Category Archives: Outreach

From Poop to Employment: Jonathan Jones-Thomas shares his experience returning to prison as a guest lecturer

By Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas, Group Three Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator
Photos by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Going back to prison to talk to inmates about job opportunities in the industry of wastewater treatment through SPP was indescribable. To return 1 ½ years after serving a 10-year sentence for assault… I told myself I would never go back. I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to go back to encourage others to walk my path, seek out healthy relationships and green job opportunities.

The author poses in the parking lot of Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

The author poses in the parking lot of Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

While incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex (Monroe, WA), I was introduced to the wastewater industry by a “white man” by the name of Brian Funk. Being “black” myself, I didn’t expect to be introduced to education or employment opportunities by “white dudes”. Brian was unique in that he didn’t care about all the prison politics involved with “looking out for your own kind”. He was the type to “just do the right thing”. As the result, four years later, I type this at a computer working for a municipality in Snohomish County; I make good money, and Brian works next to me. He had no idea his small investment in the “black guy” would lead to a career in wastewater for the both of us, plus a plethora of opportunities to encourage others to do the same thing.

We were invited to speak at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (Aberdeen, WA) by Kristin Covey, a Brightwater employee. Brightwater is the upper echelon of wastewater treatment in the state of Washington. Kristin was invited by SPP to present at the prison and decided it would be best to bring two guys along that have been “in” and are now “out” in the industry. Before arriving, Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Program Coordinator, made clear that there was a growing interest in green jobs post prison. During the two hour drive, Brian and I formulated a plan to maximize our time with the offenders, knowing that there was a unique opportunity for them to hear about the pitfalls and challenges first hand.

waste-water3-presenters

Kristin Covey, Brian Funk, and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas, three experts in waste water treatment, co-presented to a mesmerized audience.

Walking into the prison was extremely stressful. In the back of my mind I knew I would be leaving in a matter of hours, but in my emotions…I waited to leave prison for 9 years 21 days and here I am inside again. But this time Brian and I have the reputation of SPP and wastewater industry professional, Kristin Covey, arriving and leaving with us. Walking through the breezeway, I looked at all the other fellow inmates thinking, “I wonder if they know I’m one of them.” Brian, having spent time at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, was greeted by a number of fellow inmates. It made me feel more comfortable knowing that they knew we too have walked that breezeway. By the time I got to the classroom I was ready to present. The fifty or so folks that showed up were ready to learn about the career opportunities in the wastewater industry. They didn’t know that I would bombard them with a lesson in life skills. Hopefully, Brian and I made it clear: you don’t get to get out of prison and maintain success in any industry, or life for that matter, without personal growth. Education is the key to a successful, sustainable transition back to society. It was awesome…

Brian and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas learned about waste water treatment in-prison and went on to make it a career after release.

Brian Funk and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas learned about waste water treatment while incarcerated, and they have turned their expertise into careers.

SPP’s New Co-Director: Stephen Sinclair

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Stephen Sinclair has replaced Dan Pacholke as the Assistant Secretary for the Prisons Division with the Washington State Department of Corrections. With the new position, he has graciously accepted serving as Co-Director for the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). Stephen has already shown himself to be a knowledgeable and capable leader for SPP, and we are thrilled to have him on board.

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Steve Sinclair and Joslyn Rose Trivett emceed SPP’s Statewide Summit, a two-day meeting in April, 2015. Photo by Karissa Carlson.

Stephen takes over as Co-Director for SPP from his esteemed predecessor, Dan Pacholke. Dan was one the founders of SPP, and his inspiration and creativity have helped make SPP what it is today. We have no doubt that Stephen will continue to rally WDOC’s sustainability culture; he is dedicated to a more humane and sustainable way of running prisons.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dan Pacholke for his tireless years of service and dedication to SPP. We are grateful Dan will continue to be involved in SPP, now as a Senior Advisor. We warmly welcome Stephen Sinclair to his new role as Co-Director for SPP. Thank you to you both!

Steve-presenting

Steve Sinclair presents on SPP’s future to more than 100 DOC, Evergreen, and program partners. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

First Prison to be Certified as Wildlife Habitat!

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is pleased to recognize the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor as an official Certified Wildlife Habitat site. NWF celebrates the efforts of the staff and offenders at WCCW to create garden spaces that improve habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, and other wildlife. They have provided the essential elements needed by all wildlife – natural food sources, clean water, cover, and places to raise their young.

Paula Andrew displaying the NWF Habitat Certification plaque that can be found at the front entrance of WCCW.

Paula Andrew displaying the NWF Habitat Certification plaque that can be found at the front entrance of WCCW. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

From Paula Andrew, SPP Liaison at WCCW: “I can remember the day it all started – I sat in the back of the room during [NWF’s] Sustainability lecture and kept thinking to myself, ‘We do that! We have that! We qualify as a wildlife habitat!’ I read through the application to become certified, and each category referred to a practice we already had in place at WCCW. I started thinking about what a perfect partnership this would be, with perfect timing to fit in with the sustainable practices we were adopting throughout our facility.”

WCCW joins NWF’s roll of more than 150,000 certified habitats nationwide, but is the first prison to receive that distinction in Washington State, not to mention the whole Northern Rocky and Pacific Regions. Wildlife habitats are important to year-round wildlife residents as well as species that migrate, such as some birds and butterflies. Each habitat is unique for both beauty and function.

A family of bunnies spotted at WCCW, living proof of their wildlife habitat!

A family of bunnies spotted at WCCW, living proof of their wildlife habitat! Photo by DOC staff.

The WCCW habitat is a many-faceted gem, sprawling among 65 acres that play home to squirrels, birds, butterflies, and an adopted aging cat. The horticulture program has saturated the grounds with 28 varieties of food crops that are used to feed the 900-plus offenders that can be seen daily, diligently working the flower beds and fruit & vegetable growing areas with an admirable sense of pride.

Gardens at WCCW.

Gardens at WCCW. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sarah Joy Steele.

WCCW has recently reaffirmed its commitment to sustainable practices throughout the facility. Proof of that can be witnessed in the just-completed composting project; it is turning out rich soil to be used to in the many food and ornamental gardens.

For more information on gardening for wildlife and details on how an entire community can become certified, visit www.nwf.org/habitat or call 1-800-822-9919. The mission of the National Wildlife Federation is to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

Environmental Justice and Hope for the Commons

by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Working with SPP as a graduate student has provided more opportunity and professional experience than I could have imagined when I started as the Lecture Series Coordinator. Since then, my interest in social and environmental justice has blossomed, spurred by regular interactions with incarcerated individuals and the excitement they display for environmental topics. Thus I found myself presenting at the Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons conference hosted by the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Seattle University this past weekend.

Science and sustainability lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo credit: Benj Drummond

Sustainability workshop at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett

Lecture versus Workshop

I presented on behalf of Sarah Weber, a former SPP coordinator and MES graduate, whose thesis research focused on environmental education in prison. More specifically, her research compared teaching methods (lecture vs. workshop-style presentations) and their influence on inmate attitudes and knowledge of environmental topics. Interestingly, when reanalyzing Sarah’s research for publication, we found results that differed from the original analysis: female students benefited more from workshops and male students benefited more from lectures (see figure below). This finding is particularly helpful for ensuring that the environmental education opportunities we offer are tailored to the audience. As the Lecture Series Coordinator, I plan to use these findings to better promote environmental learning through offering more workshops for women and lectures for men.

Results from Weber research

Results from Weber’s research.

“You never know what you can’t do.”

Presenting at the conference was a great experience, but my most appreciated take-away came from the wonderful plenary speakers. We heard from Bill McKibben of 350.org, the most widespread political action organization in our history; Sarah Augustine, a sociologist at Heritage College and indigenous activist; and Denis Hayes who coordinated the very first Earth Day and has gone on to do so much more.

They spoke about the global extraction industry and its impact on the environment as well as the displacement and rights violations of indigenous communities. The ecological problems they outlined were sobering, but they all offered a similar call to action. They encouraged everyone to reach beyond what you think is possible, because, as Denis Hayes put it, “You never know what you can’t do.” And while exercising political will can sometimes be uncomfortable, it is always necessary in encouraging effective change. I learned so much from these amazing people and the lessons they shared from years of environmental activism. Hearing their stories sparked a fire in my consciousness, and I feel reenergized in the work I do with SPP, the research for my Master in Environmental Studies, and in my personal life.

If you’re interested in getting involved with environmental action in the PNW, check out:

350.org

Beyond Coal WA

Climate Solutions

The E3 Network

Sierra Club, WA State Chapter

Prairie Appreciation Day 2014 – Photo Gallery

Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager.

The object of our affections: south Puget Lowlands native prairie, one of the rarest landscapes in the nation, and a beautiful place to be in the springtime.

The object of our affections: Puget Lowlands native prairie, one of the rarest landscapes in the nation, and an especially beautiful place to be in the springtime.

Balsalmroot (Balsamorhiza sp.) broadcasting its beauty in the morning sun.

Balsalmroot (Balsamorhiza sp.) broadcasting its beauty in the morning sun.

SPP's offering for those who would like to be Taylor's checkerspot butterflies: native flowers atop juice boxes.

SPP’s offering for those who would like to emulate Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies: native flowers atop juice boxes.

A visitor enjoys her creation.

A visitor to SPP’s booth enjoys some nectar from her creation.

Federally-listed Endangered golden Indian paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) growing on the prairie. Our Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott participated in their planting many years ago!

Federally-listed Endangered golden Indian paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) growing on the prairie. Our Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott participated in their planting many years ago!

To find out more about Prairie Appreciation Day, see the article: Butterflies, flowers and prairies, oh my! by one of SPP’s conservation nursery coordinators, Bri Morningred.

Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference

Tiffany Webb, SPP’s Education and Evaluation Coordinator, and I had the chance to attend the first annual Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference this week. We are now one day into the two-day conference and wanted to share some of the amazing and inspiring things we have seen and heard so far.

Evergreen's Master of Environmental Studies table, with SPP's materials on display

Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies table, with SPP’s materials on display

Hearing about the commitments that colleges all over the region are making to sustainability is impressive; from solar thermal swimming pools and gardening to making sustainability a part of all job applications. We heard about University of Washington’s socially responsible procurement, smart grid demonstration projects at University of Washington and Washington State University, and even Western Washington University’s commitment to avoiding the use of harsh cleaning chemicals in their custodial work (they had been using just iodized water, and now vinegar and water). These were just a few of the amazing things that campuses across Washington (plus some in Canada and Oregon) are doing to promote sustainability; there are far too many to list!

SPP's Education and Evaluation Coordinator, Tiffany Webb, presenting on SPP at WAHESC.

SPP’s Education and Evaluation Coordinator, Tiffany Webb, presenting on SPP at WAHESC

During a session on service learning, Tiffany presented on the SPP and her experience as a graduate student involved in the project. She was particularly excited to be presenting “in a room full of people who are aware of issues and want to find solutions.” She said that the attitude towards climate change science and sustainability in general was completely different than in her home state of Alabama. She was also able to attend a session about interviewing children on climate change, which she found humbling; what used to be taught only in classrooms is now being learned about at a young age through many avenues outside of the classroom. Teaching about environmental issues in the future will be very different, because of the deeper understanding of these issues that children today are raised with.

Yesterday’s talks were fascinating and we were able to take home many ideas that may be useful in the future for SPP. At the same time, it was satisfying to share our unique perspective on working with SPP as graduate students. We are both looking forward to another day of learning about incredible projects across the state today!

SPP visits the United Nations

By Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

In July, I had the honor of spending two weeks at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, for the UN’s annual Graduate Study Programme (GSP).  I was excited to represent SPP and Evergreen in an international group of graduate students and to learn all I could about international civil service.

Brittany Gallagher, center, at the UN Graduate Study Programme.

This year’s GSP theme was “Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.”  My classmates were students from every continent; representatives came from China, Rwanda, Germany, Mali, Morocco, Australia, Italy, Slovenia, France, Russia, Bolivia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the US, to name only a sample.  Many were studying international relations, law, human rights, or similar topics.  There were a few psychology and public health students, but I was one of only a few studying the environment.  However, thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of Evergreen’s Graduate Program on the Environment and my background in international development, I didn’t feel out of place in education or experience.

We each introduced ourselves to the large group and described our work, studies, and interests.  I was impressed by the level of engagement and the diversity of experience in the room.  After my brief presentation, I entertained a slew of questions about SPP.  These questions continued between classes at the UN office, over lunch, on the tram on the way home, and at the lake on the weekends.  In addition to talking frog conservation with my peers, the speaker from the United Nations Environment Programme was especially interested in what SPP does!  I was reminded of how innovative our project is – people were fascinated by the concept and the practice.  After two years with SPP, I have become accustomed to our mission and daily activities, but I forget that many folks have never heard of conservation programs involving prison inmates.

Representatives from UN agencies visited to present their organizations’ work on gender equality. I went through two notebooks taking copious notes. UNOG photo.
BG at UN Nations gate July 2013

During the two-week program, our class heard from representatives from a variety of UN agencies about their work on gender equality.  We also split up into five working groups and tackled case studies related to the theme.   Each working group was mentored by a UN staff member from the relevant agency; they advised our work and challenged us to create high-quality “work plans” addressing current real-world issues related to gender.  I chose to work in the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) group, and we were given the freedom to select a topic.  We designed a country program for addressing sexual and gender-based violence in camps for internally displaced people in Haiti.  Our report is nearly finished and will be presented to the ‘real’ UNFPA in September.

I am enormously grateful to SPP and Evergreen for supporting my attendance at the GSP, and to the UN for providing students like me with this extraordinary opportunity.  Check out the links in this post and the UN-GSP Facebook page if you want to learn more about it!

As in Olympia, newcomers to Geneva complained about the weather (but, as in Olympia, the weather in July was gorgeous). They also have a Mountain that, like ours, hides on cloudy days. The view from the UN office is great even on an overcast day.

As in Olympia, newcomers to Geneva complained about the weather (but, as in Olympia, the weather in July was gorgeous). They also have a Mountain that, like ours, hides on cloudy days. The view from the UN office is great even on an overcast day.

Take Your Child to Work Day at WCCW

by Fiona Edwards, SPP Graduate Research Assistant

A great horned owl feather is passed around for the kids to see.

A great horned owl feather is passed around for the kids to see.

On Wednesday, Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) hosted Take Your Child to Work Day. SPP Graduate Research Assistants Brittany Gallagher, Bri Morningred, and Fiona Edwards joined the festivities.

At the suggestion of Paula Andrew, the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series lead staff member at WCCW, Brittany invited a popular SPP guest lecturer, Lynne Weber from West Sound Wildlife Shelter, back to visit the prison again. Ms. Weber gave a presentation about birds to the kids.  She brought a great horned owl and a turkey vulture, both of which were hugely successful with the audience. Lynne explained how animals ended up in the care of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and how important it is to respect wildlife. Many questions were asked, my favorite being: “Will the turkey vulture get its license when it’s 16?”

Lynne Weber from West Sound Wildlife Shelter shows Remington, a turkey vulture, to the audience.

Lynne Weber from West Sound Wildlife Shelter shows Remington, a turkey vulture, to the audience.

Next up, Brittany and Bri did an exercise on the meaning and applications of sustainability, asking the kids to share their experiences with sustainable practices. Then I spoke about the Western pond turtles, which SPP is expecting to care for very soon. I attempted to explain the concept of shell rot (a disease which the turtles suffer from) without gory details, and when I asked how a healthy turtle’s shell is supposed to feel, one audience member told me, “It’s hard like a sandwich.” In the coming year, I’m hoping to get the sick turtles’ shells back to sandwich levels.

The Prison Pet Partnership came out next with two well-trained dogs. They showed the kids how they could help their future owners by flipping on light switches, closing doors, picking up fallen items, grocery shopping, and rolling on their backs so the owner could inspect for anything unusual. One excited audience member asked if the dogs could jump over the table, to which the head of the program replied that the dogs are in fact taught to jump: one of the dogs jumped over a cardboard box and inspired roaring applause.

After lunch, we helped the children color paper Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly wings and told them about the relationship between the Taylor’s checkerspot and the prairie plants. And even though we were not allowed to give away plugs of beautiful Castilleja hispida to those who asked, we had a great time; we hope we get to come back next year!

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SPP at the World Congress on Positive Psychology

By Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Dr. James Pawelski welcomes the crowd to the conference hosted by the International Positive Psychology Association

Dr. James Pawelski welcomes the crowd to the conference hosted by the International Positive Psychology Association

In late June, I attended the third international conference on positive psychology in Los Angeles. There were 1,200 participants with numerous representatives from every continent. Both the participants and the programming represented a huge diversity of expertise. I made friends with a psychiatrist from Australia, a corporate-culture specialist from the Gap, and a community college teacher. I heard the latest research on how love improves physical health, how strength-based coaching transformed a hospital unit’s job satisfaction from the 1st percentile to the 86th percentile within a year, and the benefits of aging on creativity.

It was gratifying to confirm that SPP’s philosophy and practice are very much consistent with positive psychology in practice. I presented an overview on SPP’s positive outcomes—social, economic, and environmental—and heard delighted responses from those attending.

On the topic of environmental sustainability, I attended a panel discussion on how to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint. The panel included John Fraser, our associate at New Knowledge Organization, and he and I challenged the group to pursue societal agendas that are compelling at the same time as pro-environmental. Dr. Fraser suggested SPP programming as a model for a societal shift of this kind: such a welcome compliment!

The starting place for a discussion on reducing human’s global footprint: how to acknowledge real biological limitations and pursue positives leading to sustainability?

The starting place for a discussion on reducing humanity’s global footprint: how to acknowledge real biological limitations and pursue positives leading to sustainability?

Thank you to Mark Hurst, a member of the Evergreen faculty, who invited me to present at the conference. He impressed me with his own programming in western Washington prisons; new data (from Kim Huynh at Seattle Pacific University) from his eight week, strengths-based intervention with incarcerated men show excellent, sustained increases in optimism, hope, and life satisfaction. Thank you also to SPP Co-Directors Carri LeRoy and Dan Pacholke for encouraging me to attend the conference and helping to frame my presentation.

To support the positive work of SPP, please donate or get involved; our innovative work can always use your help and support.