Category Archives: Inmate Voices

Trying to Find a Balance: The Emergent Vegetated Mats (EVM) Project

Text by Amanda Mintz and Danyl Herringshaw. Photos by Amanda Mintz unless otherwise noted.

The goal of an aquaponics system is to mimic nature by recycling nutrients from animal waste into plant tissue through microbial decomposition. The needs of fish, plants, and microbes must be balanced to keep the system functioning properly. The technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center are tasked with being sensitive to the needs of the system and work hard to maintain the balance among these symbiotic organisms. The technicians learn about plant and microbial ecology, water quality, and fish biology while also learning how to troubleshoot plumbing, heating systems, and pumps. When the system is working as it should, the technicians may be left with little maintenance to do. But when something goes wrong, such as a spike in ammonia or a failed pump, it is their job to figure out how to find the problem and fix it.

Click to learn more about how SPP is partnering with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the Department of Defense to restore Oregon spotted frog habitat in Washington State.

Danyl Herringshaw (left) and Joseph Oddo, current EVM technicians, are learning to maintain a system that often behaves in unexpected ways. This photo was taken just prior to loading mats for delivery…

This spring Danyl Herringshaw, an EVM technician since January, reflected on his experiences in the aquaponics facility:

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned since working at the EVM greenhouse at SCCC is the value of a mistake. The EVM greenhouse is a very delicate and fickle system. A small adjustment to the water flow can affect the entire system’s timing, for example. There have been countless examples of how I’ve learned and grown in my knowledge of this system from mine and others’ mistakes.

“This also puts into perspective how delicate a natural system is. Minor adjustments and maintenance seem to make this job slow, even boring sometimes. However, if an adjustment is too large or too small or a certain piece is overlooked during maintenance, it can have large ramifications. These adjustments and maintenance seem to happen effortlessly in nature.

“This is why natural habitats and ecosystems ought to be preserved when considering urban development. These systems are in place to keep us, and the wildlife that reside there, safe.”

In the EVM, we are doing our part to enhance natural ecosystems by growing native wetland plants in support of wetland habitat restoration for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. The plants are sown in soil and installed in mats once their roots and shoots are large enough. Then they continue growing in the mats until they achieve at least 50% cover. Mr. Herringshaw and Joseph Oddo, who has been working on the EVM project since March, have done an exceptional job sowing, tracking growth, and maintaining the health of the plants. We delivered another set of mats to Joint Base Lewis McChord in June.

…and this photo was taken after loading the mats! Each mat can weigh up to 100 pounds, even after they are allowed to drain and dry out for 24 hours.

 

Mr. Herringshaw and Mr. Oddo roll up the mats before loading them onto the truck. In the field, they will be rolled out and secured in place; the plants perk right back up.

 

This mat can’t wait for contact with soil! Imagine reed canarygrass trying to grow through these lush roots.

The EVM project is a learning laboratory for technicians and staff alike. Amanda Mintz, EVM Coordinator and Master of Environmental Studies graduate student at Evergreen, has been researching the effects of adding compost tea to the aquaponics water on plant nutrient content . Theoretically, the microbial community in the compost tea—a brew made by soaking bags of compost in aerated water—aids in plant nutrient uptake in several ways, such as helping decompose organic matter in the water, or stimulating plant hormones that promote growth and increase nutrient uptake. Mr. Herringshaw and former technician Matthew Fuller collected plant tissue samples for Amanda to take back to Evergreen’s laboratories for analysis, tracked plant growth and health data, and ensured that system parameters remained constant during the experiment.

Former EVM technicians Brian Bedilion and Matt Fuller calculate percent cover using the point method. Photo by Jim Snider, DOC

Stay tuned for the results of Amanda’s project!

Technicians from Cedar Creek participate in turtle release

By Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator with Biological Science Technicians at CCCC, Darin Armstrong and Noel Priestman. Photos by Jessica Brown

Early in April, nine western pond turtles left their temporary housing facility at Cedar Creek Correctional Center and traveled up to PAWS in Lynwood to receive their final check-up and CT scans. The turtles arrived to Cedar Creek in last Fall for rehabilitation and recovery from shell disease treatment. A group of incarcerated technicians provided expert daily care to help the turtles get healthy enough for them to return to their natural habitat. Two of the technicians were able to assist Washington Department Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist, Emily Butler, with the release of 7 turtles at the South Puget Sound Habitat Area in Lakewood, WA. The technicians also had the opportunity to see newly emerged turtle hatchlings that will eventually make their way down to the ponds.

WDFW biologist, Emily Butler and technicians taking the last photos and measurements of the turtles prior to release

 

Technician, Darin Armstrong assisting with measurements

 

Here are the technician’s response to their experience of the release:

 

DARIN ARMSTRONG

On April 6th, I was given the opportunity to release seven western pond turtles back into their natural habitat. The experience was overwhelming and very new to me. I was able to see where the beavers have been helping to develop the ponds. The turtles took to their natural habitat quickly. The information received from Jessica and Emily was very helpful in understanding the reasons behind the type of fungus involved in shell disease and how it is healed. I thank them very much for the experience they shared.

Darin ready to release one of the turtles

 

Releasing the first turtle!

 

Noel releasing the next two turtles

 

 

 

NOEL PRIESTMAN

How extremely grateful I am for this chance to participate with SPP at Cedar Creek and the conservation effort to restore healthy populations of endangered western pond turtles and release them back into Washington State natural habitats where they can make a come back. I believe this experience has increased my chances to make a successful transition and make a come back of my own. What I have enjoyed most about this job is contributing my time and energy to an important service. I also like being able to give back to the community through my wholehearted effort to communicate, collaborate, and participate in a worthy cause!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last turtle getting released!

 

Female western pond turtle readjusting to her habitat

 

Turtle hatchlings that emerged a couple of days prior to our visit

 

Tiny turtle hatchling

Standing in the gap for each other: Environmental wisdom from Roots of Success

by Grady Mitchel and Anthony Powers, Roots of Success Instructors, Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Supervisor

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)’s 19th and 20th graduating cohorts proudly show their certificates.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental literacy curriculum taught in prisons throughout Washington State. Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) has championed the program for 5 years; in that time they have graduated more than 300 students in 20 cohorts. In March, we celebrated the two most recent cohorts of graduates.

David Duhaime and Grady Mitchell hold the graduation cake made by the SCCC inmate bakery.

The prison staff and administrators gave speeches highlighting the cooperation needed by everyone for the program to operate successfully. We heard from both past and current program sponsors (Liaisons). SCCC’s first Roots Liaison, Robert Aleksinski made the excellent point that “no matter what your political views are, this is a valuable program”—a fairly rare endorsement for an environmental program. The current Roots Liaison, Kelly Peterson, talked about how her initially negative impressions of Roots had changed since she started supporting the program; when she started working with the inmate instructors and students, she was impressed by their dedication to the program and quality of their work.

The graduating students go through a receiving line to receive congratulations and their certificates.

All five instructors shared wise words, stories, and anecdotes. All five instructors echoed the importance of collaboration among Department of Corrections (DOC) staff and administration, Roots instructors, and Roots students. For example, David Duhaime, instructor and Master Trainer, said, “all of the DOC people have been keeping this program strong.” He talked about the importance of each person involved—whether it be DOC staff, students, or instructors—bringing their own experiences and knowledge to the Roots program. He also highlighted how much students teach the instructors too: “we don’t just learn from these books; these books are real important, but what else happened is you guys came in and shared what you know.”

 

 

Instructor and Master Trainer David Duhaime talks to the graduating class about how the instructors learn from the students.

Here are longer excerpts from the speeches made by Roots Instructors Grady Mitchell and Anthony Powers.

Grady Mitchell: Standing in the gap

I recently spoke with a young man about standing up for those who need it. I reminded him of how much he appreciated it when someone else spoke up for him when he was confronted with a situation, and they didn’t just lay low and keep quiet. Some call this type of action as “standing in the gap” for someone. It is our desire to bring out “that voice” that is particular to each of us, in order for others to hear and understand that sustainability in this sense is all-inclusive. Now we see each other with respect, value, and appreciation for individuality.

Grady Mitchell, center, talks about the student whose certificate he’s holding.

What started as impatience for some, ended in tolerance of flaws, and discovery of each other’s value. While we may not ascribe to the mores of prison or commit acts of insensitivity, do we at times perpetuate it by standing aside and staying silent? Never underestimate the phenomenal impact we’ve had on each other and no matter what your philosophy in life, you will have to be open to new ideas when it comes to the environment.

As we learn the impact our actions have on this planet, it becomes imperative that speaking up and out is equal to survival. When I speak with my grandchildren and tell them I love them it’s my call to action to be sure that I try and assure the resources they have will sustain their survival and pray the knowledge I share with them will inspire efforts within them towards their children’s survival.

Unfortunately, “standing in the gap” is not always easy and can sometimes have consequences and the threat of reprisal can deter people—both confined and free—from being righteous or doing justice. Nevertheless, there is a psychological cost involved in following this philosophy because ultimately, lying low and keeping quiet can damage you mentally.

As I talk about standing in the gap, the “gap” creates the opportunity to become useful. That space from where we are to awareness and enlightenment, is where you can find the Roots of Success.

Anthony Powers: The common thread

I have heard a common question being asked. I have even heard this question from some of the people at the Evergreen State College. The question is, “How do we get people to care about climate change?” At first, I thought that I had a reasonable answer, which is that there are a wide variety of people, each with their own personalities, characteristics, political and religious beliefs, so it would probably serve us well to come up with a variety of approaches, targeted at each group, because different things are going to motivate different people.

Instructor Anthony Powers addresses the class about how to motivate people to act environmentally.

Last month I began to think of it in a different way. A way geared more towards the collective, because there is always a common thread, there is something that every human has in common. That is when I realized an error in our current messaging, our saying that we need to save the planet. The reality is that it is more personal than that, and we need to make the message more personal. The reality is that we do not need to save the planet; we need to save ourselves. The planet is going to be just fine. Whether or not it is able to sustain our lives is a whole other thing.

The onus is ours and we are not trying to save the planet, we are trying to save ourselves as a human race, both literally and financially. Because the earth can exist without us, but we cannot exist without earth.

A graduating student receives his certificate.

Master Trainer Cyril Walrond addresses the graduating class about the importance of working together to achieve goals.

Turtles plus woodpeckers plus…

Text by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Philip Fischer, U.S. Forest Service volunteer and Adam Mlady, Biological Science Technician.
Photos by Jessica Brown

Biological Science Technician Adam Mlady holding two of the Western Pond Turtles currently housed at Cedar Creek Correctional Center.

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (Cedar Creek) was home to the very first endangered animal program in a prison: they raised and released hundreds of Oregon spotted frogs from 2009-2015. In 2018, ecological conservation at Cedar Creek is thriving and evolving to encompass a small array of conservation and sustainability programs. Offering an array of programs allows us to partner with a larger group of incarcerated technicians; there are five at this time, and we plan to add a few more. All participants will have a new position title of Biological Science Technicians, and will receive education and training in the  turtle, beekeeping and woodpecker programs, and—later on—a new aquaponics program.

Turtles

Cedar Creek hosts endangered pond turtles that need daily attention; from Technician Adam Mlady’s writing last month, “currently we have two females, one male, and are expecting seven more to be dropped off later today…Taking care of them is very rewarding. I get a sense of unity and accomplishment in ensuring they are clean and fed, and working them back to health. It’s even a sustainable project to feed them! They eat a mix of goodies, but one of the days the pond turtles get mealworms, which we grow and harvest ourselves. Eggs to larva to pupae to beetle, we are hands-on (gloved of course!) the whole way through.”

Woodpeckers

USFS trainers, SPP coordinator, and participants of the woodpecker nest monitoring project training pose with bird specimens.

In November, the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Project was launched with a two-day training for all five turtle technicians, four greenhouse workers, and two other interested individuals. The purpose of the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Video Review is to support a multi-year research project through the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) focused on identification of nest predators.

Woodpeckers are a keystone species that provide cavities not only for their own nesting use, but also for a broad spectrum of secondary cavity users including small mammals and other birds. Video footage comes from cameras operating 24/7 at cavity nests. This is the only sure way to document nest depredation, however, reviewing the enormous amount of video footage requires an equally enormous amount of reviewer time. In order to accurately monitor video footage, correctly identify species, and describe animal behaviors, reviewers need considerable training.

Biological Science Technician Modesto Silva reviewing video footage of a Northern Flicker cavity nest. This video station sits atop the mealworm rearing bins for the western pond turtle program.

Participants at Cedar Creek received six hours of education and training from Teresa Lorenz, USFS biologist and Phil Fischer, USFS volunteer, covering woodpecker, raptor, song bird, and small mammal identification; background information relating to the project, including project protocol and species behavior descriptions; and monitoring and data recording techniques. In the past, video monitoring has only been performed by undergraduate students, however, collaboration between USFS and SPP has made it possible to also bring this type of education and experience into prison.

And coming soon…

Cedar Creek has long had a productive greenhouse, including a small aquaponics system. The old aquaponics will be replaced with a more productive system designed by Symbiotic Cycles LLC, an Olympia-based company dedicated to the application of regenerative food production through aquaponics. The new design will support production of fresh greens year round for use in the kitchen.

Technician Mlady has said, “I’m really excited about the upcoming aquaponics pond we will be building. It is huge, and tucked away safely up in our camp’s greenhouse. Once we get the plumbing correctly set up, the koi fish will be able to fertilize our selected plants and vegetables. Brilliant system.” Aquaponics training will start sometime this March, and the system should be up and running soon after.

Partners in endangered species conservation for Cedar Creek Corrections Center, from left to right: Technician, John Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Douglas Cole, Loretta Adams (SPP Liaison), Philip Fischer (U.S. Forest Service), Kelli Bush (SPP Co-Director, Teresa Lorenz (U.S. Forest Service), Technician William Anglemyer). Photo by Jessica Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

Biological Science Technician at Cedar Creek speaks about his time with SPP

Proudly presenting John with an SPP certificate of achievement as a turtle rehabilitation and research specialist on his last day in the program.

By John Fitzpatrick, Biological Science Technician at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

Foreword and photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator. 

When John Fitzpatrick applied and interviewed for an opening with the SPP Western pond turtle program, his professional attitude and passion for learning told me right away that he would be a great asset to the team. He came highly recommended by both his fellow inmates and corrections staff, and I quickly knew why. With every weekly visit to Cedar Creek, he would greet me with a huge smile and an enthusiastically warm welcome. Upon asking how he was, his reply would always include the words, “I’m blessed!”

Over the course of his time with SPP, he was pushed out of his comfort zone but graciously accepted these new learning experiences. Most of the environmental education readings and assignments I provided to the team presented completely novel (and sometimes challenging) concepts for John, but because of his zest for learning, he thrived. It was awesome to see how excited he became when he made connections with each learning experience—and how he shared this with everyone he could. He will also be the first person to let you know of the statistics showing how the attainment of education greatly reduces recidivism rates. Education is clearly his passion!

His last day with the SPP team was a joyful one (with maybe a few tears shed) because it marks the last of his time at Cedar Creek. We wish him all the best as he begins the next part of his journey starting school during work release with the help of the scholarship he received from the Mike Rowe Foundation. He has definitely left a lasting impression on me and I’m pretty sure the opportunity with SPP has had a positive impact in his life. But, read his first blog below to see for yourself.

 

Short timing and blogging with Team SPP

John became quite comfortable handling the turtles, but this all began with a big step out of his comfort zone.

John recording woodpecker behavior while watching video footage…but it’s no surprise that he had to stop for a second to smile for the camera!

Now let me pull your coat to something about one man’s journey of success with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) team. A 141 month prison sentence to serve will make even the most ignorant person think of a lifestyle that needs some serious changing. It has been said that your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change. I now live a life defined by principles of change; be it mindset, decision making, and really all of the choices I make from this point moving forward. I am due to be fully released on July 27, 2018 and this is my year to shine—and shine bright!

My time on the SPP team as a Biological Science Technician has awakened the caring man beneath the criminal façade. Learning and obtaining such a vast knowledge and understanding of environmental awareness has enlivened my thought process. It’s quite blissful cause I see now how environmental concerns instilled in me what the “Roots of Success” really means. I now care about this planet and animals on it like never before, so to make “hay while the sun still shines” is a priority for me. The Evergreen State is on the rise in sustainable practices and awareness inviting a greener economy. It’s more than just a want, it’s more likening to a need and a must that I do MY part in making this planet better.

To be a man amongst men for God’s beautiful Earth is my focus. There is a cliché that says “necessity is the mother of invention”, and my being on Team SPP has been a positive learning experience and motivation for my change, necessary actually. If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires hope. I’ve discovered my own AMAZING tower of strength, and ever since, I’ve been asked about my smiling face. The question people ask is: Can I describe what success looks like? Believe you me! Many hours and minutes have been spent pondering exactly what success looks like. I’ll admit, I myself have had few and far apart many glimpses of success look-alikes, so I can honestly tell ya this: A thing of beauty is joy forever, and the grass IS greener on the other side, but only if you nurture and water it.

Now mind you, it’s only Chapter One of this new journey of mine. This is only the very beginning, and with it, there will be small successes along the way. The rest of my story is to be continued…

 

 

 

Let yourself germinate

One of the sage-grouse images Mr Jenkins created to develop the Sagebrush in Prisons logo.

In addition to his work as a Sagebrush technician at the Washington State Penitentiary, Lawrence Jenkins is also an amazing artist. In fact Lawrence was the artist behind the logo for the Sagebrush in Prisons Project! This post is his letter of reflection following the Climate Change Symposium held at Stafford Creek Corrections Center this past October.

Hello World,

My name is Lawrence, I’m from Seattle, Washington and I’ve been in prison since the age of 18. I am now 29 years old and with 20 years left to serve in the state and a possible life sentence pending in the federal prison system. My crimes involve law enforcement and I have a long history of violent crimes/gang violence. Along with this I struggle with P.T.S.D., social anxiety, and depression. As unfortunate as all of this sounds, just imagine an entire neighborhood swarming with individuals just like me.

For now, let’s focus on the question: “How do we overcome race/class in order to do something about global warming, climate change, starvation, extinction, preservation/conservation, disease, etc?” 

A “quick” drawing he made of three bee-eaters.

I would like to use myself for example…

I completely destroyed my life. I lost everything (which was not much), I even made attempts on my life. I hurt so many other lives. I was probably the most toxic living thing on this planet. Why? Because I wanted to make a difference so bad that I told myself that “right or wrong, I’m going to put a end to all of the bad that is happening to my family, my friends, and my community.” I had good intentions but the way I went about it was all wrong.

So when they tried to bury me, they didn’t know I was a seed [paraphrase from a Got Green presentation]. Unfortunately it took all of this for me to finally “germinate”. To finally realize just how loving, caring and compassionate I am. Just like every other violent gang member, drug dealer, or robber – trust and believe those individuals are willing to die in order to help their people. But the only difference between you and them is the very soil that you are rooted in.

With the global problem we face today, there’s no need to “up-root” people of different race/class in order to address this issue. Just amend the soil in each community just like you did in each prison.

Lawrence Jenkins at work in the sagebrush nursery last summer. Photo by Gretchen Graber.

Mr Jenkins made this drawing of a black-tailed jack rabbit to raise funds for Tapteal Greenway. This species of rabbit lives in a protected piece of land supported by Tapteal.

New Biological Science Technician Position, and One of the Newest is Feeling Thankful

By Adam Mlady, Biological Science Technician, Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Coordinator

Editor’s Note: Participation in the turtle program at Cedar Creek is evolving to take on new, complementary areas of study and contribution: woodpecker nest monitoring project and an aquaponics pilot project. To represent and accommodate for these additional projects, we hired more technicians and changed their titles to “Biological Science Technician,” We are very happy to welcome Adam Mlady to the technician team; here he shares his gratitude and thoughts on his new position. 

Sustainablog

Biological Science Technician, Adam Mlady holding two of the Western Pond Turtles currently housed at Cedar Creek Correctional Center.

November 27, 2017

It’s one week into my new job with the Sustainability in Prisons Project as a Biological Science Technician, and so far I have been pleasantly surprised at just how great this assignment really is. My team members have been very welcoming, and are a wealth of knowledge to pick from. Working for Ms. Brown is inspiring, and I’ve been lucky to be chosen to do this work. I have spent some days of charting the habits of the northwestern woodpeckers; there is tons of video footage, so I’ll always have job security!

Also, the endangered pond turtles need our attention; currently we have two females, one male, and are expecting 7 more to be dropped off later today. We all arrived early this morning in the program area, and are eagerly awaiting our new aquatic friends. Taking care of them is very rewarding. I get a sense of unity and accomplishment in ensuring they are clean and fed, and working them back to health. It’s even a sustainable project to feed them! They eat a mix of goodies, but one of the days the pond turtles get mealworms, which we grow and harvest ourselves. Eggs to larva to pupae to beetle, we are hands-on (gloved of course!) the whole way through.

I’m really excited about the upcoming aquaponics pond we will be building. It is huge, and tucked away safely up in our camp’s greenhouse. Once we get the plumbing correctly set up, the koi fish will be able to fertilize our selected plants and vegetables. Brilliant system. I’ve seen it in action on a much smaller scale back at home with my beautiful wife’s beta fish successfully sustaining bamboo, kale, and dragon plants. It’s pretty sweet to be reminded of home while doing my job here.

Biological Science Technician team at Cedar Creek from left to right: John Fitzpatrick, Modesto Silva, Jessica Brown (SPP Coordinator), James Meservey, William Anglemyer, Adam Mlady.

December 7, 2017

Brrrrr…it’s cold! The new addition of the space heater in the turtle hut is a blessing though. I’m a few weeks into my stint as a Biological Science Technician and finding my groove. This is hands down the best job available in the whole camp. Watching my woodpecker videos in the turtle hut, with classic rock thrumming in the background, comfy chair, fresh coffee, and the basking skylight is by far the best part of my day. It’s become my fortress of solitude, or my batcave: I’m truly at peace here.

Adam Mlady recording activity of a Northern Flicker cavity nest in an old snag.

Video footage of a Northern Flicker leaving its nest.

Putting in work with my fine feathered friends, I’m witnessing some excellent parenting skills by these endangered avian aerialists. To them: family, home, and the future mean the world to woodpeckers. That’s admirable. Every time I see the mama and the papa woodpeckers in action, feeding, cleaning, defending their fledglings and nest; it warms my heart. They work together as a team wonderfully, as nature has created a well-oiled machine. They split the duties masterfully, and complement each other’s attributes with all their hard work. So thorough, like a living, breathing, flying, drumming version of a discount-double check–they are that good.

It feels great knowing that the work I’m putting in here will help keep these families together, and lasting throughout the ages.

It’s not all just bonding with the birds, with my head in the clouds. No, the turtles also are well taken care of by my Biological Science Technician team. The new turtle group we got last week are loving the warmth of the basking lights and the water heaters, that’s for sure! We all love our heaters. These new female pond turtles are so little, but thankfully the older, larger turtles haven’t been too hard on their itty-bitty shells. The care they are getting here is amazing, and their shell damage is showing its rehabilitation as the days progress. Another stellar week. We’ll keep up our end, and keep you posted. Until next time…

 

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.

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!