Author Archives: Bethany Shepler

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.

*********

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.

Letter from one of the Roots Master Trainers

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator and
Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Instructor

Because Youngblood is a Master Trainer for Roots of Success, he can certify new instructors. Youngblood certified Reyes (left) and Berube (center) for the program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in 2015 and 2017; Reyes and Berube have facilitated 7 classes of Roots students. Photo by DOC staff.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of our Master Trainers for Roots of Success in Washington State, Eugene Youngblood. He recently relocated from Coyote Ridge Corrections Center to Monroe Correctional Complex and spoke at a class graduation in the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL). I was struck by his words because, not only were they relevant to the people assembled, but to so many other people inside and outside prisons. He said “to give praise is to assign value and the people here need to know that they are worthy of value.” Too often in our world, people tend to believe they don’t have value. Perhaps Youngblood is on to something: Maybe by assigning value to those we’ve locked away, we can began to change the world.

 

A Roots of Success class graduation at CRCC in 2016; Youngblood is at the far right. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I want to convey more of Mr. Youngblood’s wisdom, and have a letter from him to share:

The great George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to him. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Sustainability in prison sounds like an oxymoron to most people, I am sure. Prisons going green and prisoners being at the forefront of this movement sounds unreasonable, if not outright unbelievable. Yet, here we are at the Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit, attempting to adapt the world to us, understanding that all progress depends on us… “The unreasonable”.

At our SPL (Sustainability Practice Lab) we are supervised and supported by Correctional Officer Jeffrey Swan, who has done an amazing job creating an atmosphere that is both professional and positive. In these positions, we are gaining valuable job skills and invaluable knowledge that will help us in our quest for successful reentry. I would be remiss if I did not say how much support we get for programs such as this from administration here. CPM Williams continues to be the unseen helping hand, extending to us the support we need to continue the work we are able to do, even when we don’t know how far she has gone to make this all possible. We have a thriving vermiculture program, along with wheelchair and bicycle restoration programs. The wheelchairs are refurbished and restored then donated to those in need across the world. Our last three shipments went to Ghana, Guatemala, and Thailand. The bicycles are refurbished and restored then gifted to local Boys & Girls clubs, YMCA, and to the local police department for their bike drive giveaway. On top of all this work, we are learning at the same time. We have just completed the second Roots of Success environmental literacy class for Monroe Correctional Complex.

The Roots of Success program has become a real agent of change for us in prison. If you want to help people change their actions, the first thing you have to do is help them change their thoughts. How do you help someone change his or her thoughts? You provide them with more information and then you give them the tools to turn that information into knowledge. Real change takes place from the inside out – what is under the ground produces what is above the ground. Thus, we have “Roots” of success and not “Fruits” of success. Environmental literacy helps us understand the impact we have on the environment. Roots of Success helps take that to the next level with prisoners; we are learning about ourselves and the impact we have, not just on our immediate environment (Prison) but the impact we have on our friends, families, our own communities, and ultimately our extended environment (Society). We are helping to make prison sustainable, helping to contribute to the sustainability of society, and all the while helping ourselves become better people in the process by taking what we know and turning that into what we do. In the true spirit of the quote by George Bernard Shaw, we are being “unreasonable” and thus producing progress in THE world and in OUR world as well.

Youngblood (far right) stands with another graduating class from CRCC, in 2014. Photo by SPP Staff.

Beekeepers are hard at work at Stafford Creek

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Class photo of beekeeping apprenticeship students with Ed Baldwin (far left) and Duane McBride (second from the left).

The bees may have turned in for winter, but beekeeping students at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) are still hard at work. Their first beekeeping apprenticeship course is almost done and we are impressed and thankful.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on the last class in the series at SCCC, taught by Duane McBride from the Olympia Beekeepers Association. The students came well prepped for class and full of thoughtful questions. Ed Baldwin, a Grounds Specialist at Stafford Creek, is taking the class as well. Ed hopes to continue to expand the beekeeping program—it has been in place since 2009, but is doing better than ever with the renewed attention and education.

Duane McBride answering questions about a test the students took in an earlier class.

Students that go through the beekeeping apprenticeship course graduate as certified beekeeping apprentices and can put those skills to further use upon release.

Since last spring’s Beekeeping Summit, we have seen beekeeping programs booming statewide – adding nine programs in only six months! We are thrilled by all of the support and enthusiasm surrounding the beekeeping programs. Beekeeping is really taking flight within Washington State prisons and we can’t bee-lieve how fast the program is growing. Keep up the hard work, Stafford Creek!

Students chuckle at a beekeeping pun during the class…we were buzzing with bee puns.  

A student looks up something for reference as Duane McBride talks about hive care.

Students listen as Duane explains hive care techniques.

As class wraps up, students talk and laugh a little before returning back to their normal activities.

This is where the bees are housed at Stafford Creek. The inmates constructed the shelter, painted it, and made the beehives that now homes for two healthy hives.

My First Few Months at SPP

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

When I first heard about a job opening at the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I couldn’t believe there was a group that combined two of my passions. I called my best friend and excitedly shouted at her all I had learned about SPP. Her response was simply “you’re applying for that, right? Cause it’s perfect for you.”

Well, I applied for the position of Green Track Program Coordinator and practiced for my interview over and over. I would like to think I projected an air of confidence during my interview, but I desperately wanted to make a good impression so I made myself quite nervous. A few days later, I received the call offering me the position! I don’t really remember the call, I just remember being so excited I could hardly breathe.

For the second time in my life, I knew I was on the right path.

Emily Passarelli and Bethany Shepler observe nursery technicians at WCC picking buds from violets that will be used for re-seeding later. Photo by SPP Staff.

Sitting at my desk a few months later, I still know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I still get excited to go to work, I love the challenges this job brings, and I can’t wait to find out what I learn throughout my time here.

Although I don’t get to go to prison as often as my colleagues do, when I do I find that I’m always surprised by how normal everything feels “inside.” I sometimes forget where I am until I see the barbed wire and guard towers.

Group photo of Climate Symposium at SCCC. This was an incredible event about climate change and the actions people can take to mitigate it. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The thing that surprises me the most is how inspiring the inmates are. They are full of hope. Out of all the inspirational speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in my lifetime, the most powerful voices are those of the incarcerated individuals I work with. I often leave prison feeling hopeful and positive about the state of the world. Regardless of the tweets or breaking news, it’s the people who we’ve locked away that are showing me the way forward.