Category Archives: Education

The Magic of Caring for Turtles

By William Angelmyer, former SPP Turtle Technician and current student at The Evergreen State College. Photos by SPP staff unless otherwise noted.

Bill worked as a Turtle Technician for SPP from 2015-2018 and is now completing his undergraduate degree at The Evergreen State College. Note that some of the turtle care protocols referenced in this blog have changed since Bill left the program.

Bill Anglemyer holds at western pond turtle.

“Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.”

Summer is coming to an end. This is an exciting time for the SPP Turtle Technicians at Cedar Creek. The end of summer means that soon the technicians will be receiving new turtles. Speaking from personal experience, I know that summer is a good time to do a lot of reading and research—basically, doing book work. Without turtles to manage, we technicians spend the summer studying and catching up on other projects.

Raising mealworms for the next round of turtles and entering data for a woodpecker monitoring project  keep us busy every day, but the real valuable time is the time spent learning about biology and animal behavior. Of course this takes some self-motivation to launch because you are responsible for your own choice of study. No one makes you read text books. For those of us that use education as a coping mechanism to deal with incarceration, we can’t be stopped from studying. After an entire summer of reading, though, it is a refreshing change to receive new western pond turtles and start practicing animal care and shell disease management. Although this hands-on work carries with it a new level of stress and anxiety, it also provides valuable moments fraught with emotional ups and downs. Caring for the turtles brings home some of the studying from a theoretical context into a concrete reality. All of the turtles we receive after summer have gone through a recent debriding process. Debriding is a procedure where portions of their shells have been cut away in order to stop the disease from spreading.

Mealworms production at Cedar Creek. All part of a balanced turtle diet.
Anglemyer reveals the healed plastron of a turtle about to be released into the wild.

Unfortunately, this procedure—removing damaged portions of the shell—also leaves the turtles with wounds that have to be taken care of diligently in order to ensure that they heal efficiently and without infection. This is where the emotional rollercoaster part of the job comes to bear. Not all the turtles heal at the same rates. Some turtles heal slowly. Sometimes, they heal very slowly. Sometimes turtles will stop eating for days or weeks. Cataloging their  progress and behavior can be worrying at times.

Turtle Technician Bill Anglymeyer and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler evaluating turtles before releasing them back into their habitat.

However, these new worries are accompanied by a refreshing hands-on learning experience. Many of the technicians have never worked closely with reptiles. Many people have preconceived notions about reptiles having a deficiency of personality. Moreover, reptiles are stereotyped as being only focused on needs and lacking social interactions. After working closely with turtles, though, it is easy to recognize the personalities of each individual. Like many mammals, some are social and playful, some are fearful and isolate, and some are fixated completely on food.

Western pond turtle, a state listed endangered species and one of only two native turtles in Washington State.

Seeing this new perspective is one of the most valuable experiences I gained as a Turtle Technician. Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.  My work with SPP was also greatly valuable to me because seasonal changes offer such a wide variety of experiences. Summer means book work and the fall means implementing that study into practical experience—along with the experience of caring for real animal lives. I miss my times at the CCCC Turtle Area. That may seem a little insane, considering I was incarcerated at the time. But the time I spent learning and caring for creatures, which I had had very little understanding of before, was a magical time during which I rarely realized that I was incarcerated.

Bill on Evergreen’s organic farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

First Place Honey!

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Twin Rivers Unit’s honey took first place! Photo by Susan Collins, Beekeeping Liaison and Correctional Unit Supervisor at MCC-TRU

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit‘s (MCC-TRU) beekeeping program participated in the Evergreen State Fair for the second time this year. They host a booth along with Northwest District Beekeepers Association. This year, for the first time, they entered their honey into the Fair’s honey competition and…they won first place!

Their bee program is only in its second year, but it has blossomed thanks to the unending support from staff at MCC-TRU and the enthusiastic participation from incarcerated students. We can’t wait to see all the great things this program in the future.

Congratulations, MCC-TRU!

Garden expansion and delicious prison bananas: Olympic Corrections Center Horticulture Program

Text and photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Planted and cared for by the horticulture students at Olympic Corrections Center, these roses, are ready to bloom.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) in June. I was excited to see all of the gardens’ growth and expansion since my visit last year. After my visit last year, I published a blog about the different sustainability programming at OCC. Though my visits were in different seasons, comparisons were still clear.
OCC is on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by the PNW’s famous temperate rainforest and gets rain most days of the year. OCC is referred to as a “camp”–meaning it houses people who have 4 years or less on their prison sentence–and currently houses about 380 incarcerated individuals. OCC offers some incredible sustainability programs including horticulture, a pre-apprenticeship trade skills program similar to TRAC, wastewater treatment, composting, wood shop, and dog training. OCC also partners with Peninsula College to offer educational opportunities. OCC’s horticulture program, sponsored by instructor Jamie Calley, allows students to take classes, plant and maintain gardens, design and implement projects, and earn certificates for their work.

This landscaping surrounds the greenhouses at OCC… the “H” is for horticulture!

When I first arrived, the facility looked pretty much the same: fences, buildings, lots of tan outfits. But, once I got inside and I was blown away by all of the plant growth and garden expansion in the horticulture area. The horticulture program’s hard work and innovation were well apparent: they’d added whole garden areas, flowerbeds encircling the greenhouses, and additional landscaping in the established garden area. In just over a year, the horticulture students and Ms. Calley have transformed OCC.

Below are pictures of the horticulture area from both my visit in March of 2018 and my most recent visit in June. They really illustrate how much the program participants have accomplished in a year.

This vegetable garden is a new addition since I visited last year. The horticulturists have been busy!
These bananas grow inside the greenhouse – I got to eat one and they are delicious!
Jamie Calley is the staff sponsor for the horticulture program at OCC. Here, Jamie is looking at some of the beautiful landscaping and gardens the horticulture cared for by students. Without a doubt, her enthusiastic support and advocacy for this program has enabled progress and expansions in the program.

Turtle Release Day for Cedar Creek

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos by Bill Anglemyer, Evergreen student and former Turtle Technician.

SPP Biological Technician, Jeramie Inge, and Evergreen student, Bill Angelmyer, with a western pond turtle. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

With the technicians responsible for their rehabilitation, on April 10th, ten turtles made their way back to the ponds at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. Three incarcerated Biological Technicians working for The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) had spent the last five months caring for the turtles and monitoring their progress. The turtles had been healing after being treated for the mysterious shell disease that has been afflicting their population.

Left to right: SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, and SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

The turtles are western pond turtles, a state-listed endangered species. The historic population had been devastated by human harvesting. Their numbers were lowered additionally by habitat destruction and an influx of invasive species. Twenty-five years ago, the population of western pond turtles in Washington State was estimated to be only around a hundred and fifty. Efforts were taken to protect and enhance their numbers. These efforts have been successful. The current population is estimated at eight hundred.

SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing one of the western pond turtles he cared for at Cedar Creek.
SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing a western pond turtle.
From left to right: WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological technician Donald McLain, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, and SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge.

Tragically, the shell disease appeared in the last decade, and it is seriously impacting western pond turtles. While Washington State Fish and Wildlife biologists and veterinarians attempt to find the cause of shell disease, they are trying different tactics in treating the turtles that are most afflicted. After the treatments, which involve removing diseased sections of the turtles’ shells, the turtles need a place to heal. The technicians at Cedar Creek make sure that the turtles are well-fed and have clean habitats. Additionally, the technicians keep detailed records of the healing progress of the turtles’ shells. Lots of effort goes into keeping them as stress free as possible. The rehabilitation area is kept quiet because loud noises and other external stimuli cause stress in the wild turtles, which hampers their ability to heal.

WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy.

Releasing the turtles back into the wild was a fairly simple and fanfare-free procedure. The technicians, SPP coordinator, SPP liaison, corrections officer, Fish and Wildlife biologist, and myself walked the strategically placed wooden planks that grant access to the edge of the pond. The plastic shoebox containers that were used to transport the turtles were opened, and the turtles taken out and gently placed in the water. Most of the turtles looked around for a second, as if to gain their bearing, and then swam off disappearing into the pond. Although the turtles need the treatment, they are wild critters, and they don’t like to be in a captive environment; they take to the murky pond like a prisoner to freedom.

WDFW Biologist Emily Butler shows Biological Technicians from Cedar Creek how she identifies each turtle.
WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It was a great experience seeing the turtles swim off into the pond. It was great to talk to the technicians about their experiences caring for the turtles. To hear the technicians talk about their plans for the future was inspiring. This is because I was a turtle technician at Cedar Creek for three years. I was caring for turtles inside the prison only a short year ago. The current technicians seemed to be inspired by my presence too. We talked about education—I’m currently in college. I was elated to hear that each one of the technicians was seriously considering furthering their education once released. I hope to be invited to future releases and to meet with new technicians.

Left to right: Donald McLain, William Rathgaber, Jeramie Inge, and Bill Anglemyer. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Seed to Supper: a bittersweet goodbye

By Jacob Meyers, Conservation Nursery Coordinator


For the past year and a half, I’ve had a truly unique and remarkable opportunity. Once per month, I made the hour long trek out to Washington’s coast, not to surf or go clamming, but to teach a garden class to over 50 incarcerated individuals. The garden class began as a way for Ed Baldwin, the Ground/Nursery Specialist at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), to support and encourage the gardens at the facility. Former SPP Coordinator, Joey Burgess, joined the effort by offering a superb (and free) introductory gardening curriculum called Seed to Supper. Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service teamed up to create the course which aims to educate and inspire adults to grow a portion of their own food and build more food secure communities. Topics covered range from building and planning to maintaining and harvesting a garden.

A PowerPoint slide from one of the very first lessons of the Seed to Supper curriculum.

During one of my first trips to prison, I got to watch Joey teach one of these classes. Joey made teaching look effortless with a laid back, but confident persona. But the following month, it was me up in front of 50 inmates and not Joey. I’m not a shy person by any means (I acted on stage in college and high school in front of well more than 50 people) but this was a bit different. For one, when I started I was by no means ‘an expert’ on gardening. And two, I wasn’t sure how well my teaching style would be received.

SPP Nursery Coordinator, Joey Burgess, presenting the Seed to Supper curriculum to gardeners at Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Photo Credit: Ricky Osborne

I remember staying up late the night before my first class scouring the material over and over to make sure I could answer any and every question thrown my way. Of course, I had no such luck. But at the same time I find it kind of funny that I was so worried. I should have guessed that the class would be full of smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable and kind individuals, and it was. They asked me tough questions and challenged me. They took what I offered them, and—with their ideas and questions—made it better. I had been too focused not being a gardening expert or  that I am not a perfect teacher. It was helpful to remember that the students weren’t expecting me to be just as I wasn’t expecting them to be perfect students, or any of us to be perfect people. Sure, these men (and women) have made mistakes, but they are people. Many of whom are eager and thirsty for knowledge.

One of the unit gardeners at SCCC raises his hand to ask a question.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

So for the past year and a half I’ve made the same trek every month not just to teach a group of men about gardening and growing vegetables, but also to learn from them.

However, in 2019 the gardening education program is transitioning and so is my role in it. I won’t be leading the class at SCCC anymore, but there are exciting developments underway. SPP has signed an agreement with Oregon Food Bank to propose changes to the Seeds to Supper curriculum. SPP staff along with incarcerated students and educators at Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Department of Corrections staff, Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Tilth Alliance, will be suggesting revisions to the existing Seed to Supper curriculum, enhancing the course with additional modules on select topics, and transitioning the resources to support a peer-led model. Developing this peer-led format builds on a growing number of efforts to empower incarcerated people with resources and support to increase educational opportunities in prisons across the state. So while it means my time delivering the program has ended, the possibility for reaching more incarcerated men and women and sharing the joys and wonders of gardening has never been higher.

And so to the unit gardeners I had the privilege to teach and learn with and to the staff at Stafford Creek I got to work with, I say goodbye for now. Hopefully someday, I will see you in the garden.

Flowers in full bloom at one of the gardens at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

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!

The Value of Education

Written by Alexandra James, Conservation Nursery Program Coordinator, and Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator; Photos by Alexandra James

Students discuss environmental issues, their complexities, and how to approach finding solutions. Everyone was encouraged to discuss issues that were important to them and the ways they could research those topics to develop a better understanding of them.

Education is a core component of our mission. Our aim is to provide diverse formal and informal opportunities for education, and to offer new knowledge and new skills to inmates, staff, and community partners. We integrate education into every one of our programs, acting on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all participants. In addition, we have two dedicated programs with education as a central focus. These programs are the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series and Roots of Success, an environmental literacy program.

Bethany shares some of the experiences and opportunities that accompanied her education.

For our October Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) we decided to focus on the practice of education itself. Bethany Shepler, SPP’s Green Track Program Coordinator, led the workshop and asked students to think about what education is and what it means to them. Students tackled conceptual questions, investigating the benefits of education for themselves and their community, whether they’re incarcerated or otherwise.

To demonstrate the value of education, Bethany talked about the impact education has on reducing recidivism rates. Recidivism is when a previously incarcerated person returns to prison after release, and while this can occur for any number of reasons, usually this happens because they fall back into their old lives. To illustrate education’s role on reducing recidivism, she highlighted the many academic studies that cite education as the most successful means of reducing recidivism.

Roots instructor David Duhaime talks about how education enables you to become better at critical thinking; roots instructor Cyril Walrond is behind the podium.

None of this progress in reducing recidivism or bringing education into prisons would be possible without the support from Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC). WA DOC stands apart from many states because of their drive to work with incarcerated individuals instead of controlling them. WA DOC focuses on education and is an advocate for positive personal change. Dan Pacholke, the previous Secretary of Prisons, gave a TED talk in 2014 where he talked about the changes WA DOC made to how it operates and thinks. It is SPP’s belief that the changes Dan Pacholke talks about and initiated are partially why WA DOC is becoming more successful at reducing recidivism.

Bethany was joined by three Roots of Success instructors who engaged their peers and facilitated a discussion on the direct benefits of learning. Participants were excited to share their perspectives on education and how education has positively impacted their lives. Through dialogue and facilitated discussion, participants worked collaboratively to explore a topic of interest and report core aspects discussed back to the group – sparking great conversation and peer mentorship.

Roots instructor and Master Trainer, Cyril Walrond, encourages students to take up the initiative to start classes or projects they want to see at their facility.

There was a feeling of excitement pulsing through the room as the workshop neared its end. Two SCCC staff, Kelly Peterson and Mark Sherwood, took advantage of the excitement and shared information with participants on how to engage in various educational and trade skill opportunities within the facility, noting that opportunity starts with a general interest. Through curiosity, inquisitiveness and encouragement, education flourishes; that’s what happened at SCCC on October 18, 2018.