Category Archives: Nature inside

Team building for native violets at Washington Corrections Center

Written June 11, 2015
Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant
All photos by Joey Burgess

A horticulture student in the Skill Builders Unit at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) tends to native violets in the prison's new seed beds.

A horticulture student in the Skill Builders Unit at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) tends to native violets in the prison’s new seed beds.

My first two months working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) was characterized by collaboration and progression, both of which I consider keystone concepts for sustainability. At Washington Corrections Center, a men’s prison near Shelton, WA, we partner with Centralia College, Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) staff, and inmates with cognitive impairments to raise Viola adunca (early blue violets) for seed. The project holds novelties for everyone involved and it has flourished thanks to flexibility and open minds.

carrying-conetainers

A horticulture student carries a rack of early blue violets that are ready to be planted.

Because of precautionary protocols, making infrastructure changes within the walls of a correction facility is not a speedy process. However SPP, WDOC, & Centralia College have truly united and the effect has been excellent. After only three months the violets are flowering, and we have already started harvesting seed. Our success is not limited to the health of the violets; it is also evident in the mental health and progression of the inmates.

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Another member of the class-and-crew hand waters violets.

An interest in horticulture is an inmate’s ticket to the project, but dedication keeps him there. Whether it’s planting, watering, cultivating, or harvesting, we focus on one skill at a time. We encourage each person to find a connection to the work. This holistic approach has created an atmosphere of personal and community development. Inmates are brimming with questions about the broad scheme of SPP, and how they can find similar work upon release. Also, it has been surprisingly common for WDOC officers and administrators who are not involved in the project to ask how they can help, even going out of their way to arrange for our 9,000+ violets to be watered over hot weekends.

SPP staff

SPP partners weed and care for the violets as a team.

Although in its infancy, the Viola adunca project has created an unlikely community. The original goals were to raise violets for seed and provide inmates with valuable skills. However the project has become a platform for more than that: proof that under a common goal, even stark boundaries can be blurred.

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One of the horticulture students discovered a Pacific chorus frog among the violets. Looks like the SPP logo!

 

Gardens at Airway Heights Corrections Center

by SPP Network Manager, Joslyn Rose Trivett
All photos by AHCC staff.

A gardener at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) harvest carrots from one of the gardens on the campus. Photo by DOC staff.

A gardener at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) harvest carrots from one of the gardens on the campus.

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC), located near Spokane, Washington, has abundant vegetable gardens. There is a huge main garden, and nearly every living unit has its own courtyard garden. Inmates tend these gardens, and send the produce to the prison’s kitchen; their harvest goes to inmate-dining halls.
Nearly every living unit at AHCC has a courtyard garden.

Nearly every living unit at AHCC has a courtyard garden, growing produce in the eastern Washington sunshine.

Volunteers from the nearby community support and enhance the gardening program. Two community volunteers work with the K-Unit (a living unit) Seniors in the K Unit garden. A Washington State University (WSU) Spokane County Extension Horticulture Specialist, Jeremy Cowan, makes presentations to all inmates active in the program, and consults on every garden at the prison. DOC staff Kraig Witt, a Recreation Specialist, and Lt. Leonard Mayfield also are integral to operations, and do a wonderful job of coordinating all the gardens.

Inmates in the kitchen process vegetables grown on-site, and on their way to the prison menu.

Cooks process vegetables grown on-site, preparing them for inmates’ dining hall.

Many thanks to all involved for their dedication to the gardens. The bring nature inside and healthy, delicious food to the menu.

Update June 29, 2015

The gardens at AHCC are thriving, and on track to out-produce last year. Here are photos from only a few days ago:

Welcome garden is in bloom!

Welcome garden is in bloom!

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The prison’s main garden is showing acres of healthy crops.

A living unit garden and surrounding grounds are lush and green.

A living unit garden and surrounding grounds are lush and green.

Impact!

By Samantha Turner,  Butterfly Technician at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

I have had a negative impact on many things throughout my life.  As much as I hate to bring to light all my defects, I would have to say that I have had more negative than positive influences in the past.

I find myself today actively changing this pattern.  I strive to do what is right.  Being a part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program has given me a huge opportunity to make an impact in a majorly positive way.  I’m learning so much in this program and all the while I find my life is comparable to the cycle of these butterflies’ lives.

I’m shedding my old skin to morph into a new person.

Technician Samantha Turner with a post-diapause larvae bin. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Technician Samantha Turner works with a postdiapause larvae bin. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Samantha is diligently taking notes in order to track each individual butterfly through it's transformation.  Photo by Jody Becker-Green.

Samantha is diligently taking notes in order to track each individual butterfly through its transformation. Photo by Jody Becker-Green.

This program is fighting to keep the Taylor’s checkerspot alive.  Along with saving their lives, I am fighting to save mine.  So, the SPP program is majorly impacting not only the butterflies’ lives, but my life, and preserving a fighting chance at a future for both of us.

Checkerspot larvae are social insects.  They often follow each other around and eat together.  Photo by inmate technician

Checkerspot larvae are social insects. They often follow each other around and eat together. Photo by inmate technician

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women butterfly technicians. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women butterfly technicians posed by a garden where they grow food for the caterpillars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Thank you for this program and I look forward to all the possibilities.

Sustainability… in Prison? SPP Coordinator and MES Graduate Candidate, Tiffany Webb, shares her experience of working in prisons

By Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Cross posted from the Evergreen State College, Master of Environmental Studies Program blog.

I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone with dreams and aspirations of working in a prison. I can certainly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied for an internship position with the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2013. I was set on Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies Program, but wasn’t quite sure where my professional life was headed.

Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Nature Drawing Workshop at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Dr. Carri LeRoy, SPP Co-Director and Evergreen Faculty.

Moving from Alabama to Washington State was a huge step, but I was excited and ready. I had just finished my B.S. in earth system science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, completed a grant-funded sustainability project, and rounded out some climate vulnerability work I had been doing with the NASA DEVELOP National Program.

Now I was looking for exciting justice-oriented work in my new Olympia home, and SPP offered that. But I found myself questioning my place in prisons. How could I fundamentally disagree with a system, yet work within it? Even further, how can I apply “sustainability” to a system I don’t actually wish to sustain? These questions have been a driving force throughout my time with SPP. I have worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project for nearly two years now, and have come to realize the importance of inside-out change makers. So often, those who want to make broad-scale cultural and systemic change clash with institutions of power, sometimes stifling the efficacy of their campaigns. SPP has taken a unique approach by forming a long-term partnership with such an institution, while simultaneously initiating programs that benefit those who are currently incarcerated. From organic gardens to inmate-led environmental classrooms, the SPP model has been integrated widely in WA prisons over the past 10 years. This has inspired changes within individual prison facilities and more broadly across the entire department of corrections—SPP now has a national network!

 

Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

Talking with a few women after a lecture at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Photo by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator.

SPP is also connected to Evergreen, which allows a bridge between higher education, students and faculty, prisons and staff, and prisoners. Through the partnership between Evergreen and Washington State corrections, I am not only able to learn about issues of mass incarceration and theories of prison reform within a classroom, but I am actually able to be part of providing resources and educational programs for incarcerated men and women. Inmates constantly express interest in environmental resources and information for how to be part of the green economy once they are released, and it has been eye-opening to try and meet their needs. This is a population and perspective that many environmental organizations tend to neglect and I have witnessed the importance of these incarcerated individuals within the broader environmental discussion.

Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

Presenting one of the first rounds of certificates to inmates who regularly attend the lecture series. Photo by Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Presenting at SCCC. Photo by John Dominoski, DOC Staff at SCCC.

Working with corrections staff, prisoners, and environmental community organizations has broadened my understanding of environmental justice— just how many populations are we leaving out of environmental initiatives? This position has inspired me to speak out as an ally for incarcerated individuals and to further advocate for prison reform, both from an environmental and social justice lens. I plan to stay involved with SPP and volunteer with other organizations working inside prisons, with ex-felons, as well as tackling prison policy and other issues in the criminal justice system. While this endeavor has presented a plethora of professional opportunities, the most important thing it has offered me is the experience of meaningful work with people who have a diverse range of perspectives and interests. This is an experience I will carry with me far beyond my time at Evergreen and with SPP.

SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

SPP program coordinators with the WCCW SPP Liaison after a virtual tour of sustainability programs.

I am sad to be leaving my position this year, but excited to know that a fresh mind will be joining the program. Leaving SPP also means losing connection with some of the most inspirational people I have met: prisoners who teach and facilitate environmental courses; people of color who empower themselves and fellow prisoners through amazing spoken word and art pieces about racism in America and the criminal justice system; and even corrections staff who are trying to make prison conditions better, dedicating what little spare time they have to supporting and furthering SPP programs. That doesn’t begin to cover the surprising range of inspiration I have felt in prisons; these memories and emotions will be with me no matter where my journey takes me next.

Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Talking with a woman at WCCW before the lecture with Yoga Behind Bars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

 

Washington State Monarchs Going the Distance

Just like many of us head south to escape the cold dark winters of the Northwest, so do butterflies! The Pacific Northwest Monarch butterfly population is thought to overwinter in coastal California and possibly central Mexico. This species is sensitive to fir tree and milkweed declines, and past research suggests that our butterflies are having difficulty making it to their ultimate destination each winter. The current extent of the Washington population’s migration and wintering area is largely unknown.

The Santa Cruz California Monarch Aggregation.  Two butterflies released just 4 days apart in August from Yakima, Washington traveled 675 miles (at least) to this same overwintering site!

Dr. David James, an associate professor at Washington State University (WSU) is studying this migration to learn more. In collaboration with the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, volunteers and inmates raise thousands of Monarch butterflies to be tagged and released every fall. Each butterfly carries a small, light-weight sticker showing an ID number and an email address. After release, they wait until a stranger in the south makes contact to tell them where their butterflies have landed.


Washington State Penitentiary Monarch Butterfly Rearing 2012

 

David James explaining monarch biology to inmates at WSP.

On November 22nd an observer counting Monarchs in Goleta, California found a butterfly that was tagged at WSP. Goleta is 825 straight line miles from Walla Walla! This is the longest travel distance recorded for a Washington Monarch making this the most important re-sighting to date! Previous recoveries proved migration only as far south as San Francisco.

One of the 50 monarchs released from Yakima in October.

This is a great example of how the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) model of collaborative partnerships with prisons allows multiple partners to participate in conservation efforts that reach far beyond Washington State. SPP staff at The Evergreen State College would like to congratulate WSU and WSP on this great achievement! We look forward to learning more about where our Monarchs travel in the coming years. To track the Monarch project yourself, follow their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterfliesInThePacificNorthwest

Monarch wanted from fb

First Beekeeping Certification in-prison for SPP-WA

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Master Beekeeper Renzy Davenport of the Olympia Beekeepers Association and the Pierce County Beekeepers spent six Thursday evenings with a class of inmates and staff at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. At the seventh meeting, he certified all students as Apprentice Beekeepers. As far as we know, this is the first in-prison beekeeping certification program in Washington state, and we hope it will be the first of many.

A newly-certified beekeeper receives recognition from Renzy Davenport of the Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

A newly-certified beekeeper receives recognition from Renzy Davenport of the Olympia and Pierce County Beekeepers Associations. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

The classes conveyed all the fundamentals of beekeeping, including how to build up colonies without buying more bees. Renzy provided practical guidance on how to turn beekeeping into a business. At an earlier class, the students sampled several varieties of honey and learned how to create the more tasty varieties—no one was very interested in how to achieve a “buckwheat honey,” as they thought it smelled like wet dog, but the raspberry and wildflower varieties were popular!

For those at Cedar Creek in the spring, they will have the chance to work with the in-prison hives. During the winter months, the bees are quiet and cannot be disturbed, but starting in April there will be plenty to do to care for the bees and their hives.

The first class of certified beekeepers at Cedar Creek Corrections Center pose with their certificates. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

The first class of certified beekeepers at Cedar Creek Corrections Center pose with their certificates. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

Many thanks to Renzy for donating his time to teach the program, and to all the students and administrative support at the prison. Thanks to Fiona Edwards for attending the certification ceremony so we could help celebrate this first beekeeping class.

House plants: A new way to bring nature inside at Larch Corrections Center

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Photos by Danette Gadberry, AA4 at Larch Corrections Center

House-plant-pilot-at-Larch-2-cropped

An inmate at Larch Corrections Center (LCC) shows off spider plant babies from his collection of house plants.

This past spring, I received a letter from an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center asking for support of program to bring house plants into inmates’ living units. While we were unable to make the program work at that prison, I have kept his proposal in mind: it seems an elegant and relatively simple way to “bring nature inside.” I have hoped that we would find a facility willing to pilot a house plant program, and now I discover that a pilot is already underway: Larch has house plants!

Larch Corrections Center (LCC) is a minimum security prison northeast of Vancouver, Washington, and the 40 acre campus is surrounded by National Forest land. I toured the facility for the first time last month and was impressed to see a wide array of sustainability programming, including large-scale composting and recycling (operational for ten years), staff-led waste reduction in the kitchen, and off-campus food production for a local food bank. When we visited a living unit, I was focused on seeing the cat program and missed the house plants. So glad to know about them now!

LCC was the first prison in Washington state to eliminate trash can liners, now standard practice in our prisons and saving the state thousands of dollars and resources. Once again, they are leading the way.

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An inmate displays a variety of house plants next to his window; a cat toy is also visible.

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An inmate displays a house plant in his room at LCC. The shelves behind him are for the feline resident of the room.

Cat-program-at-Larch
A cat in LCC’s feline program enjoys a high perch.