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Sticking with Success

Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett and Bethany Shepler

Note: please be aware that three individuals featured in this story have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting of images should keep that risk in mind.

Roots of Success graduates applaud during the graduation event at Washington Corrections Center.

In May, we celebrated the third class of the full Roots of Success (Roots) curriculum at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton. Eight incarcerated gentlemen completed the fifty-hour course. Each sounded pleased to share in what he had learned and what he appreciated about his peers, the instructor, and the staff who support the program. Gratitude seems to be a key element of Roots; as visitors to the classroom or a graduation event, we are steeped in their gratitude….it’s pretty wonderful!

Two portraits of the graduating class. The second includes the primary staff who support WCC’s program.

All present took turns addressing the group and reinforcing mutual recognition. One graduate told his class, “Every single one of these guys valued my opinion, and that was awesome.” Instructor Grady Mitchell, one of the state’s most experienced teachers of the course, beautifully paraphrased Nietzsche to tell his students:

“I have left the house of scholars. Too long I have sat hungry at their table…I have not been hungry at your table.”

As testimony to the content of the class, a student said his thinking had shifted, from What programs are the best programs? to What do we need to learn to become good human beings? He and others suggested that Roots had helped them to learn about being with people, how to make decisions, and how to turn knowledge into action.

Thanks to Kathryn Shea for keeping WCC’s program alive; she has served as program Liaison for both the condensed and full curriculum since 2016.

Our thanks to the staff who have kept Roots alive at WCC. After several years of supporting the program, Kathryn Shea is promoting to a new position outside the prison. She told us that she never got to give Roots the focus she wanted it to have — like most program liaisons, she took on Roots administration on top of her regular duties. We are grateful that she kept the program alive and well.

Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the future of WCC’s program looks bright. At the end of the formal celebration, graduates, instructor, and staff chatted over cake and shared promising plans for building the program bigger. We all plan to stick with Success.

Instructor Grady Mitchell, SPP-Evergreen’s Joslyn Rose Trivett, and Correctional Industries’ Kathryn Shea congratulated each graduate as he received his certificate.

Sages in Cages

By Stacy Chen, a first-year undergrad at Duke University. Ms. Chen took an interest in SPP’s work after attending a talk by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, in which she described bringing her sustainability research projects into prisons.

A newly-graduated first-generation college student was incarcerated for accidental manslaughter at a party (Brown, 2009). During his 4 years at Cedar Creek Correctional Center, he read about 1000 books and authored his first scientific journal article along with an accomplished ecologist (Brown, 2009; Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008). Within 5 years of his release, he completed his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and is now a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Nevada School of Medicine (“Craig Ulrich,” n.d.).

How did Craig Ulrich do that? He conducted ecological research in prison.

We have to stop assuming that human resources outside of academia are scientifically-handicapped and incapable of expanding the global pool of scientific knowledge. Sadly, scientists rarely look for research assistance outside of their expertise, believing their projects to be too lofty for the unschooled (Nadkarni & Morris, 2018).

A high school education is hard to come by for most prisoners, but that didn’t faze ecologist and entrepreneur Nalini Nadkarni (Brown, 2009). It wasn’t until she pioneered the Moss-in-Prisons project did the millions of marginalized inmates in American jails and prisons receive attention as potential contributors to conservation ecology (Nadkarni, 2019).

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni shows off a bag of moss in the Cedar Creek greenhouse, 2004. Raymond Price stands behind her in the photo and figuratively as well: he volunteered his time to ensure that the new programs operated day to day. Photo by SPP staff.

Today, 2.3 million people Americans live behind metal bars. Among them, around 60,000 are released each year, but more than half return to those cages within 3 years (N. M. Nadkarni & Morris, 2018). The recidivism rate isn’t so shocking after all. How are prisoners expected to make a living after years of idle incarceration, without any means to establish themselves as contributive, knowledgeable, and resourceful members of society?

In search of help for her research in ex-situ cultivation of epiphytic mosses—species essential for forest biodiversity and nutrient cycling—Nadkarni looked where no one else dared to (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2009; Gotsch, Nadkarni, & Amici, 2016). The goal of her study was to develop a method to artificially-grow and commercialize mosses to protect those that would otherwise be stripped from forests and sold in the long-exploited million-dollar florist trade (Muir, 2004; Nadkarni, 2008). Nadkarni was looking for “fresh eyes and minds to spot innovative solutions” (Nadkarni, 2008, p. 248) and decided that those inmates, like Ulrich, constituted the most “needful” and “desirous” population when it came to environmental education (Nadkarni, 2019). Incarcerated adults did not go in completely illiterate on the subject either, for many of them come from the Northwest where they have already been acquainted with the beauty, diversity, and dynamics of nature on their hunting and fishing expenditures (Nadkarni, 2019).

At a National workshop in 2013, Craig Ulrich and Tamara Dohrman, Assistant Director of General Services for Oregon Department of Corrections, discuss their work with SPP. Photo by Guinnevere Shuster.

Nadkarni gave the inmates free rein. These budding scientists engineered moss flats to shelve the specimens and did their own pen-to-paper data collection and calculations. After two years, this collaboration developed a water treatment method for the cultivation of mosses and discovered potential for commercial farming of 3 species of mosses (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008).

Several inmates co-authored the research paper that came out of the Moss-in-Prisons project, with Ulrich being the primary author (Ulrich & Nadkarni, 2008). Some of these inmates left Cedar Creek and became horticulturists (Nadkarni, 2008, p. 250).

Sages in cages for real! Incarcerated technicians work in the Sagebrush in Prisons Project at a prison in Montana. Photo courtesy of Institute for Applied Ecology.

In the end, this project not only enhanced scientific knowledge and forest biodiversity preservation at large, it also provided inmates better candidacy for jobs upon release, created a synergetic relationship between the scientists and prisoners, and fostered a better attitude toward the undereducated populations (Nadkarni, 2019). Nadkarni considers withholding nature from prisoners a “punishment”, claiming that bringing these mosses into these correction centers “encourage[s] not only prisoners but also their jailers to value the healing qualities of nature” (N. M. Nadkarni, 2008, p. 247).


SPP Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan regards golden paintbrush, a federally-listed threatened species, during a visit to the remnant prairie at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Taking a step back, the Moss-in-Prisons project piloted by Dr. Nadkarni was only a spark that led to the countless environmental education programs and sustainability projects in prisons across the State of Washington. Out of Cedar Creek Correctional Center, Nadkarni co-founded the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), an organization engaging inmates in butterfly-breeding, honeybee-keeping, and prairie restoration projects today (“Sustainability in Prisons Project,” 2019). It’s encouraging to see similar programs starting up in many other US correction centers; however, most of these start-ups are concentrated in the Pacific Coast, Midwest, and Northeast areas, whereas the Southeast is missing in action (“SPP Network Programs,” n.d.).

What would it look like for government funds to go toward educating inmates? Perhaps it would reduce the whopping 52% recidivism rate (Nadkarni & Morris, 2018). Perhaps it would reinvent our view of prisoners: Instead of seeing them as convicts deserving of punishment, we would see them as potential propellers of science—people who are desperate for a second chance and scholars who yearn for contact with the outside world. Just like how mosses depend on trees to grow, prisoners require interactions with nature to thrive.

References

Brown, V. (2009, February 24). The Ecologist and the Prisoners. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from Pacific Standard website: https://psmag.com/environment/the-ecologist-and-the-prisoners-3928

Craig Ulrich [University]. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2019, from Nevada Center for Bioinformatics website: https://www.unr.edu/bioinformatics/contact/craig-ulrich

Gotsch, S. G., Nadkarni, N. M., & Amici, A. (2016). The functional roles of epiphytes and arboreal soils in tropical montane cloud forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology; Cambridge, 32(5), 455–468. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S026646741600033X

Muir, P. (2004). An Assessment of Commercial “Moss” Harvesting from Forested Lands in the Pacific Northwestern and Appalachian Regions of the United States: How Much Moss is Harvested and Sold Domestically and Internationally and Which Species are Involved? [Report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center]. Retrieved from http://www.forestharvest.org.uk/pdfs/MossHarvestProjectFinalReportAugust242004.pdf

Nadkarni, N. M. (2008). Between earth and sky : our intimate connections to trees. Retrieved from https://find.library.duke.edu/catalog/DUKE008470535

Nadkarni, N. M. (2019, March). Science in Prisons – Bringing Conservation Biology and Environmental Sustainability to the Incarcerated. Presented at the Science & Society Classroom, North Building 232, Duke University. Science & Society Classroom, North Building 232, Duke University.

Nadkarni, N. M., & Morris, J. S. (2018). Baseline Attitudes and Impacts of Informal Science Education Lectures on Content Knowledge and Value of Science Among Incarcerated Populations. Science Communication, 40(6), 718–748. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547018806909

SPP Network Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2019, from Sustainability in Prisons Project website: http://sustainabilityinprisons.org/spp-network/spp-network-programs/

Sustainability in Prisons Project. (2019). Retrieved May 1, 2019, from Sustainability in Prisons Project website: http://sustainabilityinprisons.org/

Ulrich, C., & Nadkarni, N. M. (2008). Sustainability research and practices in enforced residential institutions: collaborations of ecologists and prisoners. Environment, Development and Sustainability; Dordrecht, 11(4), 815–832. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10668-008-9145-4

Sowing Seeds for Transformative Education

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager, The Evergreen State College

In early January, we welcomed Master of Environmental Studies graduate student Carly Rose to the Sustainability in Prisons Project team at The Evergreen State College (SPP-Evergreen). Her position, and now her presence, fulfills a long-held dream: that someone on our team could be solely devoted to coordinating, creating, and improving educational materials.

Photo of Carly by Keegan Curry.

The position creates a new focus on organizing and cataloging SPP’s existing educational materials and capacity for developing new materials that are in high demand. Three funders have made this possible. Via our Evergreen colleague Scott Morgan, we are delighted to host our first Sustainability Fellow, providing for about five months of the one-year position. Sustainability Fellowship positions at Evergreen are funded by a generous, anonymous donor. Matching that, we have a recent, very helpful gift from the Herb Alpert Foundation. With these two donations, there was only a small funding gap remaining and we were able to use funds provided by another anonymous donor from the Seattle Foundation to support Carly’s time for a full year.

The ability to add the position could not have come at a better time. In SPP programs, the demand for more educational content is higher than ever. Also, we have new allies in curriculum development, both within Washington State Department of Corrections prisons and in outside organizations. All these factors provide a tremendous opportunity and we’re so pleased to be able to make the most of it.

Our good fortune continued with Carly Rose’s application. She brings an optimal mix of environmental and social interests and expertise. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Western Washington University and professional experience from a variety of social service settings, including supported employment, foster care, and transitional aged youth mental health. An ideal complement comes from her studies in Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies program and her self-led exploration of organic farming, native plant identification, and other elements of sustainable living – she can easily relate to the students’ desire to learn more about such topics!

Gardeners at Airway Heights Corrections Center tend the prison’s “big” garden. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With SPP, Carly’s first priority is to coordinate efforts to create a peer-led gardening curriculum that is tailored to the particular interests and capacities of incarcerated gardeners. In her first four months, she has connected with the many partners and stakeholders in the effort, including two teams of incarcerated students, the Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper program. Again, Carly appears to be made for this work; she shows a partnership mindset with every contributor, carefully considering their input, limitations, and needs. When the curriculum is completed, SPP plans to work with partners to make it broadly available—matching interest we’ve heard from allied organizations across the country.

As envisioned, Carly is also making strides to catalog SPP-Evergreen’s existing educational files. She is developing templates for learning guides in all of our ecological conservation programs. Our unwieldy collection of articles, presentations, and handouts is beginning to take the shape of an accessible and powerful library.

With both efforts, SPP’s ability to offer meaningful, empowering education to people in prisons expands. We can better support staff turnover on our team, giving each new program coordinator ready access to a wealth of educational materials. This fall, we can support students and staff inside prisons as they try out the new gardening curriculum, and then still have capacity for gathering their suggestions for improvement. Carly sums it up well:

“I am so excited to contribute to and grow with the SPP team; a multi-disciplinary team that includes Evergreen’s SPP staff, Washington State Department of Corrections’ SPP staff, community supporters and partners, and most importantly the incarcerated technicians and students who invest their time and hearts into these sustainability programs.”

We are so grateful to the three donors who have made this position possible. With their combined contributions, we were able to take on this important work. Education is the most effective way to reduce recidivism, breaking the cycle of incarceration. The investment in Carly’s work has significant positive impacts on SPP’s ability to deliver empowering education to benefit people, communities and ecosystems.

Growing a Gardening Curriculum

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

In 2019, every prison in Washington State has gardens. Most prisons boast extensive plots of food and flowers, some cultivated for their beauty to pollinators and humans, others for verdant rows of herbs and vegetables. These gardens are a source of pride and solace; they are islands of beauty and vitality in an institutional environment.

Two community service crew-members from MCCCW transplant lettuce for Kitsap Conservation District’s GRACE project. Photo by Keegan Curry.

For as long as Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP)’s Evergreen employees have visited gardens in Washington State prisons, we have heard incarcerated gardeners ask for more information to refine their gardening skills. They want information on plant cultivation, healthy soils, garden placement and sunlight, beneficial insects, and pest management, and many other topics that would help them be better gardeners.

WCCW hosts extensive ornamental and vegetable gardens, lovingly tended by horticulture students and TAs. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A relatively small number of gardeners are also formal garden students—they get horticulture instruction from Centralia, Peninsula, or Tacoma Community College—and those opportunities are highly prized. In other cases, mostly in other states, volunteers from Master Gardeners or other non-profit organizations (e.g., Insight Gardening Program, Lettuce Grow, Rikers Island GreenHouse) bring gardening education into the facilities. These classes are sought after and celebrated by gardeners.

There are many more gardeners whose needs and interests aren’t yet met—they haven’t been able to get into a class, their prison is too remote for volunteers, or they already received a class and they want to learn more. Not only in Washington, but across the country, there are staff and incarcerated gardeners who crave more information and instruction.

Gardeners tend beds in the early spring at Monroe Correctional Complex. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

We know from the successes of peer-led education in other SPP programs, like Monroe Correctional Complex’s composting certification, technician-led workshops, and Roots of Success, that peer-to-peer education can work. Given proper preparation and support, peer education can be very effective and empowering.

A new collaboration has emerged to try and meet the requests of incarcerated gardeners, by working together to develop a gardening curriculum based on a peer education model. SPP has found kindred spirits in the Institute for Applied Ecology and the Oregon Food Bank. Even more valuable, incarcerated individuals and staff at two prisons in particular, Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, have volunteered to help write, review, and pilot the new curriculum. These incarcerated gardeners offer their technical gardening expertise, their lived experience in the prison system, and their insight into what incarcerated gardeners need to teach and learn. Their input is integral to creating a successful peer-led curriculum.

Oregon Food Bank’s Seed to Supper provides the new curriculum’s core. It will be enhanced and augmented by prison-specific edits and added chapters. In this 2017 photo, Seed to Supper students discuss gardening in the SCCC classroom. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With so many authors and stakeholders, forward progress can be slow; it takes a lot of work to create and finalize plans, and to review and finalize products. The huge upside, though, is that the collective may produce a program that can be used across the state and across the nation.

To give the many partners and steps involved the recognition their due, we will write a series of stories on the gardening curriculum. We want to cultivate something practical, useful, and appealing—a curriculum worthy of a gardener.

Beekeeping is Freedom

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager and Ellen Miller, President of the West Plains Beekeepers Association and Vice President of Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA).

This story also appears in WASBA’s April Newsletter.

Airways Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) beekeepers pose after passing their Journeyman level exams. Photo courtesy of AHCC.

In late February, beekeepers and associates gathered at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) for a celebration. It’s been an incredible year for AHCC beekeepers, with forming their own club and starting a queen rearing program – there was a lot to celebrate!

AHCC’s beekeeping program originated only a few years ago, when a local expert from Millers Homestead, Master Beekeeper Jim Miller made an unusually generous offer. For a fee of $0, Jim offered beginner beekeeping education for groups of prison staff, and to incarcerated students who had completed prerequisite programs Roots of Success and Redemption.

Jim Miller also donated program materials, including live honey bees. When delivering the hives to the prison, his show of generosity went ever further. An incarcerated beekeeper present for the bee’s arrival told us that Jim said: “They’re your hives. Do what you have to do with them. I’m just here for moral support.” They were understandably nervous about accepting responsibility of thousands of honeybees, but Jim’s faith in the new beekeepers meant they could learn by doing and build a program they could sustain.

Following the celebration’s speeches, beekeepers and visitors informally talked about ideas for the future of the program. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

Fast forward to 2018, and the results of Jim’s show of trust are clear. With the support of AHCC staff and members of the West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers formed their own beekeeping club—likely the only prison-hosted club in the nation. To date, 14 men have successfully completed the Journeyman test and are working on completing the requirements for the field test and service points that are part of the Washington State Beekeepers Association requirements for achieving Journeyman level certification.

The best part of the ceremony was hearing the testimonials from several AHCC bee club members. We heard about what they’ve learned and how the program has changed them for good. Despite growing up allergic to stings, Chuck Roark now finds that “everything I do in beekeeping translates” to other parts of his life. He told the assembled, “The thing is, I’m a beekeeper. I’ll be a beekeeper in the real world. I’ll be a beekeeper for the rest of my life.” He was also the one to tell us that “Beekeeping is freedom.” Given the positivity and creativity of all assembled for the celebration, those surprising words rang true.

AHCC’s Bee Club President described the profound, even spiritual experience of becoming a beekeeper. He said of the honey bees, “They not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.”

Thank you to all of the beekeepers who have given so much of themselves to this program. And thank you for inviting us to share in the pride of all that has been accomplished. 

Kevin Oldenburg, President of the Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), encourages members of the AHCC Bee Club to write and submit articles for the WASBA Newsletter. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

Letter from a graduate: Centralia College Horticulture Program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Letter by a Horticulture Program graduate, courtesy of Scott Knapp, Horticulture Instructor

In 2013, a gardener works next to the pumpkin patch. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

The Centralia College Horticulture Program at the Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) is a valuable asset to our Communities. It teaches us the many aspects of horticulture such as Basic Botany, Equipment Operations, Composting, Pruning, Vertebrate Pest Management, Basic Entomology, Vegetable Gardening, Plant and Flower Propagation, Lawns and Weeds. These are all sustainable resources and very important in our ongoing endeavors to make the planet a better place.

Horticulture students and TAs cultivate ornamental and pollinator plantings throughout the grounds. This display is from summer, 2018.

This season we grew more than twenty-five thousand annual flowers in our greenhouses and planted them around the facility. In addition we grew 8,000 pounds of fresh garden bounty such as Walla Walla, Red and Candy onions, Blue Lake bush beans, Gold summer squash, zucchini, Beets, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, apples, Bell peppers and strawberries.

Pumpkins await the Fall Family Fun event.

In addition, we support some of our Family Friendly events —most notably the Fall Family Fun event growing about two hundred pumpkins that the kids got to decorate with their dads, and the spring science fair with the plant a plant booth. These are great events and keep the kids and the dads connected to family.

All students and Horticulture Teaching Assistants (TA’s) in Mr. Knapp’s Horticulture program have earned twenty college credits toward our education in the horticulture industry. This will also assist us in our re-entry efforts when we return to our communities.

We learn how to work with a very diverse group of individuals as well as troubleshoot problems that may arise, not just in horticulture but in life. Accomplishing these things gives us a sense of self-worth and builds our self-esteem. Thank you to the Centralia College Faculty and Staff for making our lives better and helping us make the planet a better place.

Sincerely

Current Horticulture Graduate and Teachers Assistant.

Summer 2018 looked like a good one for growing Brassicas!

Playing a small part for incarcerated men who “deserve no less”

Nancy DeWitt coordinates Sagebrush in Prisons programs in Idaho and Oregon. Often, she finds volunteers who can bring additional education and enrichment to the program. Recently, Nancy checked in with Marc Von Huene of Treasure Valley Beekeepers Association, to ask about his visit to the program at Snake River Correctional Institution. Here is his reply.

Hi Nancy:

Awfully good to hear from you!  And wow, you want me to just keep it down to a few sentences??!!  Tell you what.  I’ll just give you my thoughts and you can pick and choose what you want to include in your report.

Expert Beekeeper Marc Von Huene (left) works with incarcerated beekeeping students in the field. Photo by Nancy DeWitt.

As I had never worked with inmates before I had to overcome a lot of my preconceived ideas.  It’s a sad fact that many of us (my previous self included) envision inmates as those guys we see on Law and Order doing really bad things.  It leads many of us to believe that they deserve to be in prison, the longer the better.  But that’s so far from the truth that I’m ashamed to admit it.  These are people that lost their way for any number of reasons – bad influences, bad home life, questionable friends…….   And rehabilitation is absolutely the best option.  I’m glad I could play my small part.  I think giving these guys something to nurture and be proud of is a great way to bring out the caring people that are in each one of them.

 As an audience, they were fantastic.  I’ve never made presentations where the focus was as intense.  And I feel my short time with these guys is totally inadequate to turn them into good beekeepers.  The barriers are many – no direct communication, no internet access, limited equipment and supplies, limited time together.  But they try, and even though we’ve had some pretty big failures, we still learn together.

This next year I’ll get out earlier and work to spend more time with the new batch of inmates.  Hopefully the old hands will pass down their knowledge to the newcomers.

There was a lot of interest in my SRCI activities from officers in the Treasure Valley Bee Club, and the president of the Western Apicultural Society invited me to share my experience at their annual conference this last August.  The presentation went well, and was definitely a break from all the professors and specialists giving the majority of the presentations.  For most of them the presentation was a lot of data interspersed with stories.  For me, the presentation was a story interspersed with data.  It was the story about what I learned from working with the inmates and hopefully, what they learned from me.  The title of my presentation was “Beekeeping Behind Bars”, and I know I opened the eyes of a lot of participants.  Afterwards I had a lot of people come up to me and compliment me for the presentation and the work I was doing.  Several volunteered to come out with me the next time.  Yeah, it was good.

In closing I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.  I really wish I was closer to the facility, but we’ll make it work.  The effort is definitely appreciated by the inmates and they deserve no less.

Hope this is enough for you.  Stay in touch and let me know if you need anything else.

Best,

Marc

LED Retrofits Pay Off

By James Atteberry, Facilities Manager for Washington State Penitentiary
and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

These LEDs are in the Steam Plant.

Starting in 2015, Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) has been committed to converting all lighting to LED (Light Emitting Diode) fixtures. LEDs are far more efficient than conventional fixtures, so replacements and retrofits should save energy and reduce expenses at the same time.

LEDs illuminate exercise in the South Complex gym.

East Complex parking lot lighting looking good after the switch to LEDs.

In the past year, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)’s headway toward meeting the commitment stands out; WSP’s Electrical Department has transformed their lighting landscape. The in-house team of staff and incarcerated electricians has completed eight major projects so far, renovating the lighting for the steam plant, general store, engineers warehouse dock, Unit 7 roof, east complex parking lot, and inside and outside the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) and gyms.

Of course, these retrofits required a sizable investment up front, but the payoffs come quickly. For the in-house projects completed thus far, the initial costs were about $73,000; pay back from incentive programs cut more than 30% off that price, reducing it to around $50,000. An additional project was contracted out, and another funded by Capital Projects; even in these cases, WSP received the incentive pay back. Before long, expected energy savings will pay off the rest: reduced energy bills for each area will pay off installation costs in one to six years. For example, the new lighting in and around the IMU will save WA Corrections $5,181 in energy bills annually; the savings pays off installation costs in less than three years, and, after that point, it frees up funds to spend on other necessities and improvements.

If that’s not already sweet enough, the labor saving in maintenance is huge as well. Some LED fixtures can last up to 20 years before needing repair! LED retrofits look like a total win for the prison. We offer our credit and thanks to WSP’s Electrical Department and to WA Corrections leadership for the vision and hard work that has gone into saving energy and creating efficiency.

These are the new LED roof lights; image to the right shows a close up.

The Sustainable Practices Lab exterior is now lit by LEDs.

UW & Prison Study Soil Health

Inmates at the WSRU Vermiculture program partner with the University of Washington to test the ability of soil health to influence human health

By Nick, Teaching Assistant for University Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex
Photos courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars

Ms. Landefeld harvests from the plots with the help of a composting technician.

With the goal of improving how we grow food, Washington State Reformatory (WSRU) vermiculture technicians and scientists from the University of Washington (UW) are studying soil health at the prison. The incarcerated technicians are assisting with scientific trials of different types of soils to see if they can produce vegetables containing higher levels of key elements that have been shown to improve human health.

Earlier this year the vermiculture program was approached by Dr. Sally Brown, a professor at the UW Ecosystem Science Division, College of Forest Resources, to assist in this project.  Dr. Brown had become familiar with the vermiculture program when she co-authored an article with one of the inmate technicians about some of the composting techniques employed at the facility. Dr. Brown had been working with graduate student Sally Landefeld on a series of trials to grow vegetables in several different types of soil to test for relationships between soil health and antioxidants and other important disease-fighting nutrients. On a tour of the facility, Dr. Brown noticed a unique opportunity in the gardens adjacent to the worm farm:  the soil there had been treated with composting by-products for several years, some areas with Bokashi-treated (fermented) compost and others with vermicompost (worm castings).

A trial plot is ready for planting; Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC). Photo courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars (UBB).

In April, Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld met with vermiculture technicians and set out three separate plots that would be used for the trials:

  1. No soil treatments with soil amendments
  2. Several treatments of Bokashi composted food waste over several years
  3. Heavily treated with worm castings and vermicompost.

One of the vermiculture technicians was asked to be the project lead. He and his peers prepared and marked the plots for planting.

Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld returned in May and planted broccoli, carrots and onions in all three plots.  Despite an ongoing battle with rabbits throughout the spring, by June the crops in all three plots were growing well.

Ms. Landefeld returned to the vermiculture program in mid-June to deliver an instructional presentation on how she decided on the path for her doctorate and what she was hoping to accomplish with the prison-hosted study. The WSRU vermiculture program offers a 1,000 hour SPP certification in collaboration with Tilth Alliance, and guest lecture are part of the curriculum. In this presentation, Ms. Landefelt said:

“We are just starting to understand the intricate relationship between soil health and public health. Healthy soil contains plenty of organic matter, which provides nutrients to plants, fosters microbial life, and improves soil physical properties including water holding ability and tilth.  If we deplete soil organic matter, we may reduce the soil’s ability to produce high yielding crops that are also rich in nutrients.  This project aims to (i) characterize soil health by analyzing soil properties including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, soil structure and microbial content, and to (ii) quantify both quantity and quality of the vegetables grown on the control and high organic matter plots.  In addition to plant yield, we will test the vegetables for nutrients, vitamin B6 (pyroxidal) and phytochemicals including sulforaphane, beta-carotene (provitamin A), and quercetin.”

Broccoli growing in the vermicompost plot.

By mid-July, the broccoli was ready to be harvested and Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld worked with the technicians to harvest from all three plots.

As the project progresses they will return to the prison periodically to harvest other vegetables and take soil samples.  The vitamins and phytochemicals will be tested using a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) in order to relate the phytochemical content of common garden crops with soil health.

This project is a great example of SPP’s vision to create a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge and has been a win-win for the vermiculture program as well as the University.

Dr. Brown and a vermiculture technician harvest from a trial plot.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Ohio

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Note: See an earlier article for an introduction to the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program

At Grafton Reintegration Center, the presentation was filmed for broadcast on a multi-institution channel.

In late April, the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program visited five prisons plus a youth facility in Ohio. In four densely-packed days, we reached 440 incarcerated participants, 55 staff and teacher participant—it was a satisfying whirl-wind of activity and ideas. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction‘s Energy Conservation & Sustainability Administrator Jacqueline Langhals gave excellent administrative support for the program, and Corrections staff and incarcerated students were gracious and enthusiastic hosts. Whereas Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis presented on astrobiology research in the Washington State series, in Ohio it was Dr Jackie Goordial who covered research; she is a microbiologist currently at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Science vs Religion?

Dr Jackie Goordial presents in the chapel at London Corrections Institution.

In Ohio, nearly every event was held in the prison chapel, which—for many—elicited a perceived conflict between science and spirituality. Luckily, Daniella Scalice is a master of taking a hard question and suggesting how to transform it into a beautiful idea. She offered that we think about astrobiology’s origin stories as complementary, even reinforcing, the origin stories of many religions. She pointed to the root meaning of the word Universe:

uni meaning one

verse meaning story 

Thinking about it this way, astrobiology gives us one of many powerful and meaningful origin stories.

The Pale Blue Dot

At Grafton Corrections Institution, Daniella Scalice reads Carl Sagan’s response to an image of Earth from 4 billion miles away.

At every presentation, Daniella read a moving quote by Carl Sagan in which he describes a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 from about 4 billion miles away; the earth appears as a pale blue dot—barely visible at that distance:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan, 1994

Impromptu Seminars

At every facility, the incarcerated students brought excellent observations and queries. As Jackie described her research on microbes in an Antarctic desert and the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, she was peppered with keen questions. Sometimes, the questions were so insightful that Jackie would pause before responding to say, “That’s amazing.” Then she would explain how the question exposed the very heart of the topic, bringing up questions that she and her colleagues had investigated for months, or would be central to her future work as a scientist.

Students at Franklin Medical Center, just south of Columbus, asked highly scientific questions of Dr Jackie Goordial, to her delight.

Many students engaged in informal seminars following the presentation; this one is at Noble Corrections Institution.

Following every presentation, many students would gather for informal seminar on astrobiology topics. Jackie and Daniella fielded their questions and input with grace and humor, listening carefully and validating the many astute observations. They discussed pathways for studying astrobiology and other scientific disciplines, how a person can become a scientist, and who pays for scientific research and outreach.

At Cuyahoga Hills Youth Facility, Daniella Scalice supported teams of students and teachers designing and budgeting a mission to search for life elsewhere in our Solar System. Photo by Doc Brown.

What next?

Next on the schedule is Florida Department of Corrections, where seven facilities will host the program in September. At the same time, the team will offer return visits and multimedia materials for prison libraries. Noble Corrections Institution plans to do even more, creating a multi-speaker series that’s a proper “program” yielding a certificate; speakers would present via video, and those sessions would tie to the multimedia library with post-lecture “homework” assignments. Sounds like an ideal iteration of the program!

Abundant thanks to all the staff, leadership, and incarcerated students in Ohio. It would be wonderful to bring the program back again in the future!

The crowd at Noble Corrections Institution takes in Daniella’s presentation.

Jackie is charmed by Miss Josie at Grafton Reintegration Center. The tie to astrobiology? Well, even the atoms of adorable Miss Josie were built in the heart of a star.;-)