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
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.
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!
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.
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.
Blog post by Project Manager Jeff Muse:
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.