Category Archives: Environmental Justice

Inmates Assemble Life-Saving Clean Drinking Water Systems

By Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications
Originally published to Washington State Department of Corrections Newsroom

WALLA WALLA – More than 3.4 million people die each year from diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.

A group of inmates is doing their part to help change that.

Inmate crews at the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) transform discarded and donated materials into usable items such as refurbished bicycles and furniture. The lab’s latest venture is a new type of water filtration system that will be sent to developing countries plagued with waterborne illnesses.

Inmates form an assembly line around a table surrounded by materials needed to build SafeTap water systems.

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab assemble SafeTap water systems. The systems will be used to provide clean water to people living in developing countries. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Penitentiary Sustainable Practices Lab)

The SafeTap water filtration system is the brainchild of Andy Pierce, a former plumbing contractor who founded the California-based non-profit, Project 41. A volunteer humanitarian trip to Haiti following a deadly earthquake in 2010 inspired Pierce to start the organization. He’s taken subsequent trips to developing countries worldwide that often have hospitals and health clinics where water supplies are contaminated with harmful bacteria.

His humanitarian work involved installing large-scale water systems. While he was doing this, he came up with the idea of creating a small, portable water filter made from pipes, fittings and valves. The filters are stuffed with hundreds of tiny straws made of a hollow-fiber membrane that blocks bacteria. The SafeTap devices can be connected to existing water filtration systems to produce clean water. His invention can filter up to three gallons of water per minute.

“The Sustainable Practices Lab was just a huge answer to prayer,” Pierce said. “I was impressed with how well these guys have taken up the cause and keep pushing forward toward excellence and refining the (assembly) process. I’m really blown away.”

Impact of Partnership

The partnership between Pierce and the penitentiary resulted from a chance meeting at a national conference last year on environmental sustainability. The conference, held in Albany, Ore., had dozens of vendors from around the country. Pierce was one of the exhibitors.

Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Christopher McGill and Robert Branscum, two correctional specialists who oversee the penitentiary’s Sustainability Practices Lab, stopped at Pierce’s booth and learned about the SafeTap system.

At the time, Pierce was running his plumbing business by day and building SafeTap units at his home by night, but production time was slow, McGill said. “That’s when I told him about the Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab.”

For the past few months, a crew of nine inmates has been assembling SafeTap water filtration systems.

Project 41 funds the materials with donations from a private foundation, Pierce said.

Pierce ships the materials to the penitentiary. Inmates assemble the filtration systems. Once assembled, the systems are shipped to countries in need of clean water.

Inmates have assembled more than 150 SafeTap units. Thirty-five of the units have been sent to various countries, including eight to Puerto Rico to assist with Hurricane Maria relief efforts. A total of 115 units are heading to the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands and more are headed to the East African Republic of Uganda and Ghana.

Sustainable Practices Lab’s Kieth Parkins has transformed his life sentence into a life of service. He expresses his empathy for families needing clean water by building water purification systems that will meet their needs. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

While the SafeTap systems are saving lives overseas, the partnership is transforming lives at the penitentiary.

Kieth Parkins, 49, is serving a life sentence for multiple robbery convictions. He knows his actions in prison won’t have any impact on the length of his sentence, but the project has helped him find something meaningful behind bars.

“As a prisoner, I have always felt like I was a drain on society,” Parkins said. “But now, through the Sustainable Practices Lab and the water department, I am able to be a part of something that is literally saving lives throughout the world. In the process, it’s saving my life as well.”

Editor’s note: The SafeTap water filtration system was also a finalist in the 2017 Chasing Genius contest, sponsored by National Geographic. Entrants competed against other groundbreaking humanitarian projects for a cash prize. Watch the video entry with inmate interviews.

Finding Elysium

Words and Color-Pencil Illustrations by Michael Gorski, Conservation Technician, Stafford Creek Corrections Center
Editor’s note: Seems like Mr. Gorski gives SPP too much credit, but his beautiful work needs to be shared!

I was introduced to my artistic life in 1959. I lived in a dysfunctional family that was without love. However, I was blessed to be in a small country-town of about 500 people in the woods of Central Washington. Mt. Adams was the view from the front yard. A beautiful mountain creek flowed serenely through our town. Our town was five blocks by seven blocks in diameter, so, within minutes, I could escape the prison of my childhood and wander into the realm of the country-stream that became my Elysium.

It was in the summer of 1959 that my grandfather came to stay with us for a summer visit. He came to the United States from Russia in 1912 where he had been an artist, musician, and woodcarver. He noticed that every morning I would wander off (sneak out) of the house long before the madness began. He asked one day if he could join me in my country, Elysium. That summer, my grandfather taught me how to draw nature using colored chalk, charcoal, and colored pencils. But this was not just an education on art. This was a lesson in recognizing the inherent quality and basic constitution of all things – all things that flowed the waters, flew in the air, and grew in the ground. He taught me that Mother Nature’s garden is God’s gift; and this countenance is what will protect me.

Once my father and older siblings found out what I was doing and saw my art work, they laughed at me and teased me mercilessly. I continued on through life for the next 51 years keeping my artwork and love for the outdoors private and personal. I was so self-conscious that I went on secret camping trips that I hid from my family. I even hid my love for flowers and gardening by acting as if the work was for my wife and daughters. I felt that I had to hide what brought me peace.

Then, serendipitously, a guest lecturer [Jeanne Dodds] from the Sustainability in Prisons Project held a workshop to teach how to draw butterflies, birds, and other nature imagery with colored pencils. I was at once transported to my childhood Elysium. Working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project erased the need to keep my artwork and devotion to nature a secret. Not only was I taught how to coax seeds to germinate, but my sense of self germinated in the process. Working to ensure the health and survival of plants became the focus of my life. Through tending vegetable and flower gardens, caring for honeybees, learning about greenhouses and aquaponics, and cultivating wild prairie seeds, it became okay to share my love for these things. It became okay to share my artwork for the first time in my life. I am now drawing pictures of birds for my daughters and my grandchildren. We as a family are now discussing nature – mountains, woods, rivers, camping, hiking, and gardening. An old man has the tools he needs to succeed in life and share all he is with those he loves.

I can now say that I am proud of my artwork. My hope is that anyone who looks upon one of my drawings can feel the sense of peace inside myself and the birds that I draw. Thank you for teaching an old man about life. Carpe diem!

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.

Nature Imagery in Prisons Project

By Nalini Nadkarni, SPP Co-Founder, John Wasiutynski, Director of the Office of Sustainability for Multnomah County, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The human race has been intimately connected with and dependent upon nature throughout its history. Our species gains numerous physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health benefits through contact with the natural world; this has been strongly demonstrated by research in a variety of settings (see library curated by the Children’s Nature Network, and another compiled by a member of the faculty at University of Washington’s College of the Environment).

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni querying inmate on which of a variety of nature images are most appealing prior to showing videos in solitary confinement cellblocks, Washington Corrections Center, Shelton, Washington. Photo by Benj Drummond.

For some people, contact with nature and the outdoors is difficult or impossible. People incarcerated in “segregation”, maximum security areas, do not have access to the “yard” or any outdoor areas inside or outside prison fences. In these cases, vicarious nature video experiences may be the only possible contact with nonhuman nature. Nature videos cannot provide full relief from of the many emotional, cognitive, and physical stresses associated with segregation, but they can reduce stress, aggression, and other negative emotions. Plus, providing nature imagery to inmates imposes little additional burden on corrections staff.

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office improved Inverness Jail’s Treatment Readiness Dorm with nature imagery. It’s a small change that creates a noticeable shift in the character of the room. Inmates’ response to this pilot was unanimously positive; following this success, staff have added nature imagery to nearly all the dorms in the two jails. Photo by Alene Davis.

Championed and supported by an inspired team, Nature Imagery in Prisons Project (NIPP) is gaining traction as a new standard for segregated housing and other areas of prisons. The NIPP team first conducted a study at Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon, which resulted in definitive findings. Interviews of staff members revealed that although many were initially skeptical about offering nature imagery to inmates, by the end of the year-long study the majority of staff recognized the offering as potentially valuable. Staff respondents agreed that the inmates became calmer after viewing the videos, and that these effects lasted for hours, with less violent behaviors and fewer angry outbursts by inmates.

Incarcerated individuals in the program reported feeling significantly calmer, less irritable, and more empathetic. Analyses of prison records revealed that those inmates who watched nature videos committed 26% fewer violent infractions compared to those without videos. More detailed program results are available in the January 2017 issue of Corrections Today and a research brief from Oregon Youth Authority.

Nature Imagery in Prisons Project has gained high-level media attention from Time magazine, MSNBC, and the Oregonian, and will be the cover story for Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment in September. As of August, 2017, there are active and in-development programs in Alaska, Nebraska, Florida, Oregon, Wisconsin, Utah, and Washington State. Oregon (Multnomah County and state corrections) and Washington State have extended the concept beyond segregation, offering nature imagery in computer labs, staff areas, day rooms, and mental health/therapeutic-focused living units.

Results from the Snake River program and staff and inmate testimonials suggest that exposure to nature imagery can be helpful. It is a low-cost, low impact intervention that is helpful in reducing disciplinary referrals, violent behavior, physiological states, and connections and reconnections to nature. More research is needed to understand specific elements of the program, and inform application nationwide.

Acknowledgments: The research team for this project includes Tierney Thys, Patricia Hasbach, Emily Gaines, and Lance Schnacker. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the University of Utah, and an anonymous donor.

This Nature Imagery room at Washington Corrections Center is accessible to 150 men with severe cognitive challenges, and can be a place for self-calming.  One of the residents said, “My mind is eased. I like to be there all the time.” SPP’s Evergreen and WA Corrections staff discuss modifications that will improve the program space. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

Roots of Success Gains Momentum at Airway Heights

Note: Roots of Success is an environmental program led by incarcerated instructors in 10 of 12 prisons in the state, and in many other corrections institutions statewide. In Washington, more than 1000 incarcerated students have graduated from the 50 hour course since 2013. More about the program here.

By Roots of Success Instructors at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Originally published by WA Corrections, Tuesday, July 11, 2017; re-printed here with permission

Roots of Success graduation photo from Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Roots of Success was created by Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, a Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the San Francisco State University, as the signature curriculum of the Environmental Literacy Curriculum Project (ELCP).

Originally, this curriculum was designed to increase environmental literacy, academic literacy, and job readiness skills. ​However, at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) this curriculum has taught inmates a fourth and much needed skill, “caring.”

In an inmate’s day-to-day journey through the Washington correctional system, and especially at AHCC, an inmate can often become disconnected from society. This has historically made the process of returning to their communities difficult. Dr. Pinderhughes’ program seeks to lessen that burden by closing inmate’s educational gap, and inspiring them to “consider the environment in their work and daily lives, develop leadership, and move people toward a place of action in order to support green pathways out of poverty, equitable green development, environmental and social justice, and community participation in decision making.” (Roots of Success, Instructor’s Manual, 2015)

After taking the course, many inmate have exhibited a profound change in their attitudes and social interactions with other inmates. In fact, AHCC administration has included this program in their “good time” restoration pathway as a means for inmates to earn back lost good time resulting from various rule violations. At the date of this article, several of the AHCC Roots of Success facilitators are successful graduates of the good time restoration pathway program. This is one of the many examples of this program’s positive impact on inmates residing at AHCC.

To find how Roots of Success has led to graduates caring more for their communities, one need to look no further than the City of Spokane, Washington, where they will find blankets made out of reclaimed used clothing (made by graduate volunteers), and fresh vegetables (grown by graduates). These resources are generated at AHCC by volunteer inmates, at no cost to tax payers, and donated to Spokane charities to help combat the cold and hunger felt by local children, individuals, and families in the Spokane area.

Already AHCC has had more than a hundred graduates of the Roots of Success program, and from those graduates, AHCC has been able to reach out into the Spokane community to begin a long needed healing process, which ever graduate now knows begins with them. What will the State of Washington and its citizens gain from this program? Mothers/daughters, and father/sons returning back to the state’s communities with an obtainable goal of helping build sustainable lifestyles. Why is this so important?​ We only have one state, and only a limited amount of resources – what better place to begin demonstrating how much we care?

Roots of Success covers 10 modules, each focused on a topic. The curriculum is solutions-based, designed to meet the needs of students not well served by mainstream education, and builds both workplace and community-based skills.

Prairie technicians visit the prairie

Text by Jeanne Dodds, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Ricky Osborne

In May, Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) created a first-time educational experience for the prairie conservation nursery team at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). While Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff have had other chances to visit prairie sites, it was the first time that inmate technicians were able see for themselves the rare landscape they help restore. The WCCW team toured two partner sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management’s Violet Prairie Seed Farm, and restored prairie at Wolf Haven International. Each of these sites receives plants produced at WCCW.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, Prairie Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan found out that mature Balsamorhiza deltoidea flowers smell like chocolate! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We toured the Wolf Haven restoration site with plant conservation specialists. We observed recovering populations of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), one of the endangered plants cultivated by the technicians at WCCW, and a species critical to Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly recovery. At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, the farm manager and work crew members presented some of the techniques and skills necessary to produce native seed on a large scale.

These site visits provided context and information to enhance the work of the technicians in the Conservation Nursery, and also adds education, training, and connections for their futures.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie, Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie uses a hand lens to examine a Lomatium species at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott with rows of Balsamorhiza deltoidea, one of the primary plant species grown at WCCW. Photo by Carl Elliott.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. The site visits were the technicians’ first opportunity to see the species they grow as mature plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Now at Wolf Haven International, Conservation Nursery Technician Ambrosia Riche looks closely at Armeira maritima in full bloom in the wild. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A native sweat bee on Armeria species; as a part of the Conservation Nursery educational program, technicians learn about the importance of native pollinators in prairie ecosystems. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another species grown extensively at WCCW, Castilleja hispida blooms vibrantly in the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster, Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie, Ambrosia Riche, Samantha Morgan, and Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott discuss Mima mound prairie topography. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan, Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds, and Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster identify native prairie plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Corrections Officer Kyra Cammarata and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ambrosia Riche and Ashley McElhenie sample edible Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Thanks in part to SPP’s conservation programs, Castilleja levisecta has returned to the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie identify prairie plant species with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A visit from a beautiful wolf, named Myta Jr., during our tour of Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The path to the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie and WCCW Conservation Nursery Liaison Scott Skaggs with the massive branches of the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Building the pool of environmental instructors for the women’s prisons

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On April 28th, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes trained and certified 22 women at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as Roots of Success Instructors. The training was a great success, and we are pleased to have reinforced the pool of women who can teach the curriculum—that’s the only way to meet the demand! We hear from both WA Corrections staff and Roots of Success graduates that this program is highly regarded: it creates respectful relationships within the prison community, and it’s an effective tool for building skills for life and work. Those testimonials line up with results from program surveys that show increased knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Congratulations to the instructors and a special thanks to Raquel and Chad Flores from Roots of Success, Vicki York and Paula Andrew from WCCW, Dagoberto Cabrera from MCCCW, and all DOC staff who helped make this training possible! We can’t wait to see what the newly certified instructors accomplish! Please enjoy our  photo gallery of the training.

Roots instructors are asked to think about difficult questions and find solutions together. They received guidance on how to instruct when the content is difficult and complex issues, and how to encourage full engagement and critical thinking from every student and themselves. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were encouraged to ask lots of questions. Dr. Pinderhughes found this group to be impressively engaged and thoughtful. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

One instructor candidate shares her thoughts and experiences as Raquel Pinderhughes listens. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were selected by WCCW and MCCCW staff members. They were picked because of their dedication to environmental issues and their desire to learn and do more. Congrats to the new instructors for their hard work and dedication! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Vicki York, a WCCW staff superstar, originally attended the class just to observe. However, she found herself so engaged that she herself earned a instructor certificate too! Go Vicki! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Raquel Pinderhughes came from San Francisco to train the new WCCW and MCCCW instructors. Her tireless effort and enthusiasm is an inspiration. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We are so lucky to have an engaged and thoughtful group of new Roots instructors. Both Roots of Success and SPP can’t wait to hear about the ideas and discussions that come from the classes these women will teach. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Three

Part Three: Session at the Women’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here, and Part Two is here.
Photos and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The WCCW visit room and sometimes-classroom is captured in the mirror at the front.

In January, we presented lecture survey results to students at the men’s prison, and gathered their feedback and ideas (that story here). We needed to repeat the process at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), but had to wait until there was an opening in the lecture series schedule. That time came in March.

As a part of the presentation, Liliana also gave an overview of SPP programs statewide and at WCCW.

The program classroom at WCCW can have a very different feel than the one at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lectures are held in the visit room. The layout is not ideal, and the buzz of vending machines can be a distraction. That day, we learned from the students that program demand is met just fine by the seats and sessions available—they aren’t clamoring for more, like we hear from the male students. While Stafford Creek has nearly 2,000 residents, WCCW has less than 800, and WCCW residents can choose from a relative abundance of programming. These factors likely contribute to a somewhat more casual classroom atmosphere than at the men’s prison.

Again, Liliana Caughman presented her report from the lecture series surveys, and again the students nodded with agreement at the results. However, this group was more quick to talk about a negative result: the small number of students (5%) who respond negatively to the lectures. A student self-identified as one of these, and I was glad to hear more from her when we broke into small groups: her critique was more acute than others’, but the particulars were similar to widely-expressed comments.

More engaging!

In my small group, we passed a talking piece to make sure everyone had chances to talk, and I think it made for a high quality discussion. A few students shielded themselves from potential germs by only handling the talking piece with the help of a napkin.

Liliana, Elijah Moloney, and I each sat with a third of the group to further discuss the program and program surveys. From nearly everyone in my group, I heard that they want more interactive and varied sessions. Several students said they struggle to sit still and pay attention through a 90 minute presentation. I heard that a short presentation is fine, and especially if it includes a way to take notes (we would need to provide the paper and pencils), humor, specimens, live animals, or video. They asked us to make time for writing, worksheets, quizzes on the content, games, and individual or small group exercises. Overall, they want content that’s more “sticky.” All this lead to the most potent suggestion: they aren’t very interested in lectures, so why not call the program something else?

Good point! I recall Sarah Weber’s research 2012 study that “… the lecture-style presentations appeared more effective for for male students, whereas workshop-style presentations appeared more effective for female students in improving inmate knowledge and attitudes on environmental topics.”  More recent results from the men’s prison, including what we heard during the January session, point to a wide-spread preference for interactive, more engaging sessions. Lectures may be more effective at conveying information, at least for some groups, but workshops have a wide-spread, strongly positive effect on environmental attitudes.

Topics & Surveys

The students asked for sessions on sociology, psychology, communications, physiology, mental plasticity, and evolution. These are some of my favorite topics too.

Like the male students, they asked for more knowledge questions. A few suggested more variety in the questions about attitude, so that respondents are less likely to answer automatically.

What next?

I find it super satisfying to have extensive qualitative and quantitative results on the program; it makes it easy to decide what next! Here is what we will do:

  • Rename the program. Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has served us well for years, but it’s time for an upgrade. Program partners have agreed on Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.

  • Update guidelines for guest presenters, with pointers on how to create inspiring, challenging, “sticky,” content.
  • Recruit guests with expertise on social, political, physiological, and evolutionary aspects of the environmental field.
  • Increase the number of knowledge questions on the surveys.
  • Use a larger set of attitude questions, varying which are included each time; some questions will ask about identity and plans for action.

We have already started work on each of these actions. Liliana has started using the new name with guest presenters, and was pleased to see that the word “workshop” had the desired effect on their planning and facilitation.

I still recognize that seven years’ data from the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series showed us that the program has been enormously successful and well received. Now we are ready to make it even better!

A day for pollinators in prisons

Text by Dr. Jody Becker Green, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Corrections, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Between sessions, Bee Summit participants posed for a group photo.

Superintendent Dona Zavislan welcomed the summit guests to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On Friday March 3, SPP partners filled the gymnasium at Washington Corrections Center for Women for a summit on beekeeping programs in prisons. About 125 expert, apprentice, and novice beekeepers spent the day sharing best practices for rebuilding pollinator populations. We also shared the delights of working with honeybees and other pollinatorsthese social insects and plant-pollinator relationships served as lovely metaphors for productivity and mutual support.

During the summit, eight beekeeping students received their apprentice-level certification. The host prison offers beekeeping education within the Horticulture program taught by Ed Tharp (pictured with microphone), and as a complementary program instructed by Carrie Little, the founder of Mother Earth Farm. The apprentice beekeeper shown is Candace Ralston.

The agenda was packed, and covered everything from equipment safety to food justice to native pollinator habitat needs. Other highlights are described in photos throughout this article.

Lonniesha Veasey, an incarcerated beekeeper and Horticulture Teaching Assistant, shares her thoughts and questions during the summit.

The day ended with spring rain pounding on the gymnasium roof, and generous outpourings from incarcerated beekeepers, expert beekeepers, and leadership from the Washington State’s Department of Corrections (WA Corrections). Anticipating release in just a few days, an incarcerated woman reflected on her years in prison: she said that horticulture programs had become her reason to get up in the morning, and meant that she now has plans for her future. SPP’s co-director Steve Sinclair praised the event, and said, “We invited magical people here, so let’s go make magic!” A Massachusetts beekeeper, Susan Goldwitz, told the group that we are like bees, turning dust into sweet, liquid gold.

Staff came from all 12 WA Corrections’ prisons, and were joined by experienced beekeepers from across the state, incarcerated beekeepers, SPP-Evergreen staff and students, biologists, and other community partners and topic experts.

The current head of WA Corrections, Jody Becker-Green, gave final remarks. She thanked everyone in the room for the part they played in the summit, and in developing and offering pollinator programs in prisons. She described her own love of beekeeping, and the feeling in the room while she spoke was transcendent. An excerpt is offered here.

I am probably the last person you want up here doing closing remarks for this summit because I could talk about bees and beekeeping for hours!

I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, for the travel and schedule coordination it took to give a day to this event. Your generosity of time and spirit is remarkable. The only way programs like these are possible is through the many contributions each of you is willing to make. The fact that you keep showing up with your ideas, optimism, and creativity is an incredible gift to the prison community, and to the communities beyond the fence as well.

Acting Secretary Dr. Jody Becker-Green shared love for honeybees—their many impressive and amazing attributes—and brought a beautiful closing to the day’s events.

As we have learned today, bees are quite simply amazing creatures, whether they are the little solitary bees, living their relatively simple lives, or honeybees, thriving in incredibly complex, interwoven and democratic societal structures.

Next to humans, honeybees are perhaps the most widely studied creatures in nature. Throughout the years, research has demonstrated that a honeybee colony is instinctively able to organize itself into a super-efficient society. Honeybee colonies provide profound lessons in democracy, communication, teamwork, and decision-making that we may all be wise to learn from. I know that I have learned a lot from watching and studying the bees that make their home on my property and try to apply those lessons to leading a complex agency.

One of my favorite books, Honeybee Democracy, written by Thomas D. Seeley, describes how honeybee colonies make decisions both collectively and democratically. Seeley says that every year, faced with the life or death problems of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. The level of sophistication, communication, trust and connection that occurs within a hive is almost hard to comprehend.

Fruit trays spelled out SPP appreciation and, so fittingly, displayed fruits that rely on pollinators for reproduction. The summit was well supported by WCCWs event crew and staff members who provided a delicious and gorgeous spread of snacks, and decorated the gymnasium with flowers and banners.

My love for bees began about eight years ago after making a visit to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). At the time, I was working for the Department of Social and Health Services and was interested in learning more about the sustainability efforts underway within the Department of Corrections. After spending a great deal of time with the beekeepers at CCCC, I was hooked. It was only a matter of months before I become a beekeeper and achieved my certification.

Throughout the years, bees have become highly symbolic for me. I have found a much deeper meaning in the art of beekeeping beyond the ecological value they have in sustaining our ecosystems. Let me share just a few examples of this meaning with you.

Bees enter the world with distinct roles and commitment to the greater good. The spirit of the bee has a strong work ethic as they literally will work themselves to death, however, they also know the importance of stopping to smell and enjoy the flowers they are able to find the delicate balance between the two. With competing demands and priorities balance between work and life, balance is not always easy to attain and maintain. I constantly remind myself and others of the importance of balance for overall personal and professional health and well-being in order to be the best version of self in all that we do.

Bees play a very specific role in nature pollinating other plants. This is necessary to the on-going life cycle of many crops. An end result of pollination is the provision of honey and wax that is enjoyed by many, thus adding to their value. Einstein believed so deeply in the importance of bees to the ecosystem that he predicted if bees disappeared humans would not survive more than four years afterward.

The pollination process also symbolizes our social nature of interdependency and mutual benefit. Bees live and work as a community. As they go from flower to flower, that progression enriches the world.

SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair acknowledges the composting crew at Washington State Reformatory as an example of the creativity and excellence achievable in a program.

Bees work with a spirit of cooperation, working cohesively for the good of their community. They show us the importance of both teamwork and communication in their day-to-day lives.

Bees are also strong protectors and defenders of that which is important to them. They are willing to give their life in defense of whatever mission prevails. As humans, we are anchored in core values and beliefs and will also defend that which we hold to be true in our words, actions and deeds.

Finally, while bees struggle with daunting environmental challenges, they show us about perseverance and resiliency. They support each other to overcome adversities, and it is that bravery, trust, and effort, that makes usand much of the life on earthable to depend on them.

 

Most of the funding for the event came from a generous donation from the Seattle Foundation to partners at The Evergreen State College. The Seattle Foundation has supported SPP annually for multiple years, and their support has made a real difference in what programs are able to achieve.

Thank you to Mann Lake, Betterbee, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, beekeeping suppliers who donated gifts for summit attendees.

Numerous partners helped make the event a success. From left to right: Evergreen graduate students covered presentation IT and note taking; WCCW’s event crew (red t-shirts) were our logistical hosts, ran the sound system, and made the space beautiful and functional; Felice Davis and Joslyn Rose Trivett MC’ed and coordinated the program, and Jeremy Barclay worked with KOMO 4 to produce a video about the summit.

More coverage of the summit and beekeeping in prisons programs:

Three expert and influential beekeepers share a moment at the conference. Beekeeping associations have given essential support to prison programs, and tell us that incarcerated beekeepers are invaluable to pollinator recovery in the state. From left to right: Gary Clueit, President of Washington State Beekeepers Assocation (WASBA); Laurie Pyne, Master Beekeeper and President of Olympia Beekeepers Association; and Ellen Miller, Vice President of WASBA.

Inspiring Students

By SPP Director for Evergreen, Dr. Carri LeRoy

During an MES fieldtrip to the Elwha River, Carri (purple raincoat), talked with MES students and adjunct faculty Sarah Hamman (blue raincoat, also an SPP partner!). Photo by Shauna Bittle.

While reading a draft of the newsletter this quarter, I was overwhelmed by memories of SPP students past, inspired by SPP students present, and could barely contain my excitement about meeting the SPP students of the future! One of the great benefits of being the Co-Director on the Evergreen side of the SPP partnership (SPP is a partnership between The Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections) is interacting with our phenomenal undergraduate and graduate students.

During the first national meeting of SPP programs in 2012, Evan Hayduk and Carri LeRoy talk during a tour of Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

I was able to cultivate particularly strong relationships with SPP graduate students while I spent three years as a faculty member in Evergreen’s Graduate Program on the Environment (MES) and had the distinct pleasure of mentoring sixteen thesis students. Of these students, half of them also worked as SPP Graduate Research Assistants, and four of them did their thesis projects on SPP. It was through many months of collaborative learning about their thesis research that I really got to know these students and their strengths and passions. They are inspiring individuals! Many of them enrolled in the MES program and moved across the country with the hope of being able to work for SPP. The MES program’s interdisciplinary curriculum and opportunities to do thesis projects that blend natural and social sciences make it an ideal partner for SPP. We like to think of SPP as a fantastic example of the three pillars of sustainability in action (environmental stewardship, economic cost saving, and social justice), so it is easy to choose aspects of the program to study from many angles. We are grateful for the dedication, enthusiasm, and time SPP Graduate Research Assistants put into their work for SPP. Their work is clearly appreciated by SPP staff, WA Corrections  employees, incarcerated students, their peers, and outside agencies (as evidenced by the articles written in this issue of our newsletter). Our students have gone on to pursue PhDs and do excellent work after graduation for federal, state, and non-profit agencies. Evergreen students are truly a force to be reckoned with, and our SPP graduates are an elite group! I thank all of you (past, present, and future) for your contributions to SPP!