Category Archives: Health

Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons

By Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

A WSP Beekeeper gets geared up and ready to check on the hives. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You might think that beekeeping in prisons is a nice idea, but not a big idea: maybe it’s a small, fanciful project that would crop up here or there. Not the case!

In Washington State prisons alone, we already have seven beekeeping programs up and running, and at least three more are in the works. Beekeeping is also in the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and many corrections facilities nationwide, including Georgia, Maryland, IllinoisOregon, Florida, Nebraska, and LA County. Beekeeping programs can also be found in foreign prisons like England, New Zealand, Italy, and France. We’ve  been contacted by prisons interested in beekeeping in Massachusetts, Albania, and Canada!

Three Maryland facilities host honeybee programs to provide training for inmates and boost the local population of pollinators. These hives are at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Photo by Anthony DePanise of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Outside of prison, reentry programs, like Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, offer meaningful work experience. The founding executive  director of Sweet Beginnings, Brenda Palms Barber, found that “Fewer than 4% of Sweet Beginnings participants go back into the criminal justice system, compared with the national average of more than 65% and the Illinois average of 55%.” How amazing is that?

Adding to the honeybee focus are countless prison gardens that are accessible to many types of pollinators: beds of flowers and herbs, small-scale vegetable production, and full-scale farms. Corrections facilities typically don’t use any chemical pesticides, so don’t contain the systemic poisons that threaten foraging pollinators; prison plantings are helping to rebuild pollinator habitat by offering a safe food supply. Some prisons add habitat structures for native pollinators, such as mason bee boxes at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (see photo) and a literal-log delivered to the retention pond at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

These programs tap into the many therapeutic benefits of working with nature, which has been widely documented in scientific research. Working with honeybees is particularly soothing; it’s impossible to get good results with bees without calming down. Both inmates and staff sorely need relief from prison stresses, and nature programs can be a place of refuge and recharge.

Also these programs provide a way for inmates to “give back ” to communities and the environment.  In recent decades, pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy: we depend on pollinators for more than 30% of human food and drink. Generally, nearly all plants with flowers need pollinators; 85% depend on insects for their reproduction! We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. In 2015, pollinator health was declared a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is has societal recognition and value. This is no fanciful endeavor—we need bees to thrive so that we can thrive.

A professional beekeeper devoted her summer vacation to teaching about bees in a prison; how cool is that. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In Washington, we are ramping up to a full-day Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons, to be hosted by Washington Corrections Center for Woman on March 3rd. More than 100 people are registered, and they will come from all 12 Washington prisons, the Evergreen State College, various non-profits and community groups, and multiple beekeeping associations, including the statewide association that oversees beekeeping certification. A major bonus of holding the summit inside a prison is that incarcerated beekeepers will be able to participate. All partners will share best practices, future prison beekeeping plans, safety ideas, community outreach plans, and pollinator health knowledge. We can’t wait to hear what great ideas and thoughts come from our many, fantastic partners!

Each program depends on partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and expert beekeepers. They are united in learning about and tending to something beautiful, complex, and a little bit scary…until it becomes second nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the most of a waste water lagoon

By Anna Crickmer, PE, Project Manager, Capital Programs, Department of Corrections

Photos by Clallam Bay Corrections Center staff

The head operator of the waste water treatment facility at Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

The head operator of the waste water treatment facility at Clallam Bay Corrections Center smiles in front of the waste water “polishing” pond.

Sewage treatment at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) is the epitome of sustainable operations. They have an aerated lagoon (very low tech) with a polishing pond of duckweed (also very low tech), but staff are so dedicated to the operation that they get contamination reduction results exceeding some very high tech operations.

The main way to measure sewage treatment performance is the reduction of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS). Aerated lagoons generally reduce BOD by 75-80% and TSS by 70-80%. High tech, activated Sludge plants, the gold standard of sewage treatment, usually get 85-97% reduction in BOD and 87-93% in TSS.

The plant at CBCC gets 96% reduction of BOD, and 99% reduction of TSS—even better than the gold standard! 

One reason that they get these remarkable results is that they aerate the heck out of the lagoon. The original aerators are still in operation, thanks to meticulous maintenance, and more aerators have been added. In the summer months, water stays in the lagoon for 25 1/2 days before moving to a second pond, the “polishing” pond.

The prison's waste water starts its treatment in a lagoon full of aerators.

The prison’s waste water starts its treatment in a lagoon full of aerators.

The polishing pond is covered in duckweed. The duckweed takes up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus (pollutants if discharged), and shades the water so that no algae can grow. The duckweed is grown in “corrals” so that it doesn’t blow to one side of the pond. The sides of the corrals tip over so that the operators can travel across them in a small pontoon boat when they maintain the pond. Water stays in the polishing pond 24 1/2 days, and then is ready for discharge into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The second treatment pond, the "polishing" pond, is covered in duckweed; the grid of corrals is to keep the duckweed coverage complete (without those barriers, the floating plants would migrate with the wind).

The second treatment pond, the “polishing” pond, is covered in duckweed; the grid of corrals is to keep the duckweed coverage complete (without those barriers, the floating plants would migrate with the wind).

The staff operators of the plant are exceptionally competent, and likable characters besides. Both used to be loggers, and say that their environmental conscience has been raised considerably because of their work at DOC. One of them told me, “Why, I even want to save whales now!”

 

Bountiful gardens at Washington Corrections Center for Women

By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

Program director Ed Tharp in the garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women.Gig Harbor, Wash.—Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the horticulture program at Washington Corrections Center for Women provides an opportunity for offenders to enroll as Tacoma Community College students in order to learn job skills and gain important experience in nursery operations and floral design. So far this year, the gardens have produced 9,365 pounds of vegetables that were harvested and then prepared and served in the offender kitchen—and it’s still growing.

“This is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had,” said program director Ed Tharp. “One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the ladies succeed when they get out.”

The facility’s horticulture department employs 10 students as teacher assistants who are responsible for the planting and harvesting of the gardens. Currently 51 students are enrolled in horticulture and 14 are enrolled in organic farming. Horticulture students learn about sustainable gardening, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, commercial greenhouses, floral design, floral shop operation and integrated pest management, just to name a few.  Organic farming students have the opportunity to work on an outside crew at Mother Earth Farm, an organic farm in Puyallup.

Canyon Little, Mother Earth Farm manager, said her farm has been able to produce about 148,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables on nearly eight acres of land in the Puyallup Valley. She told Tharp she was “impressed with how hard each of the offenders worked on every visit, and how they were eager to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through their education.”

The garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women“Because each offender demonstrated a high capacity of responsibility for day-to-day farm activities, I decided to assign special projects for each lady,” Little said. “The project idea was a way for the offenders to take ownership of the farm, learn something new and educate each other on their respective projects. Being a part of the learning process was an enriching experience as a manager, and I look forward to working with Washington Corrections Center for Women to explore new boundaries, build knowledge and experiences and work together to fight hunger.”

Mother Earth Farm works with the Emergency Food Network by supplying fresh produce to 74 local food banks, hot-meal sites and shelters in Pierce County. Other produce was sent to the Cannery Project in Kent, which converted the donations into more than 1000,000 cans of fruits and vegetables.

Washington Corrections Center for Women is excited to see what next year will hold. Next year’s garden is already planned and the seeds are ordered.

Lectures Captivate Offenders at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Sarah Clarke

In September 2009 we kicked off a science and sustainability lecture series at the WCCW in Gig Harbor, WA. Included as part of a yearly Women’s Health Conference titled “The Mind, the Spirit, the Environment Maintained, Equals a Healthy Body Sustained,” our lectures there on Trees and Human Health as well as Toxics and the Environment started what has become a popular series for offenders at the WCCW.  Now, 10 months into this series, we recently noted the diversity of presentations we’ve been able to offer at WCCW.

Sarah Clarke, Research Associate, speaks to offenders at WCCW at the conference held in September 2009

Sarah Clarke, Research Associate, speaks to offenders at WCCW at the conference held in September 2009

Each facility in the Washington Department of Corrections is a little different, and we adjust lecture series accordingly.   From the start, staff and offenders at WCCW tasked us to find lectures that integrate the personal health aspects with the environmental aspects of sustainability. This unusual and challenging task has turned out to be very fruitful as it has led to a diverse mix of guest lecturers and topics.

Lectures have included such topics as Poetry and Sustainability, Yoga and Sustainability, Ethnobotany, and more traditional science and sustainability lectures like Nearshore Restoration in Puget Sound, Salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Beyond Waste in Washington State: Reducing Toxic/Solid Waste and Reusing Organic Waste, and Wolves: Endangered Species Ecology, Conservation, and Wildlife-Related Jobs. Future topics include Biology and Ecology of Brown Bears and Purple Martin and Western Bluebird Conservation.  

Frequently during lectures we (SPP staff, inmates, and officers) reflect on the maxim “we will not fight to save what we do not love.”  As organizers, we feel we have helped offenders not only understand the science of restoration, salmon, and wolves, but also to further their love of the plants and animals native to the Northwest.  Offenders consistently show a deep level of curiosity as they ask insightful and unique questions, exhausting available Q&A time.

Women offenders gather for health conference inside prison

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

In September more than 100 offenders, correctional staff and guest scientists participated in the annual health conference at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Titled “The Mind, the Spirit, the Environment Maintained Equals a Healthy Body Sustained,” the two-day gathering featured a fitness instructor, inspirational speaker, poet, chaplain and two faculty members from The Evergreen State College. Imagine the scene as we all committed to healthier lives through laughter, tears and even aerobics!

Toxicologist and Evergreen faculty member Dr. Frances Solomon teaches inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women during the prison's annual health conference. Photo: Jeff Muse.

Dr. Frances Solomon, a toxicologist and visiting professor at The Evergreen State College, teaches inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women during the prison's annual health conference. Photo: Jeff Muse.

Led by Evergreen professor and forest ecologist Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, the second day kicked off with a multimedia presentation on the role of science in our lives, the importance of trees and emerging green-collar jobs. Dr. Nadkarni also announced our hope to initiate a butterfly-rearing project with the prison’s horticultural program and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Next up, toxicologist and watershed specialist Dr. Frances Solomon discussed the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment and human health, including illnesses such as breast cancer. Afterward, offenders were given the microphone to ask questions and express thanks during an insightful and heart-warming feedback session.

Offender feedback through surveys and interviews is essential to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Photo: Jeff Muse.

Offender feedback through surveys and interviews is essential to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Photo: Jeff Muse.

In my experience, WCCW is quite different from the men’s prisons in which most of our work takes place. Though it’s heavily secured, a gentler, family-like atmosphere pervades the facility. We hope that we honored that character and linked inmates to the world outside the fence where many have parents, siblings and children rooting for them to succeed.

Interacting with inmates and correctional staff as well as extensive survey feedback gave us a good direction for future activities. Our next presentation, led by yours truly, will be “Sustainability 101” in early December. Afterward, we’ll help the prison adopt goals and strategies for lessening its impact on the environment while improving the health of everyone who lives and works there.

Health conference for incarcerated women

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

Last week, I met with staff at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) to help plan the prison’s annual conference for female offenders. Fun-filled, productive meetings are the hallmark of my time with WCCW, and this meeting was no exception as laughter and enthusiastic ideas pervaded the gathering.

We met to plan an agenda that introduces diverse aspects of healthy living – physical, spiritual, emotional and environmental. As the planner of the environmental portion of the conference, I am tasked with finding presenters whose work illuminates the links between personal and environmental health. This task requires some ingenuity as it can be a stretch to combine the two, but find those presenters I will!

Already, we’ve lined up our first guest: Dr. Frances Solomon, a toxicologist with Washington State University and University of British Columbia. She will present on toxins in household products (e.g., cosmetics, children’s toys) and how they can affect human health, the health of other organisms and, more broadly, the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

I look forward to planning our monthly lecture series at WCCW, which will begin after the September conference and run through next spring. It is exciting and rewarding to work with people who care deeply about the well being of incarcerated women. Realizing how much we all have in common – prisoners, correctional staff and community supporters – has been a huge awakening for me. Before starting this job, I thought that prisons were heartless, but now that stereotype has been blown out of the water.