Category Archives: Inmate Voices

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!

Busy as a Bee at WSP

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Group photo of program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, professional beekeeper Mona Chambers, and a class of inmate beekeepers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Amid the razor wire and blocky buildings of the Washington State Penitentiary, you might be surprised to see beautiful blooming flowers and thousands of bees busily bumbling through their work. From catching feral swarms, to breeding their own queens, the beekeeping program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has established themselves as a successful and inspirational model.

The program began about 5 years ago when three feral hives were discovered on the grounds. Some of the staff was interested in raising bees and contacted Rob Coffee, an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately, those first few hives didn’t last the year, but still it was enough of an introduction to catch the interest of staff and inmates.

Over the years, there have been staffing changes and many generations of bees have come and gone. Rob Jackson, now Associate Superintendent, first pushed for the bee program when he noticed those feral hives on site. These days the program is run by Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, both corrections staff and experienced beekeepers. Last year, a professional beekeeper and founder of See the Bees, Mona Chambers, donated her time to come teach a class of beekeepers at WSP; since then she has kept in contact with them monthly and has supported program innovations such as natural, effective ways of mite control. The program also receives some input from the same Master beekeeper (from Millers Homestead) who supports the beekeeping program at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A class at WSP working with bees. When asked about the beekeeping course, one student said “I love it. It’s so exciting. Honored to be a part of it, really. If they were going to transfer me next to my family, I’d tell them to wait until this was done.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jonathan and Ron teach WSP’s class to certify inmates as apprentice beekeepers has 15 slots, and clearly this isn’t enough to meet demand – there were 90 inmates who wanted to take the class this year! The course is split between in-class sessions and hands-on working with hives. Their goal of the program is for inmates to gain sufficient experience and journeyman level-certification so they could teach the classes themselves. Even in the early days of the bee program, staff wanted this to be a program that inmates could be fully involved in and eventually run.

Currently, WSP has 12 healthy hives, and that’s even though only 5 made it through the winter. To boost their numbers, they catch feral swarms or buy packages of bees. The one thing that WSP won’t buy are queens—they can rely on Ron Benjamin’s experience as a commercial beekeeper in which he learned how to breed queens. By breeding their own queens, they can choose to favor certain traits and genetics beneficial to their environment.

A class of students, program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, and professional beekeeper Mona Chambers inspect the hives before opening them to check on WSP’s bees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The WSP beekeeping program’s main goal is to help incarcerated individuals build skills as productive members of society, but they have many other things they want to accomplish, too. They want to educate inmates and staff about the beekeeping crisis on the west coast, and do their part to reverse the bee shortage; they want to give inmates opportunity to experience the serenity that comes with beekeeping; and—above all—teach inmates a marketable skill to have when they’re released.

As the season wraps up, WSP will harvest their honey and package it in jars that are decorated in a seal designed by this years’ graduated beekeepers. Once they finish harvesting, they will begin to wind down for the winter. We at SPP look forward to more continued success and inspiration from the busy beekeepers of WSP.

An inmate beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at WSP. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sagebrush in Prisons

The sage-grouse in the project’s new logo was drawn by a sagebrush program technician, Lawrence Jenkins.

By Stacy Moore, Institute for Applied Ecology Program Director, Ecological Education, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

“For the first time in my life I’m actually doing something right and I’m making a difference. Most importantly, I believe in what we do more than anything else in my life.” ~ Lawrence Jenkins at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington

“Yes, I’ve made mistakes, we all have, but the one I don’t want to make is missing the chance to give back to the world that has taken care of me. Given the chance, you will see the goodness in us all.” ~ Toby Jones at Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, Oregon (longer quote here)

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project is a multi-state restoration program including corrections center nurseries located in six western states: Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Montana. The effort is led by the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), a founding partner of SPP-Oregon, with funding from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The planting crew from Snake River Correctional Institution take a moment to pose with their sagebrush plugs. Photo by Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) staff.

The programs grow sagebrush for restoration of greater sage-grouse habitat and to provide restoration ecology education and training to incarcerated men and women. Inmate crews, staff, and educators assist BLM in planting sagebrush each fall/early winter. We estimate that these programs will plant 445,000 sagebrush plants this fall!

These women work with and learn about sagebrush in the program at Montana Women’s Prison (MWP). Photo by IAE staff.

Captain McCorkhill at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility helps loads plugs ready for fall planting. Photo by IAE staff.

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project completes the full circle of a native plant’s life: from seed collection to sowing, daily care, and then planting mature plants in the fall. The program is a win-win-win for the inmates, community and the environment. Inmates giving back to the community gain a new perspective on how we treat our natural heritage and each other. The community and local habitats benefit through healthier ecosystems and more wildlife.

The program generates balance within our environment and within the everyday lives of incarcerated individuals. It gives them some access to work valued by communities inside and outside the fence, and also may be a source of meaning and pride.

It gratifying to hear what incarcerated technicians think of the program, and what it has meant in their lives. Here are more quotes from the project, these from  Idaho State Correctional Center’s program, said by crew members as they boxed up sagebrush plugs for planting last October:

“In 19 years this is the first time I’ve been able to give back to the community.”

“It is a sanctuary out here. This is a huge blessing.” 

“This brings inmates together when we can work on a project like this. It breaks the walls down where it doesn’t feel like prison so much.”

We are impressed to see a complex conservation program replicated and maintaining integrity in a variety of corrections systems—speaks to the strength of the model! We know that the program would not be possible without the efforts of inmates, corrections staff, educators, contractors, and partners. Thank you to all of you who make Sagebrush in Prisons Project possible and successful. It’s a dream come true.

Butterfly conservation takes flight in Oregon prison

Text by Ronda Naseth, Oregon Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator, Oregon Zoo
Photos by Tom Kaye, Institute for Applied Ecology, and Chad Naugle, Oregon Department of Corrections

The technicians pose with their larvae, growing in cups under energy-efficient LED bulbs. From left to right: Marisol, Carolyn, Mary, Sarah.

Sarah shows how larvae have begun webbing in preparation for diapause.

The excitement generated by the new Butterfly Conservation Lab at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is both palpable and contagious to anyone who visits. The buzz began this spring. Oregon Zoo staff began training program technicians to receive egg clusters and to raise larvae. At the same time, staff and inmates – skilled in trades from plumbing to quilting – worked to transform an empty room into a fully functioning, bright, and beautiful lab. The work being done here is groundbreaking: it expands recovery efforts for the endangered Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly from Washington to Oregon, and brings butterfly conservation work into a medium facility housing unit for the first time.

The technicians’ dedication to the work is reflected in successes so far this season. Their attentiveness allowed them to capture video of the first larvae hatching from their eggs. They enthusiastically welcomed 150 “ninjas” that were overlooked as egg clusters but suddenly appeared as larvae on our host plants. Recently, they accepted the responsibility for care of a single Oregon Zoo butterfly which elected to skip diapause (a period of dormancy, somewhat similar to hibernation), and head straight into pupation and adulthood several months ahead of schedule.

Ultimately, the technicians’ care has resulted in a 95% survival rate, measuring from the time the larvae were first big enough to count to entering diapause. Our program goals include having 500 larvae survive diapause in order to be released to the field next spring; with 935 healthy larvae currently ready to head into the overwintering stage, we are optimistic we will meet this goal!

Marisol shows a lab visitor how larvae climb to the lids of their cups to bask in the light.

Staff and technicians alike are deservedly proud of their work and of the lab itself. They actively seek opportunities to share their space and their new knowledge. They host tours, speak about the program at Toastmasters gatherings, and participate in special activities such as CCCF’s annual Through A Child’s Eyes event and a recent science lecture and media visit. Technicians share larval development with other women on their unit by displaying photos and information on the lab windows. In the technicians’ words:

“When I go to our butterfly lab, I feel a sense of peace in a world of chaos. I have a rare opportunity to sustain the life of an endangered species, which gives me a unique reward of being able to give peace back into the world.”

Sarah

“This program gives me an opportunity to give back to the Earth and not take things for granted.”

Marisol

“The Butterfly Program has been very beneficial to me as I know I’m doing something good for the environment. I also love the opportunity to work with a wonderful team!

Mary

“To be involved in this program means I am given the opportunity to be involved in my community here at Coffee Creek as well as an extension to the outside community through our partnership with the Oregon Zoo, ultimately helping to change Oregon’s environment one butterfly at a time.”

Carolyn

The butterfly crew stands under a quilt created for the lab by Oregon Corrections Enterprises quilters. From left to right: Marisol, Ronda, Mary, Sarah, Carolyn.