Author Archives: trivettj

(Before COVID19): Octopus Kicks off the Workshop Series at MCCCW

By Joslyn Rose Trivett and Erica Benoit, SPP at Evergreen
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A Pacific red octopus uncurls its tentacles as it swims back in forth in front of the class at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW).

One of the best things that we have been a part of in 2020 was the launch of our workshop series at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW). Hard to believe it was only a month ago — life is so different today than it was then. Our main focus has to be responding and adapting to the COVID 19 crisis, and still it’s important to let ourselves focus on the good and the positive. For the sake of our partners in prison, we want to continue share some of the magic of nature and environmental education inside of prisons and the partners who make it possible. These programs are so valuable and important to us; we can’t wait to continue to support them inside prison as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Here are some of our favorite images from the first SPP Environmental Workshop at MCCCW, Octopus Intelligence. Rus Higley and Joanne Park of the Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center at Highline College facilitated an excellent session. Of course the real star of the show was the juvenile Pacific red octopus (the same species but a different individual than the one who visited a 2016 workshop at Stafford Creek…the MaST Center releases an octopus back to the wild when its behavior suggests that it is ready to go.)

Christina Flesner studies the octopus…while it studies her back! Can’t know for sure, but Rus Higley made a compelling case for high levels of octopus awareness and smarts.
MCCCW’s Lieutenant visits with the octopus. She has been a solid supporter of other SPP programs at MCCCW as well.
Meg Ward studies a preserved specimen.
Jasmine Sabourin visits with the octopus. Several viewers showed similar happiness in the octopus’ presence.
Two officers stayed for the workshop and appeared to enjoy and appreciate the session as much as the incarcerated students.
Students’ questions were one of the best parts of the workshop. Some of the topics they asked about were how octopuses are affected by pollution (a lot), whether it’s possible to tag and track them (possible and really tricky), whether females can opt-out of reproduction, which is a mortal act (probably not), and the quality of life for octopuses in captivity at the lab.

The second workshop in the series took place only a week later and featured some local predator birds (an owl and a turkey vulture). Although the workshop series is currently on hold at all 3 facilities, we’re looking forward to continuing the series as soon as we can. Once it’s safe to do so, partners plan for the MCCCW series to reoccur on the first Friday of every month.

Hope all of our partners are staying well and safe. We are thinking of you more than ever.

Buzz about the bees: A chance to offer transformational education

By Shohei Morita, Beekeeping Program Coordinator for Sustainability in Prisons Project and Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit

Previously published in Washington State Beekeepers Association February 2020 Newsletter. Learn more about the people in SOU’s program.

Incarcerated beekeeping students at Monroe Correctional Complex – Special Offender Unit (MCC-SOU) are among the most enthusiastic beekeepers in the state, always eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can. But, right now, there is something they are missing – an expert beekeeping instructor!
 
Do you love challenges and gaining new and rewarding experiences? MCC-SOU is looking for enthusiastic volunteer expert beekeepers to lead beekeeping certification classes!  
 
The beekeeping program, a collaborative effort by MCC-SOU, SPP staff at Evergreen, and Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), provides therapeutic educational opportunity designed to break the cycle of incarceration and rebuild honey bee populations. You can be a part of the movement to provide incarcerated adults quality environmental education and job skills experience.
 
In just a few years, 11 prison facilities across the State have attained over 550 certifications. Most of these are “Beginner” level certificates, but some incarcerated individuals have attained “Apprentice” and even “Journeyman” level certificates. The program at MCC-SOU is relatively new and staff and student investment in the program is high. In the past year, 9 incarcerated beekeepers have attained Beginner certification and 5 have reached Apprentice-level certification.
 

Beekeepers in Monroe Correctional Complex’s sister program, at the Twin Rivers Unit, work with hives; this program is wonderfully supported by the Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

As a program partner, expert beekeeping instructor(s) are in charge of teaching beekeeping classes using the WASBA curriculum and guiding field work to provide formal beekeeping education and certification. MCC-SOU is happy to work around the instructor(s) schedules, including nights or weekends. All course and teaching materials including curriculum slides and textbooks will be provided. You are more than welcome to bring and share your own personal beekeeping tools and supplies, but that is not required.  

During an amphibian workshop, SOU students ask questions of guest expert Sadie Gilliom; Sadie shared that they were some of the most interested and engaged students ever! Photo by Liliana Caughman.

MCC-SOU is a unit dedicated to housing and treating individuals with mental health challenges. Therapeutic and educational programs are an important part of their care. Many men in the unit find focus and challenge to be both relieving and empowering. This is an opportunity for you to help a group of people who have traditionally been dismissed, ignored, and stomped on by society by making them feel beautiful and powerful, all through your area of expertise – beekeeping! 
  
If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information, check out this article and please contact SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, Shohei Morita at Shohei.morita1@evergreen.edu or (360)-867-5758.
 
“I was previously afraid of bees, so it was with much trepidation that I forged ahead and gained an appreciation, no a love, for these wonderful and oh so necessary creatures. The bees not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.” – Incarcerated student beekeeper

Delighted by bees: SOU Beekeeping Program

By Kathy Grey, Beekeeping Program Liaison for MCC-SOU

Note: please be aware that some individuals featured in this story have victims who may be re-traumatized by seeing their image; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

Happy and healthy bees thrive in an SOU hive. Photo by Kathy Grey.

In the spring of 2018, the Monroe Correctional Complex Special Offender Unit (SOU) embarked on a new and exciting sustainability program, beekeeping. It was a leap of faith to start such an endeavor with a group of mentally-challenged, incarcerated men and a couple of staff members who knew absolutely nothing about the world of beekeeping. Luckily, we were able to partner with Kurt Sahl, an experienced, community beekeeper and a patient and benevolent teacher. Kurt taught the 2 staff students and the 5 inmate students the basics and soon we were donning our suits and installing our bee packages and queens.  

Graduates from the first class show of their certificates in 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

SOU had chosen to use 3 Top Bar hives and it was thrilling to see those bars transformed into comb-covered receptacles for honey and brood. We all delighted in watching our bees return to the hives packing pollen or witnessing the amazing waggle dance as one bee conveyed vital information to other worker bees. The more we learned, the more all of us became enthralled at the magic and mystery of nature. The bees had many lessons for us as well. They taught us about industry, teamwork, and selflessness.

The men treated the bees with such care and gentleness, always strategizing the best way to help them, and the whole program, succeed in our joint quest to make honey, increase brood, and stave off predators.   

More proud graduates pose in December, 2019. Photo by Kathy Grey.

When we weren’t working in the hives, we were studying; first, for the Beginner Certification, and then on to the Apprentice Certification. The men devoured the manuals cover to cover and read all the beekeeping books the lending library had to offer. The studying paid off. Over the past 2 years, 9 out of the 10 SOU men attained their Apprentice Certification. 

Additionally, those same men have since gone on to fulfill a vital part of our mission: to talk to others, as long and as often as possible, about the present plight of our pollinators. They found a receptive audience and now SOU is a buzz with bee talk.

As one of the beekeepers said to me

I thought coming to prison was going to be the end of me. Instead I was given this gift and it has changed me in ways I never thought possible. 

I guess that kind of says it all.

Bringing honeybees back to WCCW

Text and photos by Shohei Morita, SPP Bee Programs Coordinator

Kathleen Humphrey proudly holds her personalized bee-themed bookmark, presented to all student beekeepers to use during their future studies. (Her official certificate will arrive in the mail soon.)

Last week, we celebrated 16 incarcerated and 5 staff students who just completed Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA)’s beginning beekeeper course. Program partners gathered to celebrate at Washington State Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Taught by expert beekeeper Sandra Fanara of West Sound Beekeepers Association, the students learned the basics of beekeeping. This prepares them for more advanced study and the hands-on field work involved in the apprentice level course. After completing the course, there was a celebration to recognize their accomplishment with bee themed cupcakes. Students will also receive an official certificate from WASBA.

To celebrate, I brought bee-themed cupcakes complete with tiny edible bees and flowers! They were unusually delicious.  🙂

This was the first time since 2017 that WCCW has hosted the WASBA course. We are excited that many of these students plan to immediately advance apprentice course, which will start as soon as the bees arrive in April. In prepare, students, staff, and expert beekeeper will clean all the equipment and prepare the new apiary. Then they will be ready to dive in and experience working with honeybees. We are so excited to see this program flourish and provide therapeutic and empowering experience to the students.

Thank you to our expert beekeeper Sandy Fanara, and to our DOC liaisons Carrie Hesch and Muriah Albin for their commitment and dedication to reviving this program. Most importantly, thank you and congratulations to the newly certified student beekeepers!

Fall Flowers

Text and photos by Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) shows off in the nursery yard. Photo by Graham Klag. 

Stafford Creek Corrections Center has hosted a prairie conservation nursery since 2009 — that’s ten years. Considering how many partners are involved and the challenges of growing rare and endangered species, a decade of success is impressive, to say the least!

In 2019, the team grew 35 different species of plants to restore and enhance precious prairie ecosystems in Washington and Oregon. Here are some of the flowers of fall, blooming inside the prison nursery. 

Could there be a better dark orange than the flowers of harsh Indian paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)?!
This is bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia). 
This is a wider view of the nursery yard.

Personal victories

by Ashley McElhenie, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Technician. Ms. McElhenie created this in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Ashley McElhenie, front left, re-seeds containers of prairie plants during a work session in 2018. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

I first heard about the prairie conservation crew from my roommate’s friend. She and the other women on the crew were going to be released in a couple of months and they wanted to find hard-working, nice individuals to take their places. I guess I just so happened to meet the criteria, and did not like my job at the time so I gladly jumped at the opportunity. Not only was it not in the kitchen, but it was summertime and I’d be working outside all day. I could work on my tan and probably lose some weight — there was no downside to this new job.

Violets

Viola praemorsa is one of two violets grown for seed production at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Due to its bright yellow flowers it is also known as the canary violet. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

Viola adunca seed pods are green and curled up like an umbrella when they first emerge. As the pods mature, they become white and the stems stand up straight in preparation for explosion. Viola praemorsa (pictured above) does not have the same telltale signs making the scavenger hunt a bit more challenging. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

My first day I remember transplanting numerous Viola adunca into rows of beds. They were a pretty purple flower that did something for a butterfly species but that’s all I knew. As time went on, we began learning a little more about the violets and what our purpose was for growing these endangered native plants. It was kind of cool thinking I’m restoring areas of these native plants, being a Washington native myself, but that was about the extent of my interest.

It wasn’t long before I started going out to the Viola praemorsa beds on weekend mornings. I took a particular interest in these violas because they had a large seed pod with seeds that varied from a golden color to a deep brownish purple color. With a cup of coffee in hand and music player in my pocket, I’d spend hours tending to the beds and harvesting seed pods. The only problem with these seed pods is if you wait too long, they open up and shoot seed everywhere.

Viola praemorsa is less common than its bluish-purple cousin. This violet is only found in western North American oak savannahs and oak woodlands. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

It became a ritual to me. Each day was like a scavenger hunt looking for these seeds before they exploded and we lost our product. Because of the exploding seed pods, the Viola praemorsa would often end up in the Viola adunca beds and vice versa. I began to notice the differences between the two plants and after a while could easily identify which plant was a “weed” in the other’s bed. I was surprised to find out how different two plants from the same family could be; the Viola praemorsa with its single, fuzzy lead sprout or the Viola adunca with its clustered, small leaf bunch. Being in the violet beds became a refuge from the crazy living units.

Oaks

Garry oak acorns ready for planting. Photo by Jacob Meyers.
Quercus garryana, or Garry oak, growing in the nursery at WCCW. It’s the only oak native to Washington. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

When I learned we were going to plant Garry oak trees (Quercus garryana) working on the conservation nursery crew became even more personal for me. The island on which I was raised has a lot of oak trees. Prior to my incarceration, there was a bit of backlash when the city wanted to remove the oldest and probably most notable oak tree in town.  The tree’s roots had long been affecting a nearby road, but I didn’t want the oak to be cut down. It was a beautiful old tree that was a block away from the heart of downtown. It was a tree memorable from my childhood, the old oak by the post office. Despite the locals protesting, the tree was eventually cut down. A giant stump was left behind. Not only was it an eyesore, but a constant reminder of what is now gone. To my knowledge, the road has yet to be fixed and my town lost some of its history.

In the nursery, I felt that I could honor that oak’s memory, in a way, by planting 50 or more oaks that would live throughout the South Sound area. Being a part of that was small personal victory for me. I wanted to learn all I could about them.

Learning more

In the wintertime there is less manual labor to do so we focus on learning about the native plants with which we work. We learn how to identify these plants, the type of soil composition specific to our area and plants, the species that these plants affect, and how those species benefit from the plants. It was all so fascinating. I had never thought about plants as something more than food or landscape. It was rather humbling to be aware of this entire other system in which I was completely oblivious to.

Ashley (orange hat) and her colleagues study remnant prairie at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The following spring, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit a prairie in where my work had been transplanted while still incarcerated. It was absolutely beautiful. The way all these native plants cohabited with one another in an seemingly untouched landscape of green, speckled with colors of blue, orange, yellow, and white as far as I could see. I don’t think I had ever appreciated nature more than I had that day. And it was an especially proud moment knowing that the plants I had grown were contributing to the landscape. During that day I remember drawing a weird parallel, that the restoration work I had been doing in the South Sound prairies was restoring me. I had been replanted, sprouted, grown, and was soon to be released into society.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, SPP Nursery Manager Carl Elliott (black vest) and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie and Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I can’t take full credit, though. The people who I’ve worked alongside have been some of the best people I’ve met in years. The people I worked most closely with on the prairie conservation crew treated me as an equal, despite being incarcerated. They had faith and believed in me. Over time, I started to have faith and believe in myself. This program has taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and which goes way beyond knowledge of prairie plants. It’s taught me more about myself and things I am capable of. While learning about prairies, I was able to rediscover the values and principles I had prior to my incarceration.

For so many years I was so focused on destructive behaviors, whether it was my own or others’. Working with endangered plants gave me a different way to channel that energy. I was able to do productive activities that benefited people, animals, and plants. It gave me a sense of worth knowing that what I was doing made an impact on so many levels. No matter how small that impact may be, I knew it was a positive one.

Pictured here, Ashley is showing off the impressive runners of another important prairie plant — wild strawberry (Frageria virginiana). As Ashley moves closer to her December release date, she is all smiles. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

Fly Like An Eagle to the Sea, No More I See

By Daniel Keen, writer incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, written for submission to Humans and Nature‘s Minding Nature

Photo of Mt Tahoma from flickr.
Photo of an adolescent bald eagle from flickr.

From the day as a chick,
I have always been free.
From glacier cap mountains,
To sea to coral sea.

Brother species who play and breed below,
Across fields and up rivers Migrating they flow.
For thousand years Mother Earth grows,
For thousand years climate change is slow.

For today my chick hasn’t a tree,
Clear-cuts and mudslides left only for me.
Snow cap mountains glaciers retreat,
Dead baron seas with dried up reefs.

Polar bears, salmon, star fish, little honey bees,
Man-kind harvest only greed selfish to you and me.
In one hundred years Mother Earth slowly dies,
In one hundred years climate change super sizes.

Bald eagle preparing to fly. Photo from wikipedia.

Growing food on a greater scale: WSP’s Institutional Sustainability Garden

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Beautiful heads of cabbage grow in Washington State Penitentiary’s main garden. Photo collage courtesy of Jim Atteberry, Facilities Manager.

Outside of the prison fences, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) tends 10.5 acres of crops. This is the prison’s Institutional Sustainability Garden, and it’s the largest and most productive of all the prison gardens statewide.

This is a view from the garden looking back up the hill at the prison facilities. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

In 2017, the crew harvested 151,470 lbs of vegetables — that’s more than 75 tons. They donated 9,655 lbs to local non-profits. The rest went the prison kitchen, improving the taste and nutritional value of the meals. Producing the food on site also saved $122,677 worth of purchasing. 2018 was somewhat less productive year, the weather wasn’t as good, but still the garden produced ~110,000 lbs. Both years, WSP’s vegetable harvest was about half of the total harvest statewide…pretty amazing if you consider that eleven of the twelve prisons grow food!

This September, the crew harvested cabbage, squash, bell peppers, banana peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, and radishes from the fields. They also tended to the plants and pulled out weeds.

In mid-September, the crew attends to weeds in the Institutional Sustainability Garden. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
Earlier in the growing season, the fields are full of vibrant greens. Photos courtesy of Jim Atteberry.
A crew member talks with Garden Supervisor
Daniel Randolph; from Jim Atteberry: “Daniel and Shawn Treib supervised this year’s Institutional Garden, they both did an outstanding job during a tough period of time.” Photo by Bethany Shepler.

Persistence pays off: beekeeping in Massachusetts jails

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager, and Susan Goldwitz, Beekeeper and Program Coordinator

Susan Goldwitz stands with one of her hives. Photo by David H. Deininger.

Two-and-a-half years ago, beekeeper Susan Goldwitz traveled from Massachusetts to Washington State and attended the first-ever beekeeping summit in a prison. More than a few beekeeping programs were born that day. Delightfully, Susan Goldwitz took some of that inspiration beyond Washington!

Beekeeping association partners, staff from every prison, incarcerated beekeepers, and the SPP team from Evergreen came together for an inspirational and productive day-long beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

For three years previous, Susan had been trying to create bee program in Massachusetts prisons and jails. She had been teaching literature and other classes in prison for nearly six years, but hadn’t yet found traction on adding beekeeping. After the summit, she returned home reenergized and with an improved, inspired pitch. She made her proposal more than a dozen times, to any facility willing to hear it.

As the “no”s and “maybe”s stacked up, she kept in touch with SPP. Susan is unusually good at asking for and receiving help — a strategy I admire — and I was happy to provide the advice and encouragement she requested. She also had the support of another ardent beekeeper, former Governor Deval Patrick; he encouraged her to “Keep pushing!” So she kept pushing. She knew how to take our optimism and translate it into programming success.

On her 12th or 13th try, at last, she found a willing host: Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office in Dedham, MA. They were willing to take a risk on this unusual program, to think outside of the normal menu of activities and educational programs for the incarcerated.  The jail had an abundance of outdoor, open space and — bonus! — a member of the staff was already an enthusiastic beekeeper.

This summer, I received a welcome update, which you may read below. It is so pleasing to share Susan’s story of success!

“It’s been far too long since we connected and I’m taking this opportunity to send you a little note to let you know that persistence can pay off!

I was able to start a pilot beekeeping program at a jail in Dedham two years ago. It took the usual meetings and waiting, but finally (after three years of trying!) I found a jail willing to take a chance on this “out of the box” program.

I set up two little hives at the jail, paid for everything myself, and worked with a wonderful company here called Best Bees because they have an overarching insurance policy — helpful for assuaging the security concerns of the administration.

We had a great year; the bees might have known there was a great deal on their little shoulders. We had two thriving hives, a honey harvest, and only two little stings: one on an officer and one on a prisoner. That turned out to be a little blessing in a painful disguise: the men recovered, no one was in danger, and some institutional fears were allayed.

Both hives overwintered successfully (!) and the jail decided to take on the program themselves — to pay for and support it. Now I’m focused on getting a beekeeping school together to start (I hope) this winter. Small steps, as ever.

I’ve just set up a meeting with the Suffolk County House of Correction (Boston) to discuss starting a similar program there.  Fingers crossed! I think I needed a sufficient track record at one facility before attempting to convince another.

I did talk to the head of a wonderful program here called the Urban Farming Institute about having a place for newly released prisoners to practice their beekeeping. We have just opened our discussion, but the President/CEO Patricia Spence was enthusiastic about the eventual opportunity and hopes they will be setting up hives at one of their gardens soon.

I wrote once more to our mutual friend, Governor Patrick, to let him know of the jail successes, and yet again he was encouraging and supportive.  

That’s the brief news from here.  Hope you are well and that you and your programs are thriving.

Let me thank you and SPP once again for your unflagging support, expertise, and gentle cheerleading.  It definitely made all the difference!” 

Re-reading Susan’s news now, it’s no surprise me that she’s found success. Building programs in prison is really challenging. The best way to meet those challenges is large quantities of persistence, creativity, and positivity. Susan clearly has all three!

End Note

Susan’s other great love is poetry, especially Emily Dickinson’s.  The poet wrote about 100 poems concerning bees in her collection of about 1789 poems. Here are a few delicious examples:

Identifying numbers are from Thomas H. Johnson, ed. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

A bee on flowers at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

#1627
Version II

The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee –
A Clover, any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy –

#1755

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

#676
Least bee that brew –
A Honey’s Weight
The Summer multiply –
Content her smallest fraction help
The Amber Quantity –

#1220

Of Nature I shall have enough
When I have enter these
Entitled to a Bumble bee’s
Familiarities.

Connecting to science

By Situe Fuiava, SPP Conservation Technician at Washington Corrections Center. Mr. Fuiava wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

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

My name is Situe Fuiava and I have been incarcerated since the age of 16. When I first came into prison I only knew about street knowledge. I didn’t really know much about anything academically let alone science.

Situe Faiva receives seeds picked by a program visitor; program technicians collect seeds from violets and other prairie plants for Salish lowland restoration efforts. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

What led me to this path of learning is when my nephew asked me to help him with something in school. I couldn’t even answer him. I glamourized and answered everything he asked me about the streets, but could not give him anything academically. That was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. That was when the light finally turned on for me. I knew that I had to change something before I was going to have a family reunion in prison instead of the community.

During my time of incarceration, one of the programs that dramatically changed my life is the Sustainability in Prisons Projects (SPP). The SPP program is responsible for involving incarcerated individuals in multiple sustainable programs in the United States. In Washington State, in conjunction with Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), this program is working towards the restoration of prairies in the greater Northwest. To assist with the program, at Washington Correction Center (WCC) incarcerated individuals work with the largest violet nursery in the world. We also have created the very first demonstration prairie in Department of Corrections (DOC).

The Prairie Conservation Nursery Crew: pictured from left to right are technician Fred Burr, TAs John Thompson and Situe Fuiava, and technicians Michael Johnson and Dustin Sutherland.
Situe Fuiava collects violet seeds in the nursery. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I love that we have our own demonstration prairie garden here at this facility because it shows everyone the relationship between the violets and other species that are also found in the prairies of the South Puget Sound area. For me, the best ways of learning and teaching about prairies is by providing hands-on experiences and allowing people to see what happens in a natural prairie. This teaches us what species grow best around the violets and what species are not as beneficial for them. This is one of the few times being incarcerated has been a benefit to me. Having the ability to care for the violets around the clock (besides weekends) is pleasant as well as challenging. We have the ability to sustain life. We built the demonstration garden in 2018 and have seen it flourish in the first season. This is our way of teaching and learning; science in its finest form. 

I have worked in many places in the prison system.  Some of my jobs have been gym porter, barber, kitchen worker, unit porter, dayroom porter, and plumber. Only now do I have a job that challenges me mentally.

A good brother of mine was already working in the program introduced me to the SPP program and horticulture program. I decided to go into it without expectations and have an open mind. I was eager to learn something new and further my academic education, but I did not want to expect to get something from it and end up disappointed.

This job has been the best I have had.  It gives me the opportunity to work and to gain knowledge I would have never taken the time to learn otherwise. Since starting my job with the SPP program, I’ve taken classes on bee handling, record keeping, seed germination, stratification process, transplanting, watering techniques planting depth, how to check the soil, water P.H levels, and when the first and last frost are so that we know when to sow.

I have also learned that everything is connected in one way or another. Everything has the same needs. These are things that we might not understand because we did not grow up learning them. All matter on earth is made up of one or more of the 118 chemical elements that are found on earth. The chemical element carbon is essential to everything because it is the building block for all living organisms. Just as carbon is vital to the foundation of an organism, water is also needed to sustain life on earth. We need soil because the soil is the building block for the evolution of vascular plants. Vascular plants played a big role in a plant’s ability to live further away from water. Without one of the three elements, life on earth as we know it would be nonexistent. Without carbon or water, life on earth would be stuck at the Bryophyte stage.

We need “Nature”. Nature is a great teacher of science. It has a way of creating great relationships within its own ecosystem. I find it interesting that this planet has been here for billions of years. Humans take up a small fraction of that timeline. With minimal time we inhabited the earth, we caused more harm than good to our planet. I believe that if we start paying attention to the relationships that happen organically and naturally in nature, that knowledge can give us the answer of how to prolong our time on earth.

Viola adunca blooms in the beds at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Alexandra James.

Like I said, the more I learn, the more I believe that everything is connected.

When I first started talking about nature, I thought of nature as a place that hasn’t been touched or bothered by humans. I have learned that nature is everything. Nature is everything that the earth produces naturally. So if everything provided by the earth is considered nature, would we consider a manmade environment nature? If everything on earth is created on earth, why would we say that everything that is manmade isn’t nature when the things that we use to make these structures are from earth. In the wild, animals use everything within their means to survive. When we humans take from nature we take more than what we need. I believe that when we build man-made structures it’s still nature as long as it has a way to give back to nature, instead of just leeching off the eco-system.

When I think of sustainability I think of the ability to keep life going. What we are doing here at Washington Corrections Center is helping with sustaining the life of the silverspot butterfly by growing Viola adunca and Viola praemorsa. With growing these species we are naturally creating an environment for the pollinators.  

Someone’s in-prison experience with science can positively affect his or her choices by simply using the scientific method. Most men incarcerated are here because we tend to make claims without even having any evidence to back up what we claim to have been real or true. If we are never taught to research or question what we learn, it can have a negative effect on our behanviors. What we display on a day-to-day basis are learned behaviors. If we are raised up and we see everyone doing the same thing, whether right or wrong, we automatically think it’s the norm.