Category Archives: Education

A New Season

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

The nursery sowing season at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) opened amidst mud and construction.  Excessive rainfall throughout the spring led to great volumes of mud around the nursery, just as we completed the moving of the greenhouses from one area of the prison to another. I know that sounds redundant – excessive rainfall in Aberdeen, Washington – but it was truly more rain that usual.  April 2011 was one of the top five coldest April’s on record and one of the top ten years for precipitation. The State Climatologist’s report has some interesting facts about our anomalous weather. The rainfall combined with construction made for a muddy mess, but the building was well organized by the construction supervisors and crew at SCCC. Though they had to apply more foundation rock into the muddy morass than was budgeted, the green house and two hoop houses were up and running by the middle of April.

The greenhouse is beginning to get full as offenders sow seeds

Sowing began with some new species this year and some of the target species from previous years. Lomatium triternatum, the nine leaved biscuit-root, was a new species to the nursery and the early sowing in April should make for well rooted plants by October. Castilleja hispida (harsh Indian paintbrush) and Viola adunca (blue violet) are two species vital to the pollination ecology of the Salish Sea (Western Washington) prairies. We will probably be sowing these two species every year at the nursery for as long as it is in existence; the need for them for pollinator restoration is inexhaustible. With these two species, our goal this year is to perform trials, testing the germination rate in response to varying lengths of stratification. Stratification is the process of subjecting seeds to cold and/or moisture to replicate environmental conditions required to break seed dormancy.  Through trials, we hope to determine the appropriate amount of stratification time these seeds require to generate a high germination and seedling success rate.  To date, our experiences germinating these species in the nursery has not corresponded with what is indicated in the published literature. 

Research Associate Carl Elliot teaches about the ecology of the plants offenders are learning to sow.

We’ve also had several new members join the crew.  These new offenders have benefited from the training and experience of those that have returned from last season. The training video that was produced last year is very helpful in providing and introduction to nursery techniques.  We’ve partnered each new member with a mentor to learn about nursery production.  By learning each aspect of the nursery from soil making to record keeping, the offenders develop a greater range of skills to use when they re-enter society.

SPP Research Associates Present Their Theses

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

Two of SPP’s former Graduate Research Associates have completed theses for the Master of Environmental Studies program at The Evergreen State College.  Liesl Plomski and Sarah Clarke selected topics related to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Both women have been integral parts of SPP since its early inception, working closely with inmates and DOC staff in two of Washington’s prisons.

Liesl Plomski presented her thesis regarding best practices in the rearing of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs, drawing on her experience working with inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Little Rock, Washington.  Plomski said she enjoyed working with inmates on the conservation efforts and that, “experiencing the importance of tuning people into a passion for positive development has definitely affected my subsequent career choice since finishing at Evergreen.” Plomski now lives in Portland, Oregon where she works mentoring at-risk youth.

Sarah Clarke completed her thesis on the impact of horticulture therapy and how working with living things affects the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes of inmates participating in the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Her work included data from four institutions working with  SPP.  Reflecting on her experience with inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, Clarke said, “working with SPP has profoundly changed my life.  It has been rewarding on a personal level to work with inmates and see how interacting with nature benefits them.” One of SPP’s first Graduate Research Associates, Clarke said it was exciting to be part of a ground-breaking project from the very start. “It was a meaningful job that will be hard to replace,” she said.  Clarke now works at the Evergreen State College as a youth educator in the childcare center.

Both former SPP staff attested to the personal growth and professional rewards of working with the SPP.  Referring to her work lecture coordination and project evaluation efforts, Clarke said SPP enhanced her ability to work independently, manage time efficiently, work with a wide range of people, and change roles quickly. “I gained confidence to make judgments and take actions in new territory,” she said. Plomski agreed with Clarke’s observations, adding that working with SPP also improved her communication and analytical skills while working in a variety of different settings.

Most of all, the former Research Associates attested to the immense personal reward and satisfaction they felt when working with SPP.  Plomski said, “You come home at the end of the day and honestly feel like you’ve made society a little better, you actually did something.” For Clarke, it was, “really rewarding to witness the human healing that comes from working with nature.”  Both Plomski and Clarke have made contributions that continue to leave a lasting impact on the inmates, DOC staff, and community members they worked with over the course of their tenure with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

To view Sarah Clarke’s thesis, click here.

Liesl Plomski’s thesis is available here.

WCCW Winter Lecture Series a Success

 By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

SPP’s winter Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, Washington marked another successful season of scientific outreach, with over 50 WCCW offenders and staff attending the lectures.  The series focused on sustainable food practices and featured speakers from local non-profit agencies. 

 November:  Food Cooperatives and Cob Construction

Diana Pisco, The Olympia Food Co-Op

 Diana Pisco began the series with a presentation on food cooperatives and cob construction, a sustainable building method involving clay, straw, and basic tools. A former volunteer at WCCW, Pisco said she, “wanted to share what motivates me, to inspire these women about sustainability, local food production, and cobbing – something they could find very therapeutic as well as offer a skill they could use when they get out.”  Cob construction techniques stimulated lively conversation, with one offender sharing that she had built her house using this method. The offenders’ enthusiasm inspired Pisco to donate books to the prison’s library.

December: Edible Forest Gardens

Michael Kelly, Terra Commons

Michael Kelly introduced edible forest gardens, a landscaping technique that mimics a forest ecosystem and supports naturally high yields of produce.  WCCW horticulture students engaged Kelly in scientific conversation about the plants and techniques featured, comparing them with the prison’s program.  Kelly left offenders with printed resources about forest gardens, possible career paths, and ideas of how WCCW can implement sustainable practices in their gardens.

January: Organic Farming

Lydia Beth Leimbach, Left Foot Organics

Lydia Beth Leimbach spoke on organic farming.  Her experience on the farm with offender work crews from Cedar Creek Corrections Center encouraged her to partner with SPP for the second time this season. “I see the need for giving prisoners skills and education so that they have a chance to positively contribute to society when they get out,” she said.  WCCW has an on-site organic garden, and Leimbach’s presentation was directly applicable to the work many offenders are doing right now.  The topic also attracted two DOC staff members to attend the lecture series for the first time.

February: Native Plant Restoration

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr, Sound Native Plants

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr concluded the series with a discussion on restoration, described as an ecological act on behalf of the future with respect to the past. “We all have challenges in our lives, and we can move past them,” Bahr said. WCCW hopes to start a conservation  project that will provide offenders with experience in native plant horticulture.  Sharing SPP’s commitment to education, the Alexander and Bahr created a horticulture career development resource for the offenders. Alexander said he, “wanted to convey…that each individual can have an important positive impact even when working on a small local scale.”  He hopes the presentation will inspire offenders to make positive contributions to their community and environment when they leave prison.

Frog Project Initiates New Research

By Undergraduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

From left: SPP Research Associate Dennis Aubrey, WDFW Senior Biologist Marc Hayes and a CCCC offender measure the frogs' growth and health.

Over the winter inmates in SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog (OSF) program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) have been caring for frogs from Northwest Trek, the Oregon Zoo, and the Woodland Park Zoo that were too small or unhealthy for release into the wild. The frogs have thrived under the offender’s constant care and are slated for release late this winter. By caring for the undersized frogs, CCCC has helped the zoos save money and staff time as they prepare for the new frog rearing season and tend to the many species of animals in their care.  The experience has also provided more hands-on science training for offenders.

The CCCC frog program is expanding its rearing space from one tank to four and will accept twice as many frog eggs this season. Using four tanks will allow side-by-side comparison of frogs from two locations, Conboy Lake and the Black River. Conboy Lake frogs may grow larger and faster due to their exposure to invasive bullfrogs.

These Oregon Spotted Frogs show healthy growth and will be released this winter.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Biologist Marc Hayes suggested the comparative study at CCCC to to test this hypothesis and its implications for frog conservation. Partnering with SPP allows graduate students and offenders the unique opportunity to participate in this research.

To help reduce costs and the carbon footprint of the program, the SPP OSF team has also expanded and improved cricket breeding at CCCC.  After many trials and errors, and incorporating tips provided by experts, SPP staff and offenders are now creating a cricket husbandry manual.  The manual will be used to train the next group of offenders and students working on the project and may also help other facilities interested in sustainable source of crickets.

SPP Launches a New Partnership with the Research Ambassador Program

By Research Ambassador Program Project Manager Amy Stasch

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) recently strengthened its Science and Sustainability Lecture Series with the initiation of a new partnership with the Research Ambassador Program (RAP), a project of The Evergreen State College, funded by the National Science Foundation. The RAP is led by Evergreen State College faculty member Dr. Nalini Nadkarni and Project Manager Amy Stasch.

The RAP enhances scientific engagement and scientific literacy among the public by connecting scientists with non-traditional audiences such as senior citizen centers, prisons, faith-based communities, and businesses to develop accessible and interactive communication strategies for public engagement with science. The SPP will collaborate with RAP to host visiting scientists as guest lecturers in the SPP’s monthly lecture series at three Washington State prisons.

The SPP hosted its first RAP science fellow, Katie Renwick, on Thursday, January 14th, 2011 for a presentation at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, a minimum security prison located in Belfair, Washington.  Renwick is a first year doctoral student studying the interactions of bark beetle infestations, fire, disturbance, and recovery in the Rocky Mountains.  She presented an hour-long lecture about her scientific research on how ecological changes affect forests, and how they can recover after these changes.  From these concepts, offenders drew parallels to their own lives and the disturbances they have experienced and are recovering from.

The lecture was the first Science and Sustainability lecture to be hosted at Mission Creek, and received excellent turnout. The women attending were attentive and asked insightful questions. Several inmates approached Renwick following the lecture, thanking her for her time and for helping them relate their own struggles to phenomena that are continuously influencing the forests.  Through this unique encounter, Renwick was able to engage an otherwise unaware audience in scientific discussion, while attending offenders reaped the benefits of her specialized knowledge and inspiration, an experience the SPP and RAP hope to replicate in the coming months.

The SPP will continue to collaborate with the RAP and monthly lectures have already been scheduled through June 2011.

Good News

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) is in the news! We have received extensive press coverage from media sources nationwide. The common threads emphasized by all are the innovative nature and the collaborative mode of the work that have contributed to the inspiring success of the SPP. Click on the links below — and feel free to provide your comments.

KBTC Northwest Now: Click here to watch the episode

Northwest Now’s Daniel Kopec hosts SPP Project Co-Director Dan Pacholke, Project Manager Kelli Bush and Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Douglas Cole to explore how the unique collaboration between the DOC and The Evergreen State College is addressing some of Washington’s pressing social and scientific concerns.

KBTC Full Focus: Being Green: Click here to watch the episode

This episode of Full Focus takes a look at how the Sustainable Prisons Project is engaging offenders in the rearing of endangered frogs and the inspiring stories that have resulted.

KCTS 9 Connects: Click here to watch the episode

KCTS 9 reporter Leslie McClurg takes the show behind bars when she visits the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington to discover how the SPP has inspired one offender to pursue college credit by studying sustainability while incarcerated.

The Promised Land featuring Nalini Nadkarni: Click here to listen to the episode

SPP Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni escorts host Majora Carter from the treetops of the Olympic Rainforest canopy to the incarcerated men at Stafford Creek to lead them in a lively and insightful discussion of “what should happen next” for the SPP and sustainability in society.

Science Nation: Click here to watch and read

Science Nation explores how the SPP  and inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington are helping themselves and nature to recover by working together to raise endangered prairie plants for restoration.

PBS News Hour, Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Click here to watch the PBS news hour segment (short version)

Click here to view the OPB Oregon Field Guide segment (long version)

Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Jule Gilfillan details how the SPP is helping the military and two Washington prisons to reduce waste and protect the environment by training offenders as conservation scientists; all while saving money and supporting biodiversity.

To donate to the Sustainable Prisons Project, CLICK HERE to visit the Evergreen Foundation’s website.

Inmates Restore Prairie, Make Video to Teach Others

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

The end of the growing season brings a lot of clean up and preparation for the Sustainable Prisons Project.  This year’s native prairie plants, raised in conjunction with offenders at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, are ready to be shipped off to their permanent homes. While some of the plants will be sent to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), others are being distributed across various restoration sites around the south Puget Sound prairie landscape. Many are being planted to enhance habitat sites for Taylor’s (Whulge) checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies.

Delivery and installation of the 173,336 prairie plants began a few weeks ago and will continue through early spring 2011. For all the partners involved in this fantastic restoration project, this is a great accomplishment. Together we have increased the amount of plants produced by 70% compared to 2009.

Offenders at SCCC sort prairie plant seeds.

Reaching the delivery and planting phase  is the result of a lot of hard work. One of our biggest challenges has been working with wild collected seed and recalcitrant or difficult germination strategies. The various species of native prairie seeds are sown into yellow tubes or cells, then stored in larger trays. The total number of cells sown by the offenders was 338,485 with 2 to 6 seed sown per cell.  In the end, approximately 5o% of the cells contained plants.  This low fill rate may be caused by the quality of the seed material, the low viability rate of the seed, or the variability in the dormancy to germination process.  The prairie plant restoration project at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is an evolving process – there still a lot to learn about how to best grow these native prairie plants.  Our cooperators at The Nature Conservancy are working every season to improve seed quality through better collection, threshing, and processing techniques.

Offenders raise thousands of prairie plants each year.

Another factor in the low success rate per cell may be human error. Working with so many plants is just plain difficult sometimes. However, with time and experience the tasks become easier and more expertly accomplished. The current crew of offenders has worked diligently this summer to hone their skills and improve the efficiency of the nursery project while also improving morale and camaraderie. This effort shows in the number and quality of plants produced. They will also be able to help train and pass on these skills to offenders in the future, which will add to the success of the project.

Part of mastering any skill is the ability to teach it to others. The process of teaching a skill causes us to look more closely than we usually do to the mechanics of how we perform a task. Work conditions in a corrections center lead to frequent turn-over in the offender employees. Some sort of training tool was needed to get new offender employees up to speed and give them an understanding of the context and purpose of the nursery project.  The well-trained and skilled crew at SCCC recently helped create a video to serve as a training tool for new offenders working on the project.  Over the course of a few weeks, offenders practiced developing a script around their particular expertise in the production process. We decided to focus on five skills: 1) preparing soil and fertilizer in the cell trays, 2) sowing the seed of three species with differing seed sizes, 3) covering seed with soil or gravel grit, 4) record keeping  and 5) watering, weeding and cultivation skills.

Filming at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

The Center for Creative and Applied Media (C-CAM) at The Evergreen State College provided the production help and equipment for a day of filming at Stafford Creek. The students and staff from C-CAM did a fantastic job drawing out the script from the offenders, as well as setting up and framing the video.

Mixing the potting soil and adding the appropriate quantity of fertilizer.

Record keeping is vital to improving the long-term success of the project.

Applying the right amount of cover soil over the seed.

Preparing to water in newly sown seeds with a gentle spring rain of water.

The training video would not be complete without providing the context for why this nursery project exists. The nursery work and skills are good training for offenders, but another goal is to restore important prairie habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout the south Puget Sound. Some of the plants from SCCC were delivered to a prairie on Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). During the first week of November, a hard-working field crew was on hand to plant out 30,000 plants to increase butterfly nectar sources and serve as larval hosts.

Filming at the Joint Base Lewis McChord Plant Out

Up close and personal with some of the plant out crew; each of the 30,000 goes in one at a time.

Filming the plant out crew with Kimi the prairie dog.

Luckily, nature provided us with a spectacular backdrop and view of the prairie lands at JBLM, perfect for filming a training video.  The students from C-CAM were able to practice filming a wide variety of shots.  The resulting video will be edited over the next few months, voice-overs added, and it will be finished in February. This will be a valuable training tool for new offenders joining the nursery crew during 2011.  As training improves and new discoveries are made each season, we look forward to improved native plant propagation operations.   Watch for the finished video on our web site February 2011.

Rod Gilbert of the Fish and Wildlife Division of Joint Base Lewis McCord explaining the importance of the plant production to prairie restoration for the film.

Cedar Creek’s Captive Crickets

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

This past spring, Cedar Creek Corrections Center and the Sustainable Prisons Project began experimenting with a new captive rearing project to raise crickets.  The goal of the project is to create a more sustainable, stable supply of food to meet the demand created by housing a growing population of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs. Crickets are one of the largest expenses for the frog project. Cricket suppliers are located out of state.  Long-distance shipping complications can impact frog feeding schedules, and definitely increase the project’s carbon footprint. As a result of these issues, the offenders at CCCC decided they would try their hand at cricket husbandry and breeding.

Few organizations in Washington raise their own crickets. Most suppliers, including pet shops, purchase crickets from out of state breeders.  By locally-growing crickets for the Oregon Spotted Frog conservation project, SPP offenders and staff are taking another step toward creating a more sustainable, cost effective, and stable food supply.

Inmates and scientists are discovering best practices for rearing crickets.

The Project is also contributing to scientific knowledge, compiling best practices protocol for raising crickets in temperate climates through trial-and-error experimentation. While visiting with offenders to check on how things have progressed, SPP Research Associate Jill Cooper was impressed to see how much the offenders had learned through observation and experience, in such a short amount of time. One inmate explained to her how the current batch of “breeders” that were delivered to the prison, “aren’t really the age which the cricket farm said they are.”  He pointed to the “ovipositor” or egg-depositing tube noting that they were obviously under developed and not ready to lay eggs yet.  Crickets chirp to indicate when they are ready to breed.  The inmate is considering starting his own cricket farm when he is released to offer a more sustainable source of crickets to customers here in the northwest.

Training Officer Ron Gagliardo of Amphibian Ark recently made a visit to CCCC to advise inmates and staff on the cricket rearing operation.  Previously from the Atlanta area, Ron has extensive experience with frog and cricket rearing.  He was a tremendous resource.  The inmates were able to ask him many questions and his input will undoubtedly improve upon the initial success of the cricket operation.

There have been many bumps along the way, but things have been looking up for the cricket operation.  Offenders are able to raise crickets to help supplement the frog’s diet, and have learned much in the process. While the cricket project can not yet support all the food needs, we estimate that the current operation will eventually support at least half of the crickets needed to feed about 200 frogs.

Opportunity to Support the Sustainable Prisons Project

Nearly a month has passed since the announcement of the deep state budget cuts that terminated the Sustainable Prisons Project’s two-year contract with the Washington State Department of Corrections. The Sustainable Prison Project (SPP) staff and students at The Evergreen State College have been working to secure alternative sources of funding to keep the Project moving forward.  As mentioned in a previous blog, initial success has come in the form of “bridge funding”  allocated by the The Evergreen State College. This funding will provide temporary breathing room, supporting the Project’s core staff and operations through June 2011.  Even with the bridge funding, however, SPP programs and staff will be significantly reduced if additional funding sources are not secured. Therefore, it is at this time that we ask SPP supporters to step forward and aid in the continuation of the Sustainable Prisons Project by donating to the Project’s fund.

The need for the scientific research, conservation work,  and education provided by the SPP is at an all-time high. The recent state  budget cuts have induced severe changes for DOC: 300 jobs have been frozen or cut, monthly offender lock-downs have been implemented, and drug treatment and education programs have been substantially reduced.  Meanwhile, the loss of biodiversity, accelerated by increasing pollution and habitat destruction, threatens the very ecosystems on which we all rely.

Many of our projects address these problems by connecting scientists, offenders, prison staff, and graduate students in collaborations to implement cost-saving sustainable practices, captive-rear endangered native species, while also providing a multitude of learning opportunities for offenders, students and scientists.  If the Project ends, society as a whole will lose the beneficial human, economic, and ecological impacts made possible by the SPP at a critical time when the Project can  serve as a national model for addressing societal problems in a healthy and sustainable way.

We are actively seeking grant and foundation support;  it is our goal to restore funding to our previous level by June 2011. This process of pursuing grant and foundation funds, however,  takes several months to complete. Donations received by the SPP at this time will help ensure our work continues as planned while the process of applying for grants is underway.  If you have ever wished to be involved with the Project, or have been involved and have wanted to “do more”, now is your opportunity to make a difference by providing education, conservation, and life-changing hope.

Examples of what your donation will provide:

$25 = 100sqft of Rare Native Prairie Plants restoration

$100 = one fully raised Oregon Spotted Frog

$200 = total sponsorship for one Science and Sustainability Lecture in a prison

$500 = supplies needed for the new Butterfly Conservation Greenhouse

$1,200 = Science Training for Conservation Projects for offenders and staff

$1,300 = one Student Research Intern’s monthly stipend

$5,000 = Green Collar Job Training Program for offenders (beekeeping or arboriculture)

Despite funding setbacks, the SPP continues to receive regional and international recognition.  We have received hundreds of notes and responses to the DOC termination announcement from people around the country and the world, stating their support for the project and their desire that it continue. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recently selected the SPP as a recipient of the “Bright Ideas in Innovation in American Government Award” for 2010.  The SPP was also featured on the National Science Foundation’s website in a Science Nation video segment detailing the important impacts of the prairie plant restoration efforts underway at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

While unfortunate, the loss of the DOC contract presents opportunities for growth. We are seeking participation from individuals, foundations, and agencies in the form of volunteers, ideas, contacts, and funds. Any contribution, whether it be $200 to sponsor the honorarium for a Science and Sustainability lecture, or a donation of supplies for our captive rearing projects, will make a real impact on the future course of the SPP and the lives of those it touches.  We thank you for your interest and support, and encourage you to share in the success of the Sustainable Prisons Project by making a contribution. Donations may be made through the Evergreen Foundation by clicking here.  We also invite you to share this message with others.

Thank you!

Please contact Project Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni (nadkarnn@evergreen.edu) or Project Manager Kelli Bush (bushk@evergreen.edu or (360) 867-6863) with any additional questions, gifting arrangements or information on how to become more involved with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

Outreach at the South Sound Science Symposium

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

On October 27, 2010, former and current Sustainable Prisons Project Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper attended the South Sound Science Symposium on Squaxin Island where they represented SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog Captive Rearing Project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, WA.

The symposium provided an opportunity to network within the South Sound’s scientific community and spread the word about the great success SPP conservation projects have experienced in the past year.  Plomski and Cooper presented a scientific poster at the symposium describing the Project, garnering  interest in the Project from symposium goers.

The symposium proved to be a great outreach and learning opportunity for Sustainable Prisons Project staff and event attendees. “It was wonderful to see the wide array of cutting-edge environmental work being done in the Puget Sound area,” Cooper said.