Category Archives: Inmate Voices

Excellent Student and Teacher

By Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

On his last day in the program, Seth holds a thank you card from the butterfly technicians. Photo by Keegan Curry.

The butterfly technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our departing program coordinator, Mr. Seth Dorman.

Mr. Dorman was with the program for about a year and a half. During that time his dedication and work ethic inspired us to be the best workers, students, and scientists we could be.

Seth and butterfly technicians carefully work through “spring wake-up,” the time when the caterpillars come out of winter dormancy. Photo by a technician.

He was both an excellent student and teacher. He learned very quickly about DOC policies and SPP’s butterfly program. He treated us with respect, encouraged us to think outside the box and to step outside our comfort zone and share those ideas. He displayed tremendous patience and a great sense of humor, even while trying to explain the concept of a “null hypothesis” to us.

Mr. Dorman’s coordination efforts produced, for the first time ever, the opportunity for two technicians to join a butterfly release. Also due to his efforts, all four technicians attended the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly working group meeting, where we had input on region-wide efforts to protect and recover the endangered species.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dorman: Thank you, Seth; we wish you the utmost success in all your future endeavors.

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part One

Part One: Surveys Say…!

Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Figures by Liliana Caughman, SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series Coordinator

Brittany Gallagher receives a completed survey from a student at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Every SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture since 2009 has included surveys about the program. Before and after each lecture, we ask students to fill out surveys and hand them back, and usually they do. Lucky for us, the current lecture series coordinator, Liliana Caughman, is also a whiz kid with data. Building on the work of Tiffany Webb and Brittany Gallagher, Liliana examined answers from 15,874 before and after surveys from SPP lectures (do you see how big that number is?? It blows me away!).

The data show patterns that are impressive and statistically defensible. Here is a summary:

  • Figure 1.

    The students are gaining environmental knowledge from the lectures; not a big surprise, and always nice to have confirmation!

 

  • As the years pass, students are learning more from our lectures (see Figure 1). We wonder, does this mean they are becoming better students, or that the lectures themselves have improved?

 

  • Figure 2.

    As Tiffany Webb found in 2014, students’ attitudes about the environment have been steadily increasing over time (see Figure 2). Many students do not become more positive about the environment as a result of a single lecture, but most started with such positive regard of environmental topics that no change is still a good thing! I see this as confirmation of what we’ve experienced: that there has been a positive culture shift within Washington State prisons.

 

  • Figure 3.

    Liliana devised 3 criteria to describe how engaging a lecture is. She assigned a score for how much a lecture 1. provided hands-on experiences 2. empowered students to be helpful to others who are important to them 3. built community and connections between people. She compared each lecture’s engagement score with how much environmental attitudes increased for the same lecture, and found a lovely correlation (Figure 3). These results suggest that Liliana’s engagement score is valuable measure of a lecture’s quality. More importantly, I think, is that the 3 criteria become guides for guest lecturers going forward: we will ask them to make presentations with hands-on activities, ideas on how to help others, and ways to connect students to people inside and outside the prison.

Last week, we took these survey results to the classroom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. We asked the students for their input on how the program is offered, lecture topics, and the surveys themselves. They had so much valuable feedback that I will save it for Part Two of the story. Part Three will come when we take the same presentation and questions to Washington Corrections Center for Women in March!

To kick off discussion of the lecture series, Liliana Caughman described what the word sustainability means to her. Photo by Elijah Moloney.

 

A Master of Training

by Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Trainer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
& Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos provided by DOC staff

Timing + Action = Success

I once read:

The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.

The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.

The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.

The right action at the right time results in success.

The Roots of Success program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) is more than just environmental literacy; more than facts, figures, data, and information. Roots of Success is the first definitive action step for those who are caring, thinking, men on the cusp of change. If indeed the right action at the right time results in success, the men here at CRCC who have taken the Roots of Success course have taken the first step in the direction of positive change.

We are in the midst of a revision (addition) to our Roots of Success program where we are going to provide students with “hands on training,” resume writing, cover letter production, and other essential requirements for green employment. And with the full support of the administration we are finally able to not only fulfill our commitment as instructors but provide essential tools needed for effective reentry. Hopefully, this will culminate in a “green” mock interview fair.

When all is said and done; we want to make sure that more is done than said… because we know actions speak louder than words.

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New Roots of Success instructors and staff sponsors at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with Master Trainer Eugene Youngblood, far left.

Instructor Training at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Eugene Youngblood has taught the environmental literacy curriculum, Roots of Success, for more than two years now. Since September, 2014, he has led students through the 50 hour curriculum ten times, and also taught Correctional Industries’ condensed version of the course. His writing about the Roots of Success curriculum (above) shows his enthusiasm for the program and investment in its students.

Mr. Youngblood also is a Master Trainer for the curriculum. Last month, he left his “home” facility, Coyote Ridge, and visited Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) to certify 18 new instructors for the facility. He spent two days with the class of instructor candidates, well-supported by Roots’ training script and multi-media presentations. Consultation with Dr. Pinderhughes, the curriculum’s creator, proceeded and followed the session.

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Future Roots of Success Instructors listen intently to a presentation during the 2-day training.

By all accounts, the instructor training was a success. From Dawnel Southwick, one of the program’s staff sponsors at AHCC, in a message to program partners:

Mr. Youngblood was consistently professional as the facilitator, and set a high standard for participants in the Roots Instructor class.
Each student participated and was given practical and effective feedback about their strengths and weaknesses in the process.  The feedback was applicable and easy to understand.  No one was left out or neglected. Each student was treated with the highest respect, and responded positively to the facilitator, curriculum and presentation. I noticed all the students were engaged, interested, and eager to hear and learn from Mr. Youngblood.

Thank you for allowing and making this amazing opportunity happen here at AHCC.

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An instructor candidate takes his turn practicing leading the class.

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Productive small-group work punctuates presentations during the instructor training.

Turtle 4176’s Release

Co-Authored by Western Pond Turtle Technicians Taylour Eldridge and William Anglemyer

On Monday October 3rd, turtle 4176 was released from the Turtle Rehabilitation program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center . She had been there for quite some time—about 4 months, with a month long intermission at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center in Lynnwood, WA—then back for another 4 months.  She had suffered from seizure-like episodes and for awhile it looked like she wouldn’t be deemed releasable back into the wild.  We had been worried, as people who have spent time in solitary confinement ourselves, that months in captivity would have a detrimental effect on her.  So it was a great relief to finally load her into a container and board a van destined to deliver her to the Lakewood Western Pond Turtle Refuge.

Turtle Technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Eldridge, getting ready to release turtle 4176. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

When we arrived, we were met by Washington State Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Emily Butler.  In addition to facilitating the turtle release, Ms. Butler showed us how the radio telemetry transmitters are attached to the turtles. We were then given a training on how to use the radio receivers and Ms. Butler took us to the area where the turtles lay their nests.  She had hidden two mock (plastic) turtles with transmitters attached to the shells.  We took turns using the radio receiver and the attached antenna to find the plastic turtles. We both found it quite difficult; it’s not even close to easy to use the radio telemetry equipment.  But we were eventually successful in locating them–truthfully, we received some visual hints. We have a new-found respect for anyone who has to attempt to find turtle nests in this manner.

Technician, Mr. Eldridge, learning to use the radio telemetry equipment. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

Apart from the experience making us much more aware of the very difficult work of finding nests, it was a great learning experience which gave us a new found appreciation for the hands-on work that goes on in the field—a part of the program we’d never been privy to before. We learned of the plethora of other activities that the biologists do every day to help with the recovery of this amazing species.

We both feel good about being part of the SPP Western Pond Turtle Rehabilitation Program and we cannot think of a more worthwhile job—especially as people in an incarceration setting. We’re looking forward to helping the next batch of turtles get through their healing process and seeing them released back into the wild.  We hope the day will come soon when there are no more turtles that need help healing.  Hopefully, the future will bring multitudes of healthy turtles living in their natural habitat.

Adding Salt to Popcorn: Gaining a taste for sustainability

by Grady Mitchell, Roots of Success Instructor and Master Trainer, Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

Grady-Mitchell-portrait

Grady Mitchell speaks to a graduating class. He has taught the Roots of Success curriculum twelve times, and was certified as a Master Instructor in 2015.

A few years ago, prior to Roots of Success (ROS) someone could have held a conversation on sustainability and I’m sure it would have been as interesting to me as popcorn without the salt. Today I am not only able to present the curriculum to students, but also have a variety of discussions with them on the subject. In a sense my own experience has given me even more material to share with students (myself and my colleagues like to refer to our classes as peer to peer education) because most of them had no idea the impact of their habits and choices have on the environment, any more than I.

Sustainability in simple terms means being able to meet our needs now without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. However, this term has been taken hostage so to speak because manufacturers use it for their own selfish gain. We as consumers have to take sustainability back and know that sustainability is survivability. By adding the word ‘Just’ before Sustainability, makes it fair and equal.

This is significant to me because in order for the future generations to be sustained, an interest on the matter needs to prevail now. Failure can’t be an option because to do so could literally mean the extinction of those we love dearly and plan on leaving our legacy to. Sustainability is a built in feature of all natural environmental systems provided that human interference is absent or minimized.

Roots-Class-Photo-2-Photo-by-DOC

Grady Mitchell sits with his fellow instructors a graduating class of Roots of Success. Photo by DOC staff.

To get to a more sustainable lifestyle is going to require, inevitably, some radical changes in attitudes, values and behavior. The answer to creating global values and actions is blurred for now. How we get to less pollutants and more sustainable reliances and reuse may depend on generations yet to come (if we make it that far), because as it stands, we haven’t been doing too good of a job. Changing our personal habits; reducing the carbon footprint; our practices being altered for the benefit of sustainability is ‘just.’ In the book “Last Child in the Woods,” a phrase was coined called Nature Deficit Disorder. All it takes to cure this disorder is to get outside and enjoy nature. With seven billion people in the world, imagine the impact from just being sustainable or creating nature. Imagine a society where our lives are as immersed in nature as they are technology.

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Turtle technicians x and x hold healthy western pond turtles prior to releasing them. The turtle program staff sponsor, Shaun Piliponis, stands with them. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In order to make sustainability more inclusive takes education and a willingness to embrace lifestyle changes. The guerrilla gardener of South Central Los Angeles, Ron Finley stated, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale.” If the inspiration was focused on making sustainability hip, cool, the thing to do, then we have a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. Allowing our generation to see with their own eyes and then pass it on to the next is “just.” César Chavez stated:

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

One of the videos available to our students in our Roots of Success class tells us, in 1915 a Canadian commission on conservation made an interesting proclamation, they said “each generation is entitled to the Interest on the Natural Capital, but the Principal should be handed on unimpaired.” We enjoy the fruit (the interest) from the tree (the principal), but if we cut the trees down both the principal and the interest will be gone forever. So in the end, Just Sustainability could really mean we all take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for community, the planet and most important, the ones who come after us.

Just Sustainability and Restorative Justice

By David Duhaime, Roots of Success Master Instructor, Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Duhaime-teaching-Roots-of-Success-SCCC-5-7-14-230

David Duhaime teaches the first module of Roots of Success at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

When I consider what’s sustainable I realize that I don’t believe anything is. I am new to environmental issues; teaching Roots of Success is what sparked my interest. Over the past three years my thought has developed into a belief that all systems will continue to evolve, sustaining only the dynamic process. Society continues to change as does the justice system. All things change, people, the planet, all systems considered by environmentalists. If change ends, wouldn’t that mean the end of existence?

There can be no Just Sustainability without a complete education, meaning that everyone has to understand all issues. This would be more than a political education. We would have to revamp how we raise our children to include cultivating their understanding of how they interact with the whole, what impacts they will have and what right to equal access we all have to everything, plus stewardship and responsibility for the inheritance we will pass to future generations. Most people in prison often miss any part of that. We generally don’t know about stewardship and responsibility and those charged with keeping us don’t set that type of example. Perhaps we were all brought up with similar ideals.

Before Roots I worked as a literacy tutor and within self-development groups. In both I came to the idea of interest. If one has no interest, fairness is forfeit. My literacy students could not make significant progress until their interest peaked. They had to want to learn. Only then had the learning become interesting. Getting someone else interested seems to me analogous to Stephen Covey’s “Circle of Influence”: How do I get another interested in learning about what to them is peripheral or non-existent? I need to find the way to expand my influence. One of the first techniques I learned was the “Life Experience” method where the tutor listens to the student’s personal story, writing it down verbatim, and then has the student read their own words back.

Environmental Justice, I believe, requires active involvement, which is predicated on interest. Roots, environmental issues, and one’s stock in the world around them are often outside students’ experience or interest. “Scotoma” is a word I once learned that refers to a blind spot in our psyche or attention, something we ignore unconsciously. If we want to have genuine environmental justice, we must find a way to get all parties interested, which means getting past our automatic process of ignoring, which has developed through nature, a process which may eventually lead to our extinction.

Everyone has scotoma. Leaders in politics, leaders in industry, educators, and prisoners all have interests and areas of personal blindness. If we can find a way to get a student involved in their own education, perhaps we can find the way to make sustaining the environment a way of life for people. We can find a way to believe in their ability to make a difference and have a fair share of bounty and security without taking from others. To help people make the leap to a sustaining life style we have to ask what they need and how their interest can be developed.

How do we get people in prison involved? Here, the facility has started some agricultural and recycling practices, as a result of the SPP lecture series and a realization that it can reduce expenses. Prisoners who could see a value to themselves have embraced similar practices and looked for ways to learn more. I am interested in those that still do not have the ability to see the value of learning how they are affected and in turn are part of the cause leading to the affect. Some believe that they should do anything to cost DOC more money, that imprisoning humans should not be cheap, not making the connection to their taxpaying families. Others have no idea about how they affect the world by their actions. There are as many variations as people, staff and prisoners. Lectures and Roots are steps to include more people, but have also, for me, highlighted the blind spot. We need to find something to make it personal, not about saving DOC money or getting a certificate to get some good-time back. How is taking care of the environment related to me and my life, the lives of my loved ones and the world I will live in when I leave this place? Though we focus on personal benefits in Roots, students often have already put on the blinders putting in only the minimum effort and thought. Part of that is due to personal habit and discipline. We may know something is right to do, but have been doing it this way for so long that we don’t have the motivation or discipline to change. Bad examples are drug, alcohol and tobacco use. We know what is harmful about them but we keep using them anyway. Can we learn methods to cure these issues while making it a broad enough cure to use in all aspects of our lives and behavior?

SCCC-Roots-instructor-team

David Duhaime sits with his teaching team and graduating students at a graduation ceremony. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

We talk about grassroots methods of making something happen. However, in prison, I see that prisoners emulate authority. Prisons behave so similar to prison staff that I often tell people that if you switched clothes, and roles, nothing would change. But take that thought further. Think of clothes as the Habit or uniform we wear to fit in. How we behave is also the habit we wear to fit in to our lives. If the people in authority were also encouraged and educated and involved in EJ issues and how to model (mentor) the behavior we are looking for, learning stewardship and treating everyone fairly, could we then make progress in developing habits that may lead us closer to the fantasy of Just Sustainability, and a realistic Justice System.

At SCCC I ran into groups with staff as sponsors and had to work with them, a new experience for me; making me uncomfortable, threatening my comfort zone. I worked through it and found value and personal growth in the experience. People everywhere experience something similar with anything that challenges us to think and act in ways not habitual to or supportive of our lifestyle. An idea that may terrify proponents of the status quo and us against them is to include DOC staff, prisoners, law makers, law enforcers, citizens, students, and educators in a popular education dialog about moving forward with environmental justice and how to evolve our communities so we are the dynamic force for change and sustainability. Some might call that a Restorative Justice approach.

Can we perceive our own blind spots and see beyond them?!

Accountability: Brainstorming article

By Julian Reyes, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

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Julian Reyes speaks at a Roots of Success graduation event. Photo by DOC staff.

The planet is what provides us with food, cycles our water, filters our air, and shields us from harmful atmospheric gases. The planet is where we thrive. How can something so intricate to the survival of human life becomes the bearer of such disregard and disdain.

People must learn the practice of sustainability. The ability to keep up a practice or habit that is beneficial for many is something important for everyone. Being in prison allows people the opportunity to take a moment to examine the world and its practices. Prison is a closed environment where one small thing can affect everyone, and only a handful of corporate entities provide the prison system with the necessities for survival.

Corporate sponsorship has slowly taken over the global market place. No longer can society rely on the family run organizations or businesses. Once ownership becomes nameless and faceless, ownership becomes emotionless. The motivation for profit becomes absolute.

Corporations employ practices that cause harm to what they come into contact with because of cost cutting measures that cut too many corners which are environmentally friendly. All of the damage causes harm to the earth, deterioration to the ozone, while also polluting the water table.

Heavily toxic chemicals are in use in a variety of occupations, and many of these chemicals are rarely disposed of properly. The places corporations establish, like mines and factories, soon become danger zones and areas of contamination. People must quickly realize that they only are harming themselves.

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At a graduation ceremony, Roots of Success students pose with their certificates and instructors. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Creating a sustainable lifestyle culture is paramount, and Roots of Success is teaching people a new way to think. Being aware of the environmental injustice is the first step to finding a solution. The second step is continuing to hold people accountable for their actions.

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Roots of Success Instructor Julian Reyes and Master Instructor Eugene Youngblood. Photo by DOC staff.

Allowing corporate interest to shape societies attitude of more, more, more must stop. Consumerism, instant gratification, and newer is better are the ideals being professed by these corporate entities.

Bigger is not always better. New is not always the answer. American society has become a throw away and waste it culture, and Roots of Success must continue to try to open the eyes of the people.  

Healing people and the environment

by Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

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Susan Christopher holds a butterfly larvae so PBS Newshour’s Cat Wise can take a photo. Photo by Kelli Bush.

In the past, our environment has suffered from many injustices inflicted by society. Over-development, air and water pollution, toxic waste production and irresponsible use of natural resources have negatively affected our environment in ways it may take generations to overcome.

Incarcerated individuals also feel the affliction of societal injustices. While most of us assume responsibility for our actions that led us to prison, the underlying reasons for those actions many times stem from injustices we have suffered at the hands of others. Unlike environmental injustices, broken homes, neglect, abuse, and abandonment are issue most of us can relate to.

This is where the sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) steps in. SPP offers the amazing opportunity to simultaneously heal both the environment and incarcerated individuals by bringing science and nature together, inside prison walls.

As a butterfly rearing and breeding technician at Mission Creek Correction Center for Women (MCCCW), I can personally speak for the tremendous impact this opportunity has made on my life. This awe-inspiring collaboration of partners includes scientists, biologists, students, administrators, inmates, and other, from several state and federal agencies, zoos, colleges, and prisons. It is astounding to be involved with such a large partnership that works so well together.

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A technician shares a close up of an adult butterfly in the lab during the 2016 breeding season. Photo by Kelli Bush.

SPP’s vision of creating an intellectually stimulating environment in which we have key roles in conservation, sustainability, and the advancement of scientific knowledge has, without a doubt, been the most positive endeavor I’ve ever been associated with.

The successes of our program have proven the worth of everyone’s efforts. It is so personally rewarding to be asked for my opinions and insights on such a complex subject matter, especially when I see some of those ideas are incorporated into program protocols.

The amount of healing I’ve received through my involvement with SPP has been immeasurable. There is also an overwhelming satisfaction in knowing that we are contributing to our environment’s recovery.

Thank you SPP for righting some of the past’s wrongs. I really do believe justice is being served through your hard work.

See Susan Christopher in the PBS Newshour interview here.

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Reaching the Unreachable

by Cyril Delanto Walrond, Roots of Success Master Trainer/Instructor, Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

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Cyril Waldron teaches a class of soon-to-be Instructors how to teach the Roots of Success curriculum. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Just Sustainability must be about all of us and not just some of us. It must be less about policies and procedures and more about the people. It must be less about corporations and capital and more about the community. To have true just sustainability we must be willing to reach those deemed unreachable, those who have been marginalized and incapacitated by institutions that have been capitalizing on their ignorance and celebrating profit margins.

True just sustainability is sustainability that is no respecter of persons’ status; it is equal opportunity. A sustainability that is non-discriminatory and is accessible to all regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, social class, political affiliation, or even geographical location. However, we face a problem to this end that is much greater than the corporation or the market. In fact, I don’t believe the corporation and market are the problem at all as they both can be tremendous levers for great change. The problem lies in the institutionalized racism, sexism, and even classism that is embedded with bigotry running through its veins.

We can point to cases of environmental racism as a perfect example, where groups of people are targeted because of their race, ethnicity, lack of political power and representation, and capital. Or, what about where zoning laws perpetuate an environmental gerrymandering by drawing lines in the proverbial sands to protect the rich while victimizing the poor and disenfranchised.

This does not have to be the case, should we as a collective decide to stop lying down and allowing decisions to be made about us without us. Then we can change the narrative of how we see sustainability by changing the way that we see people.

Ironically, it is the people who are typically left out of the equation of sustainability. Trees are seen as sustainable while human life is not and has become more and more obsolete. We have gotten to the point where we have cut the thread that interconnects our natural environment to our humanity, forgetting the fact that human life is also a part of the natural environment. It is sad when we value the life of plants and animals more than that of humans.

If we see people as having value, we will value them. If we see people as valued resources, we will begin the work to protect them. Many don’t value life because many feel their lives have no value. One gorilla gets killed in a zoo and immediately policies are being changed. How many unarmed people were killed by law enforcement this year? …and counting! Cecil the lion gets killed and there is a public outcry. How many people have died this year alone as a result of gun violence in Chicago? How many people have lost their lives due to opioid overdoses? Or, how many lives have been aborted since Roe v. Wade? This is unsustainable! All Life matters! Black lives, white lives, blue lives, brown lives, plant lives!

To sociologists, economists, ecologists, and conservationists coming up with a uniform definition of sustainability seems elusive, like chasing the wind. All of these groups see the issue of sustainability uniquely from the perspective of their discipline, which is myopic while in fact addressing that sustainability is much bigger than one discipline. For us to have just sustainability these groups of esteemed intellectuals cannot work individually but rather collaboratively with each other, with the people and the environment.

We are caught in a conundrum of sustainability as we face the same hard questions we have been asking for decades. One such question being, “What is just sustainability?” While we seek ways to be more just in our sustainability practices, we must ask ourselves: What does it mean for something to be just? And, what do we mean by sustainability?

These terms are relatively subjective. Depending on how many people you ask, “What is just sustainability?” will be the determining factor how many answers you will get. Why is this? Because just for you may not be just for another. Sustainability for you may not be sustainability for anyone else.

The word ‘just’ denotes fairness and equality. It suggest that something is to be righteous or morally right. However, what qualifies one to be the author of morality or righteousness, equality or fairness? As a human race, we are fallible and tend to see life through our lenses and from our vantage points, which produce our perceptions of life.

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Roots of Success students work in small groups to discuss strategies and solutions to an environmental problem. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For many, when the term just is being used, it warrants a response of “I just don’t care!” ‘Just’ was often indicative of one’s social class or economic status. ‘Just’ice could be bought for ‘just’ the right price—a concept that has never truly sounded ‘just’.

How can we as a nation justify injustice when we have a moral obligation to the next generation? We speak about ‘just sustainability’ but no sustainability can be just or sustainable if it is inherently unjust and unsustainable. Encrypted in much of the corporate greenwashed rhetoric and falsified promises of justice are capitalistic practices of injustice, where the power to decide and the power to define fall into the hands of a few, versus being of the people, for the people and by the people. Yet we have the audacity to preach sustainability to the world but practice instability and unsustainability at home.

On the other hand, sustainability is a concept that we loosely throw around by the masses. A term typically associated with economic and community development as well as how this development seeks to meet the needs of the immediate or present generation without compromise the ability for needs being met for generations to come.

It is time we guard the treasures that have been entrusted to us. For far too long we have lived comfortably in the confines of our unsustainable lifestyles, selfishly retreating to our plethora of possessions while ignoring the plight of those suffering in silence.

As my colleagues and I prepare to teach another Roots of Success class, we are not only bringing a new world to our students but are introducing them to the world, a world they never knew existed, by exposing them to concepts that were previously foreign to the vast majority of them. It is not that they do not have the aptitude or attitude to learn, but have been denied the opportunities.

These previously unreachable students can no longer use that as an excuse because they have been touched by the gospel of sustainability. So one thing that we can say with all the work we have been doing and the success that our program has had, is that this is no longer about just sustainability but rather ‘just sustainability’.

Sustainability & Justice

by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
Photos by DOC staff

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times. Photo by DOC staff.by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times.

Too often we assume that the concept of sustainability is exclusive to the realm of environmental justice. That somehow the idea of conserving natural resources, protecting endangered species and habitats, or reducing our energy consumption will automatically result in a healed earth.

This assumption overlooks the most important factor in actually employing sustainability approaches and practices to meet the growing demands of environmental justice—the human being.

Transforming our earth requires the transformation of people, more specifically, the transformation of people’s attitudes and behavior, as it relates to the environment. The greatest potential and need for this change to occur exists within prisons.

Society has condemned and confined prisoners to prison because of their unsustainable (criminal) behavior. Their behavior has wreaked havoc and devastation within communities similar to the unsustainable human behavior that has led to the environmental crises we currently face. In this sense, the sustainability concept not only applies to radically improving our relationship with the earth and environment but also in our effort to redeem, reform, and rehab[ilitate] prisoners.

Einstein once said that the current dilemmas we face could not be solved at the same intellectual level in which they were created. We are going to have to revolutionize our thinking in how we establish responsible environmental and criminal justice practices. What better way to achieve this goal than to incorporate the solution of one with the other.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Roots of Success program (Roots) puts this wisdom of Einstein into practice. These types of programs provide prisoners with the necessary skills and experience to successfully reintegrate into society and find employment in the green economy.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

At Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC), SPP creates programs and opportunities for prisoners to engage in sustainability activities. For instance, the sagebrush project allows prisoners to acquire experience with the native plants of Washington State. The sagebrush plays an essential role in the eastern Washington landscape, as it provides numerous species with food and shelter. If the sagebrush were to become threatened or even extinct, this would have serious implications for the Washington State wildlife.

Sagebrush-and-tattoo-arm

A technician in the sagebrush program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center checks the health of a plant plug. Photo by Jeff Clark, Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, the Roots course empowers prisoners with its environmental literacy curriculum. While it builds environmental understanding, it also focuses on building the individual student. This means students are challenged to assess their attitude and behavior toward the environment and by extension their attitude and behavior toward society. By introducing the green economy and green jobs to students, Roots highlights the opportunity for students to become gainfully employed and be a veritable solution to our environmental problems.

Ultimately, what we do today determines our tomorrow. SPP and Roots are planting seeds that are sure to bear the fruit of sustainability and justice. So let us take a cue from these programs and dig our hands into the dirt to cultivate a better future.