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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.    

Amazing GRACE: Garden Grows Vegetables, Hope

By Rachel FriederichDOC Communications
Originally published July 31, 2019, in DOC Communications newsroom; reposted here with permission

A member of the offsite crew tends the GRACE project garden, located near Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.
Violet Rose Garcia (left) and Maria Jones (right) harvest some green onions. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

POULSBO – Violet Garcia crouches among rows of lush, green kale and lettuce. Her tan work shoes are caked with dirt, evidence of her hard work.

Between her gloved fingers is a robust bundle of green onions. She smiles as she trims back their long roots with a pair of garden shears.

“I’m giving them a haircut,” Garcia, 37, says. “I didn’t know green onions could get this big!”

Kaela Glover (left) and Jamie Hugdahl (right) hold some purple cauliflower they grew and harvested from the GRACE garden in Poulsbo. The women are part of an incarcerated work crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women who maintain the garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

The project is called the GRACE garden. The acronym GRACE stands for Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education. Besides the food bank, the garden is used as an educational demonstration garden for community groups.

Garcia is one of five incarcerated women who have traveled from the Belfair, Washington prison, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women to a garden in Kitsap County. The work crew does all the planting, weeding and harvesting of produce, which is given to the Central Kitsap Food Bank.

Solving a Problem

It’s all part of a partnership the Department of Corrections has with the Kitsap Conservation District.

Last year, the district opened the garden, a project made possible by a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts. The grant focuses on projects that reduce food insecurity and address food deserts.

A crewmember harvests cabbage. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Approximately 11.6% of Kitsap County’s population, or 30,000 people, experienced food insecurity in 2017, according to data collected by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. Statewide, nearly 849,000 people, or 11.5% of the population, experienced food insecurity during the same period. Food insecurity can be especially rampant in areas defined as “food deserts,” or areas that lack fresh foods due to a lack of grocery stores, farmer’s markets or healthy food providers. They often occur in impoverished and/or rural communities.

That’s where organizations like food banks and the Kitsap Conservation District can assist.

Boxes of kale and green lettuce sit at the Central Kitsap Food Bank. Women from Mission Creek Corrections Center in Mason county grew the produce in a garden in Poulsbo. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Besides running the GRACE garden project, the Kitsap Conservation District holds workshops that teach people how to grow their own food. As a partner with Kitsap County’s Clean Water Kitsap program, it also performs work with farmers and livestock owners to protect the health and wellbeing of their animals, increase crop productivity, and protect water quality and soil erosion. Members of the garden work crew also work with the conservation district on stream restoration projects. Crews remove noxious weeds from salmon habitat and replace them with native plants, which helps improve and restore salmon habitats.

Opening Doors

The work the incarcerated women perform doesn’t just impact the community. It also goes a long way toward their rehabilitation, according to Diane Fish, resource planner for the district’s agricultural assistance program.

“When you see how their attitude changes and their understanding changes, their desires change over the time that they are able to be on crew,” Fish said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”

For example, the garden helped one of the crew members pursue higher education. Fish said one of the incarcerated women shared that many of the topics she was learning through her work on the crew—biology and the environment—were many of the same things she was learning in the science class she was taking to earn her GED. Through some encouragement from her correctional counselor and Fish, the woman decided to get her diploma. A few months later, the woman was part of a graduation ceremony at Mission Creek. She’s now enrolled in college courses at the correctional facility. The incarcerated crew member recently told Fish she’s working on a degree in environmental studies so she can one day work with the Squaxin Island Native American tribal community on salmon habitat restoration.

Gardeners harvest greens from the GRACE garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Fish says the work crews do more than just pull weeds – they learn to describe their skills and credentials to potential employers. Things they learn about on the crew– habitat restoration and knowledge of native plants and noxious weeds, for example– can lead to jobs in agriculture, commercial greenhouses, farming, and horticulture industries.

Garcia is scheduled to release from incarceration in two years. She’s still exploring her career options. She is a Native American and wants to use her newfound knowledge about the environment to find a job within her tribe, the Squaxin Island Tribe.

“That’s where my heart stands,” Garcia says. “It’s changed my outlook on a lot of different things. I’ve got to plant things and watch them grow and, at the end of the day, when we (work crew) look and see our work and say ‘Oh my gosh. We did that. We did that.’”

Safety and Eligibility

The Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District makes sure everyone at the worksite as well as surrounding communities are safe.

A correctional officer supervises the work crews at all times. Crew members must meet a strict set of requirements, including being classified as a minimum-security custody level. They can’t have any serious infractions for six months, nor any drug-related infractions for at least a year. Crew members can’t have ties to family members, victims or gangs in the community in which they’ll be working.

At the GRACE garden, there are no public tours when the incarcerated gardeners are present.

The crew also receives occupational safety training on working outdoors and how to properly use garden tools. Conservation district staff inventory tools after each shift and secure them when not in use.

Additionally, correctional staff provide conservation staff who will be working with the crew orientation and continuous safety training.

Susan Keeler, a correctional officer who supervises the work crew, says getting to leave prison for a few hours a day might seem like a special privilege to outsiders. “But what people may not realize is that in addition to this being hard work, all these women are getting out of prison at some point. They need to learn how to fit back into society and be a part of it again. It makes them feel good and they’re doing something positive and contributing to society.”

Impact

A gardener cleans up a small cabbage before adding it to the transport container. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communictions.

Peggy Knott, 39, says she’s an example of that. She has just under two years left on her prison sentence. She says while she’s been on the work crew, she’s learned many jobs she could qualify for after prison, many of which she might not have considered otherwise, like wastewater management or working on a farm.

“I’ve taken so much from my community in the past and giving back gives me a more positive aspect on the type of person I can be,” Knott said. “For us to come out and do this, it makes us better people. You really push yourself and you feel really proud of yourself at the end of the day.”

Life in a cell/cell/cell

by Shappa, Journeyman Beekeeper at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Shappa wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Living in a prison cell is a combination of living in a honeybee hive and a monastery: a place where active growth where peace and contentment can be attained once you realize your vocation in life. In all three — prison, hive, and monastery — there is growth in a small space for each transitory life (inmate, bee, and monk) living in the cell. All are organized, by either custody level, colony, or community, in a structured, and hopefully disciplined way. One of the strangest and yet unsurprising aspects of each is the frequency of death, disorder, or disruption.

A queen bee (marked by a pink dot) is surrounded by worker bees in this healthy hive. Photo by Rachel Friederich.

The lives of honeybees are spent mostly working and living in a colony, or a hive, that has combs consisting of numerous cells. Their lifespans are short: 3-5 years for the queen, about 6 weeks for the female workers, and only 3 weeks or so for the males, called “drones.” The queen governs her colony, but she can and will be replaced if she’s not healthy enough or some other deficiency exists as determined by the worker bees. After mating with several drones, the queen lays hundreds of eggs daily, and the hive’s operation produces honey, wax, pollen, and royal jelly. In each magnificently-engineered comb (every cell is perfectly constructed at 70° angles), a honeybee’s life begins, honey is stored, wax is produced, and workers function in many other ways to furiously try to keep pace with a healthy queen in her hive.

Recreation of a monk’s cell in the Museum of the Sierra Gorda in Mexico. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

Monks live in cells within a community where efforts to “die-to-self” begin. An abbot or prior manages the monastery; he instills obedience and becomes, in most cases, a spiritual counselor for the monks housed there. The monastery is a place of spiritual growth through prayer and work, referred to by Benedictine monks in Latin: ora et labora. It is a world far removed from secular society where a monk can fine-tune his prayers from the heart and hone skills of contentment and discernment using solitude, silence, and stillness. The unsatisfying, competitive consumerism of the world is abandoned and replaced when the monk surrenders to his higher authority, even at the cost of needed sleep when he’s called upon by God (or his abbot) to asceticism and self-sacrifice: intercessory prayer day and night can help those suffering; fasting can discipline oneself to exercise self-control over the flesh and build the virtue of temperance to overcome sin; and other forms of penance can excise vices. The consecrated life of a monk includes the three evangelical counsels: vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. A vow of stability is also included for Benedictines. Contemplative prayer, humility, and obedience — even in solitude when the monk is quietly alone with God and only God — are critical components of spiritual growth and heightened discernment, which is granted to the ones who have experiential encounters with Christ in the ineffable mysticism discovered in his cell.

Inmates live in a prison where they’re assigned to a cell: the place where you flourish, fail, or die depends on the choices you make. Prison is controlled and managed as a quasi-military organization with teams of officers who respond to situations ranging from an emotionally disturbed patient’s hurt feelings to hostage negotiations. Sometimes it’s a hostile battlefield where small wars erupt, both within oneself and without engagement of the mind. Other times it’s just an overflow for Eastern State Hospital. For the man who’s willing to honestly assess himself, put in the often difficult work necessary to change, start to properly order his life in a healthy way and answer his calling, there’s plenty of time and available resources to better their lives with spiritual enlightenment and enhance the future for themselves, their family, and their community.

Beekeepers at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with their hives. Photo courtesy of Kay Heinrich.

An incubation period is always good for growth, whether it’s in a honeybee hive, a monastery, or a prison.

What is the goal for tomorrow?

By Christian Betancourt , Student and Teaching Assistant at Grays Harbor College

Christian presented to guests, incarcerated individuals, and corrections staff. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Christian Betancourt was one of the first speakers during the day-long Pathway to Reentry event at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (learn more about the event here). He graciously shared his speech for publication on the SPP website.

Like most, it took me quite a while to finally attain my GED. From the day I started taking my pre-test to the day I finished my final test, I was a nervous wreck…It had been so many years since the last time I had done only academic studies that I was unsure if I could actually attain my GED…Thankfully, I had a patient and understanding teacher…

What also motivated me to succeed were my children. I didn’t want them to come to a crossroad in life where school seemed too hard and they want to drop out like I did…How could I convince my kids the importance of education if I, being their father, could not do the same?…I wanted to show them that no matter the adversity, all things are possible…To show them their futures are worth investing time into…

Derrick Bason gives his full attention to a speaker. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I remember a conversation with my two youngest, that I was taking a couple of classes to better myself…Do you know what they said? They said, “Dad you’re old; why are you going to school?” I explained to them that even though you grow up in life, your mind doesn’t have to become stagnant…Education continues on in life…That there is knowledge and educational value in all facets of life…

Students take notes during the event. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

There is something I ask my kids at night prior to bed…I ask them, “So, what’s the goal for tomorrow?”…They will both say, “to learn something, Dad.” You see, I want school to be exciting for them…I want them to remember to be receptive and to learn even just one thing, because you never know when said information will become useful.

Eddie “Truck” Gordon once said, “If your actions are not in line with your beliefs…then stop lying to yourself.” How could I tell my kids about the importance of continuing education if I neglected my own educational responsibilities…

I need to leap over my hurdles

I started the BT One class…we covered a lot of information I believed to be useless…I didn’t take the class seriously…I thought, “What’s the point of all this book work?”

Slowly but surely the class stared to peak my interest…It covered all types of important information…The type you knew, for one, needed to be written down or else you might forget what you just learned…For two, you knew that even if you didn’t do what you learned for a profession, you could utilize what you learned on your own home…

An attendee looks at a map of the Evergreen State College campus; many talked about coming to the college post-release. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You would be surprised how quickly class went by for me…However, I was ready to do other things…still not taking my situation seriously…I tried all that I could to not take any more classes. Regardless of my non-acceptance of this class, I was none-the-less enrolled… I made up my mind to do the bare minimum

Christian talks with Kingsa McKnight. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

When I started the BT 2 Class, I met my instructor, Mr. Kelly Richters…He had a very different way to instruct his students…He allowed us to be creative when it came to our capstone project and our modules…He promoted individual creativity and then for us to come together for a collaborative project…Mr. Richters asked me if I wanted a job as a TA…I stand here in front of you today having been roughly two years major infraction free…I have been TA’ing for close to a year now…I still learn new things each and every day…I won’t say it’s been easy…I’ve never been a people person…I truly don’t like giving big speeches…But, to head where I want in life, I need to leap over my hurdles. Change is scary, but truly worth it, if we apply our whole heart and soul into our tasks.

No one is meant to know everything, but if you continue to focus on learning all that you can, you’ll be able to maneuver around this life with relative eases…There will still be up’s and down’s, yet if we are better equipped for these days, we can break the cycle of recidivism…

We want to have the right tools to push our little ones, our younger relatives in the correct direction…that way they can succeed and have a fighting chance in this world…Aside from ourselves, they are the ones we should be doing this for…helping the next generation be great.

So, I say again to those gathered here today: “What is the goal for tomorrow?”

Attendee Curtis Johnson speaks with other attendees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

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!