates and staff. The staff sponsor was proud to share that inmates who go through the program have a lasting positive effects from it. I was so happy to hear that the program is being so well received and having such a positive effect on the lives of those involved in it.

More images from the intensive follow.

Another sketch by incarcerated students shows a cross section of a hive showing the different stages of bee larvae within the hive cells.

This frame shows wax that is fresher, towards the side of the frame, compared to older wax in the middle of the frame.

Students listen as Mark answers questions.

Students had constructed a model hive out of paper (seen on the table) and Mark used it to aid the part of his presentation about the different parts of a hive and the purpose they serve.

Mark holds a picture of queen next to some worker bees. Here he was talking about the importance of queen health to the hive as a whole.

Mark listens as a student asks a question.

Keep up the good work, CBCC!

 

McNeil Island’s Newest Residents

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

After four years of organizing, planning, and building a team, honeybees have arrived at McNeil Island.
This spring marks a special occasion for Washington State beekeeping and beekeepers: we have installed honeybees on McNeil Island! McNeil Island offers wonderful beekeeping prospects because the island is pesticide-free—a rare resource in the region. Pesticides can interfere with bees’ senses, or even be toxic, so having access to a place that is free of pesticides is an exciting opportunity for beekeepers.

A bit of background on McNeil Island

McNeil Island housed a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1981, when WA Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) took over the facility. In 2011, WA Corrections closed down the prison on McNeil Island, but they continue to be stewards of this epic landscape—Correctional Industry (CI) staff oversee stewardship operations. McNeil Island now houses a Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) special commitment facility, and the old prison is used by the military, National Guard, WA Corrections, and others for training purposes. (If you want to know more about the island and its history, here’s the link to the Wikipedia page.)

On our trip around the island we would see signs like this one.

We visited the island a week before the bees were dropped off to take a tour and complete preparations. It’s not very big, but it’s a beautiful island nestled in the Puget Sound and mostly covered in vegetation. Sprinkled around the island are boarded-up houses where prison staff lived when the facility was in operation, and there’s even an old school house for their families. Even though we haven’t seen them yet, there are a few bears that live on the island, too!

The expert beekeeping team—we’re so lucky to be working with them! From left to right: Dixon Fellows, Gail Booth, Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, and Andy Matelich.

Honeybee Home

The bee hives are in a small structure in the center of this photo; it’s a perfect location, surrounded by an orchard and shielded from the elements by an old bus stop.

The bee installation crew made some final preparations just before the bees moved to their new home.

Collaboration is Key

This project could not have been possible without the collaboration of many different partners including SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair, staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!) and leadership, local expert beekeepers from the community, incarcerated beekeepers, and of course, the honeybees. It’s a great team; thank you everyone!

The installation crew included expert beekeepers from the Olympia area, incarcerated beekeepers from CCCC, and staff from CI and CCCC. Five expert beekeepers worked with us to bring this project to life: Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Dixon Fellows, Andy Matelich, and team lead Laurie Pyne. They scoped-out the island and picked the best location for the bee hives inside the orchard. CCCC inmate beekeepers and and carpenters also made critical contributions to the program, too: they built the hive boxes and supporting benches, helped locate the bus stop, assisted in placement, helped move the bees, and and shone as invested partners! More recently, a major supplier of beekeeping equipment in the region, Mann Lake, donated some of the supplies the program will need as the hives grow and multiply—it is wonderful to have their support.

Honeybees are Nothing to Bee Scared of!

Two worker bees landed on Officer Epling’s fingers; in the background, incarcerated beekeepers attached handles to the hives constructed in the CCCC woodshop.

Expert beekeeper Gail Booth shows an unsure beekeeper a young worker bee that landed on the stick. Gail walked around with the female bee discussing how you could tell her age and what tasks she might perform for her hive; the informal “meet-and-greet” eased some nerves about being so close to the bees.

The Hive Boxes

Incarcerated students from CCCC’s carpentry program, with guidance from Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley, built the custom hives from reclaimed wood. Students also painted and stenciled the bee logo onto each hive box. They look great!

Following the McNeil Island launch, Laurie Pyne visited CCCC’s carpentry class and offered a talk; the students had a chance to learn more about the program and see their great hive boxes in place on the island. They also partook of a honey tasting, comparing the flavors and consistencies of honey made from six sources of nectar; wildflower honey was a favorite.

 

Suit up

The bees were transported in one of the beekeeper’s truck.  

Everyone suited up to protect against getting stung. Even though bees are docile and don’t want to sting you, sometimes they get pinched between clothes or think that the hive is threatened and then they will sting; it’s good to be prepared.

Where’s the Queen?

Expert beekeeper Andy Matelich holds up a frame and looks for the queen. The queens are a key indicator of a hive’s health, and get marked so that they could be easily found again. One of the queens dropped to the ground and could have been squished, but an incarcerated beekeeper with a good eye spotted her and saved the day!

An incarcerated beekeeper placed a frame into the new hive boxes.

Andy and the rest of the bee installation crew inspected each frame before inserting them into the new hive boxes.

At the end of the day, the bees were buzzing around their new homes, no one got stung, and everyone had learned something about bees and beekeeping…there is always more to learn when it comes to bees.

Officer Epling, left, and Officer Kennedy, right, take a minute to look at the bee hives. Officer Epling is teaching Officer Kennedy about bees and beekeeping as Officer Kennedy prepares to take over as liaison for the beekeeping program at CCCC and McNeil Island.

Sustainability at Olympic Corrections Center

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

I recently visited Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) on the Olympic Peninsula near Forks, Washington. OCC is a “camp” for incarcerated individuals with 4 years or less remaining in their sentence. Inmates at OCC learn trades and gain valuable experiences for when they release. Among many options available to them is working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as response teams for flooding, forest fires, and other work within national parks. OCC has an impressive garden setup where they grow plants and seedlings; they use these areas as labs for learning horticultural science and plant biology (a Peninsula College program). They also have excellent composting and wood shop programs.

It was a privilege to see their programming. Here are a few snapshots of their great work.

The greenhouse at OCC has seedlings, produce, flowers, and tropical plants. They grew dozens of flower baskets for Mother’s Day, for both inmates and staff to give to their mothers and wives.

Greenhouse technicians, like Wade pictured here, care for the plants while learning how to sow and grow a prosperous garden. 

Look how big this succulent is! Greenhouse technicians have been caring for this guy for about 10 years.

Mark Case is another greenhouse technician. He hopes to have his own garden when he releases where he can put to use all of the knowledge he’s gained from working and learning in the gardens at OCC.

This pineapple isn’t ripe yet, but it sure is cute! When the pineapples are ready to eat, the technicians harvest and eat them.

Food, garden, and organic waste is composted on site at OCC. They have a large warehouse specifically designed for composting organic waste. The facility trains technicians who can then use this knowledge and skill base when they get out of prison.

OCC produced about 23 tons of compost last year alone! The product is used to amend the soil throughout the prison grounds. 

The wood shop at OCC uses donated or reclaimed wood to make wood toy trucks, tractors, and cars. Each intricately detailed toy goes to charity for children.

Here are some more completed projects awaiting to be painted with sealant. Such nice work!

First Journeyman Beekeepers Have Graduated From AHCC!

Text by Kay Heinrich, Associate Superintendent, Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)
Photo by AHCC staff.

Graduating class from AHCC.

Airway Heights Apiculture is Preparing Apprentice Beekeepers to Become Journeyman and to Raise Queen Honeybees!

About fifty inmates at the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) have successfully completed an apprentice course and are certified Apprentice Beekeepers through the Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA). Of those, approximately fifteen are on their way to becoming Journeyman-level Beekeepers through the WASBA Master Beekeepers program. The inmates who are pursuing Journeyman status have formed a beekeeping club named Airway Heights Apiculture (AHA). This is possible because of the administration’s support and expert tutelage of Master Beekeeper Jim Miller. Also, the class of students itself has helped to develop test and training materials, creating a training curriculum that fits the needs of a corrections environment (more about that from club members, below). The AHA club is a subsidiary of the West Plains Beekeepers Association, a nonprofit organization.

On 2/15/2018, the Bee class graduated its first Journeyman Beekeeping class. We had a celebration for the gentlemen who graduated to celebrate their hard work that was well attended.

Behind The Scenes: Writing from members of AHA

After several months of club meetings, serious discussions began to take place regarding the future of the beekeeping program and possible means to advance educational and organizational objectives. Jim mentioned that he would like to replace the existing Journeyman Beekeeper training manual currently in use in the beekeeping community. Would the AHA club be up for the challenge of expanding on Jim’s outline for a new journeyman manual and developing an entire training curriculum to be implemented at AHCC?

Beekeepers at AHCC check on a hive. Photo by DOC staff.

Of course! The club members had wanted to do something meaningful and have a lasting positive impact; their creation would be greater than themselves and would survive long after their release back into the community.

The project was simple enough: ten chapters based on a pre-existing outline by Jim, 20 questions for each chapter, and PowerPoint presentations for each of the lessons. Ten club members accepted the challenge. Following several weeks of writing, revising, and debate over the details of educational objectives, the booklet was finally complete. Club members worked together well and overcame apprehension and doubt. Now they can see the results of their hard work. A few weeks later they finished development of PowerPoint presentations and the first Journeyman class was ready to begin.

Hives next to the prisons largest garden. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Roughly 15 eager and enthusiastic students signed up – all graduates from the first three Apprentice classes. The aspiring Journeyman who developed the presentations did an excellent job facilitating the classes and helped set the standard for future classes. Students will have to pass a test spanning 100 questions. They must also pass a practical field exam to show their knowledge of beekeeping by demonstrating setting up hives, using hive tools, and inspecting frames. Students who graduate will be that much closer to their goal of becoming a Journeyman Beekeeper. Each student will still have to serve as an apprentice for three years, earn 30 service points, maintain a hive journal for a year, and mentor a new beekeeper.

Queen-Rearing: A Crowning Achievement!

Another exciting stage of progress is coming to AHCC – queen-rearing is about to be implemented by AHA and the time couldn’t be better! One of the long term goals which stated by administration is to advance sustainable beekeeping to other institutions in Washington. Queen-rearing at AHCC would help to provide queen bees to the various beekeeping programs throughout the state. This will advance beekeeping efforts to be self-sustaining and would provide additional education to inmates aspiring towards the level of Master Beekeeper. In addition to facilitating training for new apprentice and journeyman beekeepers, inmate beekeepers would be responsible for maintaining the activities of the queen-rearing program with the continued assistance of community sponsors and the support of administration.

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For further reading, see a related article from Sue Box, Library Associate at the Airway Heights Corrections Center: https://blogs.sos.wa.gov/library/index.php/2018/02/beekeepers-at-the-airway-heights-corrections-center/

Recognizing a world-class program

Text includes excerpts from speeches by: Certified Vermiculture and Composting Specialists Juan Hernandez, Rudy Madrigal, and Nick Hacheney, with introduction by Kelli Bush, SPP Director for The Evergreen State College
Photos by Kelli Bush and Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Certified Vermiculture and Composting Specialists Juan Hernandez practices his speech before the graduation ceremony.

Monroe Correctional Complex – WA State Reformatory Unit (MCC-WSRU) recently graduated it’s first class of certified Vermiculture and Composting Specialists. Reaching this milestone is the result of a truly collaborative process, with contributions from incarcerated program participants and education instructor, WA Corrections staff, Tilth AllianceUniversity Beyond Bars, and Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) staff at The Evergreen State College. The success of this diverse and mutually-invested team is a model for collaborative work; the shared accomplishment offers an abundance of hope for tackling other social justice and environmental challenges.

Tilth Alliance Program Coordinator, Justin Maltry (left) worked with partners to develop the certification. Corrections Officer Swan (pictured behind Justin, wearing a hat) was also critical to success effort.

The composting program at MCC-WSR was started by Nick Hacheney and corrections staff member Art King in 2009. Since that time, it has grown from a few hundred worms to a world-class program using multiple, innovative composting techniques. Not only does the program help significantly reduce food waste at the facility, but also provides participants extensive education, training, and opportunities to research and practice innovative composting techniques. Along the way, incarcerated participants have recruited input and assistance from professors, practitioners, and organizations around the country, and have found ways to improve on and fine tune their composting systems. Program protocols developed by incarcerated participants have been shared to start similar programs in other prisons and with non-profit organizations doing environmental and humanitarian work around the world. All of this work is done with tremendous support from corrections staff from MCC.

The graduation event was well-attended and included excellent speeches from graduates. Excerpts from their speeches follow.

Certificate development partners from WA Department of Corrections (CPM Anne Williams & Officer Jeff Swan), Tilth Alliance (Justin Maltry), and SPP (Kelli Bush) congratulate Juan Hernandez on his achievement.

Juan Hernandez

“I know for me it’s been a long journey to be standing here in front of everyone today, but I wouldn’t change a thing, because along the way I have grown as a man and human being and I’ve learned so much. Today marks the day in which we can officially declare that we finished one of our biggest goals–completing the vermiculture and composting specialist certification. We have been working on this for about a year and getting to this moment has certainly been quite a journey through blood, sweat, tears, and stress.

This certification has not only enriched my life here, but I believe that it will truly give me opportunities when I get released to find employment and follow a career in sustainability. So today I stand in front of you a man with a dream but not only that; here stands a man with a dream and the skill-set to follow that dream and make it a reality. I started my journey of sustainability after my journey for bettering my life had already started. I now see that my two journeys are closely intertwined.

This program and programs like this are not only important but essential to guys in here in regaining their humanity and getting them ready for reentry into society.

I believe that not only do we recycle food waste, but we also recycle people. And so, with that, I leave you saying this: please don’t judge a person by their mistakes, but judge them by how they learn from their mistakes.

Juan Hernandez talking with Rudy Madrigal and Tilth Alliance Program Coordinator, Justin Maltry, about the Black Soldier Fly composting program.

Rudy Madrigal

“About a year and a half ago my friend Nick told me that they really needed some workers at the worm farm and he asked if I would consider working back there. I’m not going to lie; I was dodging him for a while. But finally he got me to commit and I went out for an interview.

I’m not going to confirm or deny that I may have come for the promise of desserts. What Nick did try to convince me of was that I was going to be helping the environment, that this program would grow and become what we wanted it to be, that I would be given the right tools to succeed both in here and on the outside, and that in the end I would be recognized for all my hard work. Well everything my friend told me that day was true, and it happened! And that makes this day such a special day for me.

Thank you Nick for being a great friend and mentor, for challenging me, for always holding me accountable, telling me the truth, even if it hurt a little bit, for changing the view I had on the world and helping me realize the impact that I have on it, and for trusting me with the black soldier fly program.”

At the worm castings sifting table, Rudy Madrigal shakes hands with Sgt. LaMunyon.

Nick Hacheney

“Days like today don’t happen often in prison and it really means a great deal to us that you have decided to spend this time here.

First, we would like to thank all the DOC officials in the room. These types of programs would not happen if it wasn’t for the vision and courage of prison officials. Administrators take risks to make programs like this happen. They have to find money in ever-shrinking budgets and they have to bravely promote a narrative that prisoners are capable of great things and worth making an investment in.

We had the right ingredients here in staff willing to work with us, support from community partners and men who got busy making a difference in their world. So thank you to all.

It will surprise most people to learn that prisoners actually care about big issues like global warming and water quality. But these guys are more than prisoners – they are fathers who care about the world their children are growing up in; they are environmentalists who care about the planet; and they are advocates who understand the needs of a growing world population.

Nick Hacheney helped found the composting program at MCC and develop program education materials and vermicomposting certificate.

Composting Technicians talk with Sgt. LaMunyon as they sift worm castings.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center looks gray, but it’s the “greenest” prison in the nation!

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

At first glance, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) does not look very green, but superficial looks can be deceiving; it’s sustainable programming and practices are the most impressive of any correctional facility. CRCC’s main campus is LEED Gold certified, the first prison in the world to hold this accomplishment! (Check out this article about CRCC’s sustainable standard.)

At first glance Coyote Ridge looks very gray. This was especially true when I visited in overcast, rainy weather.

I visited the prison in late November, and had the chance to tour the programs and meet with partners. The sustainable practices of the facility were highly impressive, but even more impressive were the staff who work there and the inmates who have dedicated their lives to learning, education, and environmental activism. I met with the instructors for Roots of Success and we talked about the program, the facility’s annual Environmental Awareness Day, and the many hopes they have for advancing sustainability programming at Coyote Ridge.

I am continually impressed by the people I get to work with, and the inmates and liaisons at Coyote Ridge are exemplary program representatives. I asked what could be done to improve their program and the inmates unanimously agreed “more books and readings about the environment, the sciences, sustainability, environmental activism, and any other subject along those lines.” They want to learn as much as they can and are utilizing every resource they have access to.

Coyote Ridge has developed a “Sustainability Passport” to track and recognize participation. As incarcerated individuals complete a program, they get a stamp on their “passport.” A regular offering is the prison’s Sustainability Lecture Series, similar to the Environmental Workshop Series at two prisons west of the Cascades. They bring in outside experts to deliver lectures and seminars on environmental issues and sustainability. Guests have come from organizations like the Department of Ecology, the local beekeeping association, and experts on the Hanford Site.

This is Bentley. He is a handsome, energetic, lab mix puppy that was brought to the prison with the rest of his litter to be raised and trained by inmate dog handlers. He and his litter-mates have already been adopted, and some by staff members at the prison. Many staff members adopt shelter dogs that the inmates train because they get to know and love the dogs during their time at the facility.

Coyote Ridge hosts a beautiful, thriving dog program. Incarcerated individuals have played a greater leadership role in this program compared to other prison pet programs we know. The dogs that come to the facility are from Benton Franklin Humane Society and Adam County Pet Rescue. They come to the prison because the local shelter doesn’t have the space or time to care for the dogs; because it’s a pregnant dog that can receive inmate handlers’ attention 24 hours a day; or because the animal has been abused and needs extra-gentle care and attention to learn to trust people again. The dogs work with a variety of trainers while they’re at the facility so that they learn to listen and be comfortable around different people.

This is Shannon Meyer. He is one of the inmate dog handlers at CRCC and this was the current dog he’s working with, Rocky. When Rocky came to the prison he wouldn’t let anyone touch him and would get aggressive easily. Mr. Meyer has been working with Rocky for several weeks to get him to trust people and is pleased with his progress. Rocky’s red bandanna signals that he may not respond well to being pet or held by anyone other than his handler, but he happily let me pet him – proof of his progress.

The handlers at CRCC look like they love what they do and see the value in their work with the dogs. One of the handlers, Mr. Meyer, had this to say: “When I got here (in prison) it was just about doing my time, but now, with my dog, everything is about taking care of him and my life is about him.”

I also met these 8-day old puppies who were born in the prison. Their mother came to prison pregnant and gave birth to her puppies in the handler’s cell. Her handler, Mr. Archibald, will care for her and her puppies until they are ready and able to be adopted.

On all fronts, I was impressed by the greenness of programming and attitudes at the prison. Keep up the excellent work, Coyote Ridge!

CRCC during the summer. The picture is looking at some of the units and the courtyard with a rock garden in the center. The gardens at CRCC all feature native plants and rock designs. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

Liaisons are our Roots for Success

Text and photos (except where noted) by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

A Roots of Success graduate at CRCC shows his appreciation for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental education program that promotes awareness of environmental issues, problems and solutions, personally, locally, regionally, and globally. Roots of Success is offered by the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 10 of Washington State’s prisons. The program is championed by incarcerated instructors and students, and more than 1,200 people have graduated since the program began in 2013.

The unsung heroes of Roots of Success are the DOC staff members who serve as program sponsors, or “Roots Liaisons”. The program wouldn’t be possible if not for the incredible individuals that work with us within facilities. Even though I can’t highlight all of them, I want to recognize a few extraordinary people who make Roots of Success possible: Chris McGill at WSP, Gena Brock and CRCC, and Kelly Peterson at SCCC.

The Roots Liaisons are in charge of finding and scheduling the classroom, ensuring secure and functional multimedia equipment, responding to needs of instructors and students, and program reporting. This program would not be possible without the Liaisons’ determination and hard work.

Chris McGill is the Roots Liaison at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). He manages the amazing Sustainable Practices Lab, where Roots serves as a prerequisite for jobs in the lab’s shops. Chris first got involved with sustainable programming when he and small team of inmates decided to transform an empty space at the prison into a garden.

Gena Brock is Roots Liaison for Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC); in the photo above, she poses with the Roots of Success Instructors at the prison. As the Roots Liaison, she has provided steadfast program support and is always thinking of ways to improve the program at CRCC.

Kelly Peterson at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) is a relative newcomer to the Roots program. Kelly recently took on the role of sustainability liaison at SCCC, and is the point of contact for everything from beekeeping to gardening to the aquaponic “EVM” nursery. SCCC’s Roots program has been going strong since 2013, and we fully trust her to continue that success. She is dedicated, productive, and positive—pretty much everything you would want in a partner!

Teddy bears and rebuilt bicycles: From prison to the community

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

There are little bits of prison humor throughout the SPL; the signs for the bear and quilt production area read “Stuffed Animals Department” and “Bears From Behind Bars.”

Before visiting the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I was told it was an impressive set-up. Still, I was not prepared for how large and integrated it is. The SPL is basically a warehouse housing 18 programs, including a Teddy Bear program, aquaponics, SafeTap water filtration system (here’s an article on the guys at the SPL constructing water filters!), composting, wood-working, recycling, trout, gardens, quilt making, crochet/knitting, classroom, and the sign shop. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting too—the SPL is incredible to the point of overwhelming!

 

This is a view of the wood-working area within the SPL. In the background is some of the recycling (cloth and cardboard) as well as a little “plant hospital” at the back, where inmates care for “sad” plants brought in by staff members.

 

On the left side of the photograph is the aquaponics and trout area of the SPL. On the right is where inmates make quilts, teddy bears, and knitting and crochet crafts. There’s a room in the back of the photo that houses the wood-burning equipment, for sign etching.

I could not believe how resourceful the guys at the SPL are. Everything they work with is recycled or donated — even the teddy bears’ stuffing comes from recycled material retrieved from the prison’s waste stream.

 

These garden boxes are what started it all at WSP. Inmates rent a box for a small fee, and keep a garden with the plants of their choice. As the popularity of the garden boxes grew so did the sustainability programs available.

 

When an inmate joins the SPL their first task is to make a baby quilt. All materials for quilts have been donated by the local community. Once the quilts are completed, they are donated back to the community.

Of all of the stories I heard when I visited the SPL, I was most struck by one about an inmate rebuilding a bicycle. This particular bicycle came with a letter attached. The letter explained that the bike was owned by a little girl who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The parents kept the bicycle in their garage for almost 20 years before giving it to the prison to be refurbished. When SPL staff and technicians read the letter and saw the little girl’s bike, they knew of the perfect man to refurbish it: an SPL technician who had been incarcerated for hitting and killing a bicyclist while driving drunk. He was asked if he would be willing to refurbish this bike; he accepted knowing the task would be difficult and healing.

He refurbished the bike to look exactly like it did when the little girl rode it and returned the bike to her mother with a letter of his own. He detailed his healing process through refurbishing this bicycle; he was frequently moved to tears while working on the bicycle and even now, he can’t help but cry when he thinks about it. The mother of the little girl now takes the bicycle and the two letters with her to local schools and organizations where she talks about the dangers of driving drunk.

For me this story captures the heart and soul of the SPL, where every program is dedicated to reclaiming materials, creating value, and giving to the community. It’s a moving illustration of how ingenuity, creativity, and hard work can change lives!

Here’s a link to an earlier two-part blog on the WSP SPL: Part 1 and Part 2.