Category Archives: Education

New directions for SPP-Evergreen team

By SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Following six years of dedicated leadership from Dr. Carri LeRoy, Evergreen’s team for the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) enters a new era. We are so pleased that Carri will continue to support and influence SPP as our Senior Science Advisor. SPP is also now a Public Service Center for The Evergreen State College, playing a greater role in Evergreen’s campus community and receiving increased recognition and support. Together we are continually improving and growing SPP, and we know there’s still so much more to do!

SPP partners from Evergreen and Washington State Department of Corrections have just completed updates to SPP’s mission and vision statements. The new text represents greater emphases on education and change, acknowledgement of current environmental and justice system challenges, values shared by SPP partners, and a more succinct, stand-alone mission statement.

Mission Statement: We empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons.

Vision: In response to the dual crises of ecological degradation and mass incarceration, we aim to reduce recidivism while improving human well-being and ecosystem health. SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.

Butterfly technician Kristina Faires receives a certificate for her academic and technical accomplishments in the program; program coordinator Seth Dorman poses with her to recognize her achievements. Photo by Keegan Curry.

Going forward, our top priority is identifying mechanisms to award college credit to incarcerated participants in SPP certificate programs. Education is the most effective way to reduce recidivism. These certificate programs serve as high quality apprenticeships where participants receive extensive training, education, and experience addressing complex conservation issues, delivering environmental education, or participating in our workshop series. Recently, Dr. Carri LeRoy provided valuable review that informed significant improvements to SPP certifications. We are so grateful she plans to continue providing certification oversight to ensure program quality and consistency. SPP’s certificate recipients are clearly worthy of academic recognition; they demonstrate advanced environmental knowledge and application on a daily basis.

Our programs are unconventional, and retrofitting accreditation to existing practices is a challenge, but this long-time effort seems to be gaining momentum. Acknowledging SPP certificate completion with college credit could serve to complement post-secondary education with allied prison education programs and/or inspire continued education post-release.

As always, thanks for your partnership and support of SPP. We’re so pleased to be offering these programs with you!

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center looks gray, but it’s the “greenest” prison in the nation!

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

At first glance, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) does not look very green, but superficial looks can be deceiving; it’s sustainable programming and practices are the most impressive of any correctional facility. CRCC’s main campus is LEED Gold certified, the first prison in the world to hold this accomplishment! (Check out this article about CRCC’s sustainable standard.)

At first glance Coyote Ridge looks very gray. This was especially true when I visited in overcast, rainy weather.

I visited the prison in late November, and had the chance to tour the programs and meet with partners. The sustainable practices of the facility were highly impressive, but even more impressive were the staff who work there and the inmates who have dedicated their lives to learning, education, and environmental activism. I met with the instructors for Roots of Success and we talked about the program, the facility’s annual Environmental Awareness Day, and the many hopes they have for advancing sustainability programming at Coyote Ridge.

I am continually impressed by the people I get to work with, and the inmates and liaisons at Coyote Ridge are exemplary program representatives. I asked what could be done to improve their program and the inmates unanimously agreed “more books and readings about the environment, the sciences, sustainability, environmental activism, and any other subject along those lines.” They want to learn as much as they can and are utilizing every resource they have access to.

Coyote Ridge has developed a “Sustainability Passport” to track and recognize participation. As incarcerated individuals complete a program, they get a stamp on their “passport.” A regular offering is the prison’s Sustainability Lecture Series, similar to the Environmental Workshop Series at two prisons west of the Cascades. They bring in outside experts to deliver lectures and seminars on environmental issues and sustainability. Guests have come from organizations like the Department of Ecology, the local beekeeping association, and experts on the Hanford Site.

This is Bentley. He is a handsome, energetic, lab mix puppy that was brought to the prison with the rest of his litter to be raised and trained by inmate dog handlers. He and his litter-mates have already been adopted, and some by staff members at the prison. Many staff members adopt shelter dogs that the inmates train because they get to know and love the dogs during their time at the facility.

Coyote Ridge hosts a beautiful, thriving dog program. Incarcerated individuals have played a greater leadership role in this program compared to other prison pet programs we know. The dogs that come to the facility are from Benton Franklin Humane Society and Adam County Pet Rescue. They come to the prison because the local shelter doesn’t have the space or time to care for the dogs; because it’s a pregnant dog that can receive inmate handlers’ attention 24 hours a day; or because the animal has been abused and needs extra-gentle care and attention to learn to trust people again. The dogs work with a variety of trainers while they’re at the facility so that they learn to listen and be comfortable around different people.

This is Shannon Meyer. He is one of the inmate dog handlers at CRCC and this was the current dog he’s working with, Rocky. When Rocky came to the prison he wouldn’t let anyone touch him and would get aggressive easily. Mr. Meyer has been working with Rocky for several weeks to get him to trust people and is pleased with his progress. Rocky’s red bandanna signals that he may not respond well to being pet or held by anyone other than his handler, but he happily let me pet him – proof of his progress.

The handlers at CRCC look like they love what they do and see the value in their work with the dogs. One of the handlers, Mr. Meyer, had this to say: “When I got here (in prison) it was just about doing my time, but now, with my dog, everything is about taking care of him and my life is about him.”

I also met these 8-day old puppies who were born in the prison. Their mother came to prison pregnant and gave birth to her puppies in the handler’s cell. Her handler, Mr. Archibald, will care for her and her puppies until they are ready and able to be adopted.

On all fronts, I was impressed by the greenness of programming and attitudes at the prison. Keep up the excellent work, Coyote Ridge!

CRCC during the summer. The picture is looking at some of the units and the courtyard with a rock garden in the center. The gardens at CRCC all feature native plants and rock designs. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

SPP’s new Mission Statement

by Kelli Bush, SPP Director for Evergreen

An incarcerated man waves to visitors across the Diversity Garden at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During breeding season, a technician weighs an adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. The highly collaborative program is hosted by Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Keegan Curry.

We are so pleased! SPP partners from Evergreen and Washington State Department of Corrections have completed updates to SPP’s mission and vision statements. The new text represents greater emphases on education and change, acknowledgement of current environmental and justice system challenges, values shared by SPP partners, and a more succinct, stand-alone mission statement.

 

Mission: We empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons.

 

Roots of Success instructors and graduates pose for a class photo at a graduation ceremony. Photo by DOC staff.

Vision: In response to the dual crises of ecological degradation and mass incarceration, we aim to reduce recidivism while improving human well-being and ecosystem health. SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.

 

We will update our website to reflect these changes in the near future.

Thank you, Fairy Godparents!

Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) was lucky to receive several year-end donations, most of them from anonymous donors. These gifts are substantial enough that we can fund new scientific equipment and printed resources for a few programs—these much wanted enhancements will boost the quality of education in those programs.

We are dazzled by the unsolicited generosity. We wish we could thank each of you individually, and also appreciate the mystery of having unknown supporters. Know that we love you and thank you!

Anytime you want to donate to SPP, we can put those funds to great use: please see our Get Involved page to contribute.

Liaisons are our Roots for Success

Text and photos (except where noted) by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

A Roots of Success graduate at CRCC shows his appreciation for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental education program that promotes awareness of environmental issues, problems and solutions, personally, locally, regionally, and globally. Roots of Success is offered by the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 10 of Washington State’s prisons. The program is championed by incarcerated instructors and students, and more than 1,200 people have graduated since the program began in 2013.

The unsung heroes of Roots of Success are the DOC staff members who serve as program sponsors, or “Roots Liaisons”. The program wouldn’t be possible if not for the incredible individuals that work with us within facilities. Even though I can’t highlight all of them, I want to recognize a few extraordinary people who make Roots of Success possible: Chris McGill at WSP, Gena Brock and CRCC, and Kelly Peterson at SCCC.

The Roots Liaisons are in charge of finding and scheduling the classroom, ensuring secure and functional multimedia equipment, responding to needs of instructors and students, and program reporting. This program would not be possible without the Liaisons’ determination and hard work.

Chris McGill is the Roots Liaison at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). He manages the amazing Sustainable Practices Lab, where Roots serves as a prerequisite for jobs in the lab’s shops. Chris first got involved with sustainable programming when he and small team of inmates decided to transform an empty space at the prison into a garden.

Gena Brock is Roots Liaison for Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC); in the photo above, she poses with the Roots of Success Instructors at the prison. As the Roots Liaison, she has provided steadfast program support and is always thinking of ways to improve the program at CRCC.

Kelly Peterson at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) is a relative newcomer to the Roots program. Kelly recently took on the role of sustainability liaison at SCCC, and is the point of contact for everything from beekeeping to gardening to the aquaponic “EVM” nursery. SCCC’s Roots program has been going strong since 2013, and we fully trust her to continue that success. She is dedicated, productive, and positive—pretty much everything you would want in a partner!

Teddy bears and rebuilt bicycles: From prison to the community

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

There are little bits of prison humor throughout the SPL; the signs for the bear and quilt production area read “Stuffed Animals Department” and “Bears From Behind Bars.”

Before visiting the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I was told it was an impressive set-up. Still, I was not prepared for how large and integrated it is. The SPL is basically a warehouse housing 18 programs, including a Teddy Bear program, aquaponics, SafeTap water filtration system (here’s an article on the guys at the SPL constructing water filters!), composting, wood-working, recycling, trout, gardens, quilt making, crochet/knitting, classroom, and the sign shop. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting too—the SPL is incredible to the point of overwhelming!

 

This is a view of the wood-working area within the SPL. In the background is some of the recycling (cloth and cardboard) as well as a little “plant hospital” at the back, where inmates care for “sad” plants brought in by staff members.

 

On the left side of the photograph is the aquaponics and trout area of the SPL. On the right is where inmates make quilts, teddy bears, and knitting and crochet crafts. There’s a room in the back of the photo that houses the wood-burning equipment, for sign etching.

I could not believe how resourceful the guys at the SPL are. Everything they work with is recycled or donated — even the teddy bears’ stuffing comes from recycled material retrieved from the prison’s waste stream.

 

These garden boxes are what started it all at WSP. Inmates rent a box for a small fee, and keep a garden with the plants of their choice. As the popularity of the garden boxes grew so did the sustainability programs available.

 

When an inmate joins the SPL their first task is to make a baby quilt. All materials for quilts have been donated by the local community. Once the quilts are completed, they are donated back to the community.

Of all of the stories I heard when I visited the SPL, I was most struck by one about an inmate rebuilding a bicycle. This particular bicycle came with a letter attached. The letter explained that the bike was owned by a little girl who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The parents kept the bicycle in their garage for almost 20 years before giving it to the prison to be refurbished. When SPL staff and technicians read the letter and saw the little girl’s bike, they knew of the perfect man to refurbish it: an SPL technician who had been incarcerated for hitting and killing a bicyclist while driving drunk. He was asked if he would be willing to refurbish this bike; he accepted knowing the task would be difficult and healing.

He refurbished the bike to look exactly like it did when the little girl rode it and returned the bike to her mother with a letter of his own. He detailed his healing process through refurbishing this bicycle; he was frequently moved to tears while working on the bicycle and even now, he can’t help but cry when he thinks about it. The mother of the little girl now takes the bicycle and the two letters with her to local schools and organizations where she talks about the dangers of driving drunk.

For me this story captures the heart and soul of the SPL, where every program is dedicated to reclaiming materials, creating value, and giving to the community. It’s a moving illustration of how ingenuity, creativity, and hard work can change lives!

Here’s a link to an earlier two-part blog on the WSP SPL: Part 1 and Part 2.

Climate Change Symposium in Prison: Incarcerated people creating solutions

Text by Erin Lynam, Workshop Series Coordinator
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On October 18th at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we held the first ever Climate Change Symposium in a prison. The five hour event brought together 91 environmental students, eight SPP-Evergreen staff members, five guest speakers, and five DOC staff members.

First up was Mike Burnham from Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) who gave a presentation about region-wide planning and action for climate change resilience. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

TRPC asked participants to break into small groups to play their board game, Resilience Road. Each group collectively selected and prioritized responses to a climate change challenge for a hypothetical community. This small group included SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The exchange of ideas and insights was a highlights of the symposium. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Students had the chance to show just how knowledgeable they are regarding environmental issues. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

But the game wasn’t all work, it was fun too! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

TRPC graciously donated a copy of Resilience Road to Stafford Creek Corrections Center so that students can continue to play and inform their work as environmental stewards. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During the symposium students were given an opportunity to mingle and engage with guest speakers and SPP staff about climate change. Here they talk to SPP’s former Turtle Program Coordinator Sadie Gilliam. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Next up was incarcerated environmentalist and longtime SPP participant, Toby Erhart. He shared what climate change means to him and what actions he’s taking to address it. He is an active member in the conservation nursery program, beekeeping, and the composting program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

After staff, guests, and students had a lively discussion over a shared lunch, members of Got Green gave a presentation. Johnny Mao, Johnny Fikru, and James Williams of Got Green presented on Got Green’s social and environmental justice work in low income and communities of color. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During Got Green’s presentation, James Williams stated that even though the students may be apart from their community, they were not forgotten and he considered them part of his community. This acknowledgement of oneness is an incredibly rare moment in the prison environment and was moving to witness. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To wrap up the symposium and reflect on everything they learned, SPP invited the students to share what they found most important and what steps to take next. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To have the opportunity to spend the day learning alongside individuals who are emphatically committed to keeping our planet healthy was inspiring. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from one of the Roots Master Trainers

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator and
Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Instructor

Because Youngblood is a Master Trainer for Roots of Success, he can certify new instructors. Youngblood certified Reyes (left) and Berube (center) for the program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in 2015 and 2017; Reyes and Berube have facilitated 7 classes of Roots students. Photo by DOC staff.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of our Master Trainers for Roots of Success in Washington State, Eugene Youngblood. He recently relocated from Coyote Ridge Corrections Center to Monroe Correctional Complex and spoke at a class graduation in the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL). I was struck by his words because, not only were they relevant to the people assembled, but to so many other people inside and outside prisons. He said “to give praise is to assign value and the people here need to know that they are worthy of value.” Too often in our world, people tend to believe they don’t have value. Perhaps Youngblood is on to something: Maybe by assigning value to those we’ve locked away, we can began to change the world.

 

A Roots of Success class graduation at CRCC in 2016; Youngblood is at the far right. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I want to convey more of Mr. Youngblood’s wisdom, and have a letter from him to share:

The great George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to him. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Sustainability in prison sounds like an oxymoron to most people, I am sure. Prisons going green and prisoners being at the forefront of this movement sounds unreasonable, if not outright unbelievable. Yet, here we are at the Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit, attempting to adapt the world to us, understanding that all progress depends on us… “The unreasonable”.

At our SPL (Sustainability Practice Lab) we are supervised and supported by Correctional Officer Jeffrey Swan, who has done an amazing job creating an atmosphere that is both professional and positive. In these positions, we are gaining valuable job skills and invaluable knowledge that will help us in our quest for successful reentry. I would be remiss if I did not say how much support we get for programs such as this from administration here. CPM Williams continues to be the unseen helping hand, extending to us the support we need to continue the work we are able to do, even when we don’t know how far she has gone to make this all possible. We have a thriving vermiculture program, along with wheelchair and bicycle restoration programs. The wheelchairs are refurbished and restored then donated to those in need across the world. Our last three shipments went to Ghana, Guatemala, and Thailand. The bicycles are refurbished and restored then gifted to local Boys & Girls clubs, YMCA, and to the local police department for their bike drive giveaway. On top of all this work, we are learning at the same time. We have just completed the second Roots of Success environmental literacy class for Monroe Correctional Complex.

The Roots of Success program has become a real agent of change for us in prison. If you want to help people change their actions, the first thing you have to do is help them change their thoughts. How do you help someone change his or her thoughts? You provide them with more information and then you give them the tools to turn that information into knowledge. Real change takes place from the inside out – what is under the ground produces what is above the ground. Thus, we have “Roots” of success and not “Fruits” of success. Environmental literacy helps us understand the impact we have on the environment. Roots of Success helps take that to the next level with prisoners; we are learning about ourselves and the impact we have, not just on our immediate environment (Prison) but the impact we have on our friends, families, our own communities, and ultimately our extended environment (Society). We are helping to make prison sustainable, helping to contribute to the sustainability of society, and all the while helping ourselves become better people in the process by taking what we know and turning that into what we do. In the true spirit of the quote by George Bernard Shaw, we are being “unreasonable” and thus producing progress in THE world and in OUR world as well.

Youngblood (far right) stands with another graduating class from CRCC, in 2014. Photo by SPP Staff.

Farm to Table Celebration at WCC

Text and photos by SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator Alexandra James

Harvest Pizzas line up.

The Farm-to-Table concept is making headway in Washington state prisons. In general, the concept promotes the use of local food in restaurants, schools, and community centers adjacent to regional farms. This growing season at Washington Corrections Center, SPP’s Conservation Nursery crew tended the vegetable plots adjacent to their violet beds; the crew sowed, grew, and harvested hundreds of pounds of food to support the local food banks, making farm-to-table possible for people with the greatest need.

SPP hosted a pizza party for the crew in celebration of their efforts. Pizza toppings and salad fixings were harvested from vegetables growing in the horticulture garden. The crew worked together to create colorful pizzas to share amongst the SPP nursery crew and DOC staff.

Colorful Pizza topped with edible flowers.

The vegetable garden served as an educational forum, where crew members learned about organic agriculture and the implications of food systems in the United States. Hard work and long hours were a common attribute needed to sustain the gardens. Along with the produce from the horticulture program, WCC produced over 24,414 lbs. under the leadership of Benri Deanon, Grounds Supervisor. The WCC staff and crew members did an incredible job working together to support their local community outside of the prison walls.

The celebration not only marked an important milestone for the gardening season; it was also a joyful transition for SPP staff in the Conservation Nursery. Joey Burgess, SPP coordinator for two years, is moving on to be a horticulture and literacy instructor at WCC. He will be working for Centralia College and will bring his dedication and expertise full time to incarcerated students.

Alexandra James will step in as the new SPP coordinator at WCC. Alex joins the SPP team with experience in environmental education and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and passion for nature with the WCC crew. She hopes to enhance her understanding of environmental education by engaging, empowering, and learning from our incarceration community.

Salad with kale, collard greens, lettuce, edible flowers, chives, and tomatoes.

Beekeepers are hard at work at Stafford Creek

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Class photo of beekeeping apprenticeship students with Ed Baldwin (far left) and Duane McBride (second from the left).

The bees may have turned in for winter, but beekeeping students at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) are still hard at work. Their first beekeeping apprenticeship course is almost done and we are impressed and thankful.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on the last class in the series at SCCC, taught by Duane McBride from the Olympia Beekeepers Association. The students came well prepped for class and full of thoughtful questions. Ed Baldwin, a Grounds Specialist at Stafford Creek, is taking the class as well. Ed hopes to continue to expand the beekeeping program—it has been in place since 2009, but is doing better than ever with the renewed attention and education.

Duane McBride answering questions about a test the students took in an earlier class.

Students that go through the beekeeping apprenticeship course graduate as certified beekeeping apprentices and can put those skills to further use upon release.

Since last spring’s Beekeeping Summit, we have seen beekeeping programs booming statewide – adding nine programs in only six months! We are thrilled by all of the support and enthusiasm surrounding the beekeeping programs. Beekeeping is really taking flight within Washington State prisons and we can’t bee-lieve how fast the program is growing. Keep up the hard work, Stafford Creek!

Students chuckle at a beekeeping pun during the class…we were buzzing with bee puns.  

A student looks up something for reference as Duane McBride talks about hive care.

Students listen as Duane explains hive care techniques.

As class wraps up, students talk and laugh a little before returning back to their normal activities.

This is where the bees are housed at Stafford Creek. The inmates constructed the shelter, painted it, and made the beehives that now homes for two healthy hives.