Author Archives: Bethany Shepler

First Place Honey!

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Twin Rivers Unit’s honey took first place! Photo by Susan Collins, Beekeeping Liaison and Correctional Unit Supervisor at MCC-TRU

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit‘s (MCC-TRU) beekeeping program participated in the Evergreen State Fair for the second time this year. They host a booth along with Northwest District Beekeepers Association. This year, for the first time, they entered their honey into the Fair’s honey competition and…they won first place!

Their bee program is only in its second year, but it has blossomed thanks to the unending support from staff at MCC-TRU and the enthusiastic participation from incarcerated students. We can’t wait to see all the great things this program in the future.

Congratulations, MCC-TRU!

Wastewater Treatment at Olympic Corrections Center Continues to Impress

Text and Photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Olympic Corrections Center once again earned an Outstanding Performance Award in 2018. Photo courtesy of Department of Ecology.

Olympic Corrections Center (OCC)’s wastewater treatment plant is among the best in the state. The Department of Ecology (DOE) has recognized OCC’s outstanding performance, and for being 100% compliant, for 8 consecutive years. In 2018, OCC once again earned an Outstanding Performance recognition. A blog posted by DOE highlighted OCC’s accomplishments with a quote from Mike Henry, the Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator:

“We have won the award quite a few times and I think everyone is determined to win the award because they don’t want to be the first group of operators to not win it. The operators are proud of the awards. We have them hanging in the lab, except for the ones hanging in our administration building. That makes me think that our administration is as proud of our achievements as we are.”

And the administration certainly is—they proudly showed the awards to me as soon as I arrived.

Everyone at the facility is very proud of the program, and they should be. OCC’s team consistently averages 0.4 mg/L of suspended solids in their wastewater. DOE requires that the maximum limit of suspended solids in wastewater amounts to 30 mg/L. That means their wastewater contains 98.7% less than the maximum limit. Keep up the great work, OCC!

Below are pictures of the treatment plant showing the journey that OCC’s wastewater goes through before flowing into the nearby river. Take a look!

The first stop in the wastewater journey is this big pool where the water is aerated.
This is a secondary clarifier that allows for solids to sedimentate out of the water.
This is one of their secondary clarifiers that was empty for its regular cleaning.
One of the last stops the water goes through is to be disinfected by this UV disinfectant.
All of the wastewater is tested throughout the process to ensure that it is up to regulation and that everything is operating the way it should be. This is the lab that incarcerated participants use to test the water.
The solids from the treatment are used in OCC’s large-scale composting operation. The compost is also fed by food and yard waste from around the facility.
The compost is used around the facility to create and stimulate soil. Here, the compost has been used to foster the garden expansion around the greenhouses.

Another Stellar Year for the Legendary Penitentiary Bee Program

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator
Photos by Jonathan Fischer, Beekeeping Liaison and Classification Counselor at Washington State Penitentiary

Ryder Chronic, a Journeyman beekeeper, inspects a frame.

The Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) hosts one of the oldest and best-established beekeeping programs in Washington State Department of Corrections. They have built a professional-size apiary, certified 44 incarcerated men as beekeepers, participated in a National Honey Bee Pest Survey by the USDA, hosted a professional beekeeper (Mona Chambers, founder of See the Bees), and—in general— have established themselves as a leader in prison beekeeping.

They are about to finish a Journeyman Beekeeper course, putting them on the path to classes led by incarcerated beekeepers!

Below are some photos from the last day of a recent Beginner class, when students and staff sponsors left the classroom to inspect some of the many hives that WSP keeps.

A beekeeper is inspecting this hive frame to see what the bees are doing – are they making honey, storing pollen, or caring for baby bees? Can you tell?
A beekeeper holds a frame full of bees. A healthy hive at the peak of the season can have 60,000 – 80,000 bees in it!
Hives are inspected a few times a month to make sure that the queen and hive are healthy. During this inspection, beekeepers added honey supers to catch honey the bees produce.

Jonathan Fischer, the beekeeping liaison, had this to say about the program “we had a stellar year, with 8 honey supers ready for harvest. These 8 boxes will produce about 270-300 pounds of honey.”

Garden expansion and delicious prison bananas: Olympic Corrections Center Horticulture Program

Text and photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Planted and cared for by the horticulture students at Olympic Corrections Center, these roses, are ready to bloom.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) in June. I was excited to see all of the gardens’ growth and expansion since my visit last year. After my visit last year, I published a blog about the different sustainability programming at OCC. Though my visits were in different seasons, comparisons were still clear.
OCC is on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by the PNW’s famous temperate rainforest and gets rain most days of the year. OCC is referred to as a “camp”–meaning it houses people who have 4 years or less on their prison sentence–and currently houses about 380 incarcerated individuals. OCC offers some incredible sustainability programs including horticulture, a pre-apprenticeship trade skills program similar to TRAC, wastewater treatment, composting, wood shop, and dog training. OCC also partners with Peninsula College to offer educational opportunities. OCC’s horticulture program, sponsored by instructor Jamie Calley, allows students to take classes, plant and maintain gardens, design and implement projects, and earn certificates for their work.

This landscaping surrounds the greenhouses at OCC… the “H” is for horticulture!

When I first arrived, the facility looked pretty much the same: fences, buildings, lots of tan outfits. But, once I got inside and I was blown away by all of the plant growth and garden expansion in the horticulture area. The horticulture program’s hard work and innovation were well apparent: they’d added whole garden areas, flowerbeds encircling the greenhouses, and additional landscaping in the established garden area. In just over a year, the horticulture students and Ms. Calley have transformed OCC.

Below are pictures of the horticulture area from both my visit in March of 2018 and my most recent visit in June. They really illustrate how much the program participants have accomplished in a year.

This vegetable garden is a new addition since I visited last year. The horticulturists have been busy!
These bananas grow inside the greenhouse – I got to eat one and they are delicious!
Jamie Calley is the staff sponsor for the horticulture program at OCC. Here, Jamie is looking at some of the beautiful landscaping and gardens the horticulture cared for by students. Without a doubt, her enthusiastic support and advocacy for this program has enabled progress and expansions in the program.

Second Chances and the WAG Program at Clallam Bay

Main text by Douglas Gallagher, Incarcerated Dog Trainer at Clallam Bay Corrections Center
Introduction by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Incarcerated dog handlers reunite with a dog they trained at the second annual reunion on October 17, 2017. Photo by Brian Harmon, taken from http://www.wagsequimwa.com/PrisonProgram.html

At the Sustainability Fair at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC), I had the chance to learn about the Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) dog program. WAG works with incarcerated dog handlers at CBCC to train dogs who have been labeled as “unadoptable.” Since the program’s inception in 2012, incarcerated dog handlers have trained over 200 adult dogs and puppies. This training often includes teaching the dogs to trust people, interact with other dogs, and perform for common commands. 99% of the dogs that have gone through training at CBCC has been adopted into a forever home! Each one went through WAG’s rigorous adoption process including applications, interviews, and inspecting the potential house. Check out WAG’s Facebook page and their website for more information about the work they do (and for beautiful dog portraits).

Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC). Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The dog program sponsor at CBCC, Tanja Cain, worked with WAG to establish a “Reunion Day.” Dogs return to the prison for a day along with their adoptive parents. Incarcerated dog handlers get to see dogs they helped train and meet the people who adopted them. And the dogs get to see the people who gave them a second chance at life. When the dogs arrive, they know exactly where they are and rush to their former handlers with wagging tails and lots of kisses.

Mr. Gallagher is a certified trainer working at CBCC and he gave a speech at the Sustainability Fair about the WAG program and what it means to him.

The WAG program and what it means to me

My name Douglas Gallagher and I have been in the dog program here at Clallam Bay since March of 2014. In the last five years, I have had the pleasure of training 26 dogs. I have also become a Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer Instructor otherwise known as a “CBATI” something I am very proud of.

Mr. Gallagher was one of the incarcerated handlers who helped to train Andy. Even though Andy is a little shy, he agreed to pose for this photo. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

When I first got into the program, I knew nothing about training dogs, and in fact, felt a little overwhelmed by it all. I was lucky to move in with someone who had trained a few dogs, and he assured me that if I read all of the books and paid attention, I would learn fast and become confident in my abilities. As nervous as I was about my newfound responsibility, I took to it as a fish takes to water. I read all of the books that were provided to us, watched the videos and worked with the other handlers who had more experience than I did. And I learned how to work as part of a team. It was a challenge, and coming from a background where I only cared about myself, it took some time for me to adjust to it all and I love it.

Here’s Andy’s portrait picture from WAG’s Facebook page. Photo credit: Dog Light Photography.

You see, like most of the dogs that we get from WAG, I too was broken. When I came back to prison with my third strike, I was at my wit’s end. Drug addiction had broken me, and I had a long road of recovery before me. Over the last several years in the program, I have become a new person.

I could identify with the dogs that WAG brings us because like most of them, I knew what it was like to be cast off. The program has taught me more than I ever thought it would – how to be responsible, how to be patient, to have empathy, how to work with others, and most of all, how to love. When I get a fearful dog who won’t even take treats, and nurse it back to health and watch it transform into a new dog, it brings me great joy. There are just no words to describe it. Each dog has its issues, just like us. Each dog is unique in its own way, just like us. Each day I look forward to learning something new. When I first joined the program I knew that it was going to be a challenge, and take a lot of dedication, yet I had no idea just how fulfilling it would be. There is no greater feeling than watching a broken dog become whole and go to its forever home. I want to thank WAG and Ms. Cain for allowing all of us handlers to participate in this life-changing endeavor. Now I will share some quotes from some of the other handlers.

“The dog program gives me a sense of purpose and allows me to make a positive impact on the lives of dogs as well as myself. All while giving me skills that I can use to help me to be successful out in the community and prevent me from re-offending.” Mr. Thompson


“What the dog program means to me is: love, passion for life, teaching, and learning!” Mr. Parren

“This dog program has helped me grow as a person. It showed me how to be responsible and not be a selfish person. Now I have someone that depends on me for everything and I love it. This program gives me a sense of self-worth.” Mr. De Le Cruz

“It has made me less selfish.” Mr. Osalde

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!