Category Archives: Community Organizations

Fine Tuning Aquaponics at Cedar Creek

Photos and text by Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator.

Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli and SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain evaluate plant health.


The aquaponics system at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) received a new lease on life this winter. With assistance from CCCC’s technicians, Nick Naselli and Daniel Cherniske from Symbiotic Cycles first built the system at Cedar Creek in spring of 2018. To give the system a much-needed boost, they returned this January for a series of site visits and problem-solving sessions.

Nick Naselli introduces a suckerfish to the system. This fish eats algae and will improve visibility by cleaning up the water.

Aquaponics systems can be a great way to harvest food year-round, but they require some care and fine tuning to establish a system. It can take up to a year for a new aquaponics system to stabilize! SPP Biological Technicians have been putting in the work to ensure that the system thrives. And with the help of Nick and Daniel, Cedar Creek’s aquaponics is functioning better than ever, producing healthy and delicious greens for the facility’s kitchens.

SPP Biological Technician Lorenzo Stewart tests the water’s nitrate levels.
During this last winter, Symbiotic Cycles worked with SPP technicians to introduce the steel cables shown in this photo. The installation of this tensioning system to stabilize the raft beds will prevent further bowing of the system’s wooden sides.
After a few adjustments, we saw fast and impressive improvements in plant health.
Left to right: SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Nick Naselli, SPP Biological Technician Lorenzo Stewart, and Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder Daniel Cherniske.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog with more details on the plant growth in Cedar Creek’s aquaponics system!

Welcoming New Roots of Success Instructors

Text and Photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

During my time coordinating Roots of Success (Roots) we struggled to complete new instructor trainings, but in August that all changed. Washington Corrections Center (WCC) hosted a training at the end of August, Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) hosted a training in October, and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) just hosted a training. We’re so excited to welcome 12 new instructors into the Roots family!

Three instructors went through the training at WCC taught be Grady Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is one of 5 Master Trainers in Washington State. Master Trainers are certified by the director and creator of Roots, Dr. Pinderhughes, to be able to train new instructors.

Five new instructors were trained at the SCCC Roots training led by Master Trainers Cyril Walrond and David Duhaime. The Roots liaison at SCCC, Kelly Peterson, added interviews to their instructor candidate selection process because they had close to 20 Roots graduates applying to be new instructors. I sat in on some of the interviews and candidates repeatedly cited the Roots community and the interactive and inclusive teaching styles of other instructors as their reasoning for wanting to become instructors. 

Four instructor candidates went through the training at CRCC led by Master Trainer Keith Parkins. They engaged in conversations about facilitating the course in a way that was accessible to students of every background and how to engage students in complex conversations like environmental issues and social equity. 

Thank you to DOC for making these trainings possible and thank you to Roots of Success for entrusting the training of new instructors in WA to our Master Trainers. And to all of the new Roots instructors, welcome!

A New Innovative Partnership

Text by Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director, The Evergreen State College

Presentation team with WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar (from left to right, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Brian Bedilion, Roger Millar, and Kelli Bush)

Alvina Mao presenting at WSDOT Partnerships and Innovations conference

Over the past year, SPP Evergreen staff have been working with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) partners to develop new opportunities for education and employment pathways. The new partnership has tremendous support from WA Corrections Secretary, Stephen Sinclair, WSDOT Secretary, Roger Millar, and many staff at each agency. Building on successful prison program tours and executive leadership and committee meetings, WSDOT staff invited SPP-Evergreen staff and former SPP program participants to present at two recent conferences.

Each conference presentation included a panel with Carolina Landa and Brian Bedilion sharing their stories from pre-incarceration to post-release, Kelli Bush providing a brief overview of SPP, Alvina Mao and Eric Wolin discussing partnership alignment with WSDOT equity and inclusion goals, and Tony Bush describing education and employment pathway ideas in the environmental field.

The audience for the first conference was WSDOT environmental staff. Session participants enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to Carolina and Brian for sharing their experiences.

Carolina Landa presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

Following a successful session at the environmental conference, the panel received an invitation to present at the WSDOT Innovations and Partnership conference. The 4th Annual Innovations and Partnerships in Transportation conference included a welcome from Governor Inslee and an impressive variety of partner organizations. Our session titled “Forging a new partnership and building safe, strong communities through successful reentry” included productive discussion with attendees.

 

 

 

Brian Bedilion presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

The developing partnership among WSDOT, WA Corrections, SPP and others will provide exciting new education, training, and employment opportunities to incarcerated people in a variety of disciplines. Washington State Governor Inslee is a strong supporter of providing formerly incarcerated people employment as a way to build safer and stronger communities. The Governor signed executive order 16-05 directing state agencies to “implement further hiring policies intended to encourage full workforce participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories.” We are grateful to WSDOT and WA Corrections for providing such excellent support and enthusiasm for this growing partnership.

Conference presentation team (from left to right): Kelli Bush, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Alvina Mao, Brian Bedilion, and Molly Sullivan

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

Caring about people, caring about place

by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is a fair trip from the Evergreen team’s offices in Olympia—a six hour drive, or a flight to Spokane and renting a car. Even so, each of us who has been before looks for excuses to go again. AHCC positivity and enthusiasm are infectious, and it is great fun to join them whenever we can.

A likely source of the positivity is the staff culture; it is easy to feel the influence of AHCC leadership and staff wellness and productivity throughout the facility. They take on new projects expecting to succeed, and work hard. At the same time, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They laugh a lot! They talk openly about their own faults, and poke friendly fun at others.

AHCC staff make fun during a sustainability meeting. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

AHCC’s waste sorting program is so effective that the incarcerated porter didn’t understand what the corrections staff meant when asking about “garbage.” That word starting to lose its meaning was so delightful that we all started to laugh.

Before a nature illustration class, Associate Heinrich talks with an incarcerated student. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Just as important, they also listen intently to others’ ideas and questions. They believe in each other, and do a grand job of celebrating everyone’s successes. The work environment is pervaded by a can-do attitude. As Kraig Witt, Recreation Specialist 4, has said, “This is our giant coloring book. Let’s play…there’s no can’t. We can do anything.

Their optimism finds many willing partners. AHCC hosts extraordinarily productive sustainability programs. To name a few: a thriving in-prison beekeeping club; Pawsitive dog training supported by two humane societies; more than 500 cords of firewood processed for donation to low income families each year; new quilting and vermicomposting programs. Most of the prison grounds are devoted to gardens, and when regional water contamination meant they needed to suspend growing vegetables, they planted flowers instead; they know how to make lemonade from lemons!

Correctional Program Manager Mike Klemke describes the Computers 4 Kids program. In the last year, incarcerated technicians refurbished 4,321 computers.

At the heart of these efforts is investing in AHCC staff. Associate Superintendent Kay Heinrich has said, “It really engages the staff to care about the environment of where they work. People care about where they’re working; it increases their morale.” A previously incarcerated SPP technician and current Evergreen student advised us that taking care of staff makes the prison experience better for everyone. We look to follow AHCC’s example on what that can look like.

AHCC dedicates a huge area to cutting and stacking cords of firewood for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP). Photo by Bethany Shepler.

 

Turtle Season is Here!

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator

South Puget Sound Wildlife Area in Lakewood, WA. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It’s turtle trapping season for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). When we arrived onsite at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler was already hard at work and chest-deep in one of the three ponds at the wildlife area that western pond turtles (WPT) call home. Emily and two dedicated volunteers were diligently placing traps in turtle habitat.

Emily Butler, Assistant District Biologist, Wildlife Program with one of the traps she uses for western pond turtles. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Along with trapping, WDFW also identifies turtle nests in the area. They establish a barrier to protect the site from predators. The barrier pictured below protects an active nest that currently houses WPT eggs. While the eggs will hatch in the fall, the turtles will not emerge until next spring, and it is crucial to protect them from predators until then.

Western Pond Turtle Nest. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

As a recent addition to the SPP team, I was excited to see the Western pond turtle habitat firsthand. I am taking over Jessica Brown’s position as Conservation Coordinator with Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) and Larch Corrections Center (LCC), and working closely with WDFW to help western pond turtles fight off shell disease. Critically endangered in the state of Washington, WPT are a crucial native species that have recently fallen victim to shell disease, which deteriorates their shells and shortens the turtles’ lifespans.

In the next week WDFW will locate and identify any turtles that show signs of shell disease. The turtles that they trap will be evaluated at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) where veterinarians will determine which individuals require treatment. Those turtles will then be transferred to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) where SPP Biological Science Technicians will care for and monitor them through their recovery, then releasing the turtles next spring.

Left to right: SPP Liasion Tyler Kennedy, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, Technician Daniel Silva, Technician Lorenzo Stewart, Technician George Gonzales, Technician Darin Armstrong, SPP Conservation Coordinator Jessica Brown. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

It was a pleasure to see the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area firsthand and gain insight from Emily. With two new Biological Science Technicians also joining our team, we all look forward to meeting our new patients soon and helping them along to a speedy recovery. Stay tuned for updates on our turtles in the fall!

Western Pond Turtle. Photo by Keegan Curry.

 

Long Live the Kings!

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager & Erin Lynam, SPP Environmental Workshop Series Coordinator

This past December, the workshop series brought salmon to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Long Live the Kings has been devoted to restoring wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest for more than three decades. Executive Director Jacques White shared his passion for wild salmon, and discussed ways to be part of bringing home a keystone species. For those who are unable to see the salmon first-hand, it’s all the more important to bring them to the classroom. For 90 minutes, all attending could immerse themselves in science and action for the sake of our region’s most beautiful and iconic fish.

Jacques shared excellent underwater footage of wild salmon. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jacques was an engaging, inspiring speaker, and shared many wonders and the mysteries of salmon. A huge mystery is why Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead populations in the Salish Sea have declined so drastically in recent years.  A new partnership between Long Live the Kings and Canada’s  Pacific Salmon Foundation will conduct research throughout the Salish Sea; the effort is called the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project and brings together an international team of scientists from dozens of organizations to assess factors such as temperature increases, loss of food and habitat, and disease. He said that fishing is not a big threat to salmon; the problem has to be bigger than that.

Screenshot from Long Live the King’s Survive the Sound webpage.

Most fun was learning about the fundraising campaign, Survive the Sound. Supporters adopt an individual fish (or two, or three…), assign it an avatar, and watch its real-time progress online. Jacques shared video clips from last year’s campaign: one fish was not able to get past the Hood Canal Bridge 🙁 ; a second was stalled by the Bridge, but eventually found successful passage 🙂

Similar to SPP’s aquaponics nursery that grow plants for Oregon spotted frog habitat, Long Live the Kings has talked about starting polyculture nurseries to rear multiple species together for food and to improve water quality and habitat. We might know some folks who could work there…!

More photos from the workshop, thanks to Ricky Osborne photography:

As always, the students had lots of questions and ideas to share. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

From the Kings’ website, Jacques says: “They’re at the heart of our region’s culture, history, and economy. Alongside towering evergreens, snow-capped peaks, and vast expanses of open water, salmon make the northwest The Northwest. “

Rosalina Edmondson attends nearly every SPP workshop. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Workshop students Samantha Morgan and Lisa Woolsey are also technicians in the SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery at WCCW. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Long Live the Kings! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Busy as a Bee at WSP

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Group photo of program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, professional beekeeper Mona Chambers, and a class of inmate beekeepers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Amid the razor wire and blocky buildings of the Washington State Penitentiary, you might be surprised to see beautiful blooming flowers and thousands of bees busily bumbling through their work. From catching feral swarms, to breeding their own queens, the beekeeping program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has established themselves as a successful and inspirational model.

The program began about 5 years ago when three feral hives were discovered on the grounds. Some of the staff was interested in raising bees and contacted Rob Coffee, an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately, those first few hives didn’t last the year, but still it was enough of an introduction to catch the interest of staff and inmates.

Over the years, there have been staffing changes and many generations of bees have come and gone. Rob Jackson, now Associate Superintendent, first pushed for the bee program when he noticed those feral hives on site. These days the program is run by Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, both corrections staff and experienced beekeepers. Last year, a professional beekeeper and founder of See the Bees, Mona Chambers, donated her time to come teach a class of beekeepers at WSP; since then she has kept in contact with them monthly and has supported program innovations such as natural, effective ways of mite control. The program also receives some input from the same Master beekeeper (from Millers Homestead) who supports the beekeeping program at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A class at WSP working with bees. When asked about the beekeeping course, one student said “I love it. It’s so exciting. Honored to be a part of it, really. If they were going to transfer me next to my family, I’d tell them to wait until this was done.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jonathan and Ron teach WSP’s class to certify inmates as apprentice beekeepers has 15 slots, and clearly this isn’t enough to meet demand – there were 90 inmates who wanted to take the class this year! The course is split between in-class sessions and hands-on working with hives. Their goal of the program is for inmates to gain sufficient experience and journeyman level-certification so they could teach the classes themselves. Even in the early days of the bee program, staff wanted this to be a program that inmates could be fully involved in and eventually run.

Currently, WSP has 12 healthy hives, and that’s even though only 5 made it through the winter. To boost their numbers, they catch feral swarms or buy packages of bees. The one thing that WSP won’t buy are queens—they can rely on Ron Benjamin’s experience as a commercial beekeeper in which he learned how to breed queens. By breeding their own queens, they can choose to favor certain traits and genetics beneficial to their environment.

A class of students, program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, and professional beekeeper Mona Chambers inspect the hives before opening them to check on WSP’s bees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The WSP beekeeping program’s main goal is to help incarcerated individuals build skills as productive members of society, but they have many other things they want to accomplish, too. They want to educate inmates and staff about the beekeeping crisis on the west coast, and do their part to reverse the bee shortage; they want to give inmates opportunity to experience the serenity that comes with beekeeping; and—above all—teach inmates a marketable skill to have when they’re released.

As the season wraps up, WSP will harvest their honey and package it in jars that are decorated in a seal designed by this years’ graduated beekeepers. Once they finish harvesting, they will begin to wind down for the winter. We at SPP look forward to more continued success and inspiration from the busy beekeepers of WSP.

An inmate beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at WSP. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Bright colors speak loudly for the hard work being done at Stafford Creek!

Photos and text by Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

In SCCC’s nursery, technicians sow wild seeds for prairie restoration; here, a technician works with Scouler’s campion (Silene scouleri) seeds.

For nursery technicians, much of the year is spent inside greenhouses where they can be found sowing prairie seeds and tending vegetable starts. Weeding, watering, and controlling insects are the main duties — duties that generally do not yield much glory. However, when summer arrives, the facility resembles a hive that buzzes with activity, color, and pride.

Prairie plants move from greenhouses to outdoors as they mature. Vegetables are unearthed, cleaned, weighed, and sent to local food banks. Flowers are blooming as they are sent to various gardens around the facility. And amidst all of that – cultural & education events.

In photos, here is a sampling of the summer’s activities and harvests.

(From left) Shabazz Malakk, Bui Hung, Aaron Bander, and Travis Newell just harvested beets from one of their vibrant vegetable gardens near the Conservation Nursery.

Shabazz Malakk looks for ripe strawberries in the lush garden of the Conservation Nursery.

Terrell Lewis carefully moves established prairie plants to meet the needs of the next stage of growth – to a greenhouse with different watering conditions.

(From left) Joshua Hieronyms, Toby Erhart, Travis Newell, Bien Nguyen, and Mark Sherwood share salad and sustainability and the SCCC cultural event.

SPP-model programs: Possibilities for Japan

Text and photos by Atsuko Otsuka, freelance journalist and author, consultant for the Guide Dog Puppy-Raising Program and the Horse Program at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Japan

Dog handlers of Freedom Tails at Stafford Creek Corrections Center pose for a photo.

I’ve been working with the Prison Pet Partnership at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) for years, and I’ve become fascinated with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). I’ve written several books about the benefits of animal programs in correctional facilities, and I’ve successfully worked with the Japanese Ministry of Justice to establish the first dog programs in Japanese correctional facilities. My goal is to find ways to create more programs in Japan similar to those of SPP. I strongly believe that they offer a way to improve our society, the lives of our incarcerated populations, and the planet.

Technicians at the Sustainable Practice Lab at Monroe Correctional Complex proudly point to the “Thank you” poster from the recipients.

A nursing mother cat and her kittens are all cared for in the handler’s cell at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting many correctional facilities in Washington where SPP is an important part of their programming and culture. My journey began with WCCW, Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers. This year, I added visits to Mission Creek, Stafford Creek, Airway Heights and Monroe Correctional Complex. During these visits, I saw many wonderful programs that are expanding the worlds of the people incarcerated there, by giving them both environmental education and the opportunity to become better stewards of the earth. I was particularly impressed that all of the SPP programs I saw were designed to help their participants gain self-esteem and redemption by creating a way for them to give back to society. The passion and pride expressed by the program participants that I met was not only inspiring, but infectious.

Learn more about Atsuko and the programs at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center.

Students stop at the garden after attending a Seeds to Supper class at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.