Category Archives: Prison Life

Environmental Ed for Juveniles in Detention

By Sadie Gilliom, SPP Turtle Rehabilitation Program Coordinator

When Rachel Stendahl started work with the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2013, her dream was to become a marine ecology professor. However, something about her experience as an SPP Roots of Success Coordinator must have stuck: in the years since she left SPP, she figured out how to bring environmental education to juvenile detention centers!

Rachel Stendahl talks with a Roots of Success instructor during a graduation celebration for students of the environmental curriculum. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

After researching the relationship between paths of whale migration and shipping, Rachel graduated from The Evergreen State College with a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. Rachel was hired by Educational Service District 113 to be their Regional Science Coordinator. She took over the job of running a watershed education program called the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium. This program supports stewardship of the Chehalis Basin watershed by providing environmental education resources to educators. Through this program, hundreds of youth throughout the Chehalis Basin watershed learn how their watershed works, how to test the water quality of their streams, rivers, and lakes, and how to present their water quality data.

After getting into the swing of things, Rachel realized that not all of the students in the Chehalis Basin were being provided these same hands-on learning opportunities. In particular, she was concerned with the students inside of juvenile detention centers. With the help of another previous SPP employee, Bri Morningred, Rachel successfully completed, submitted, and was awarded the No Child Left Inside grant. Rachel began to implement a new environmental education program at the Lewis County Juvenile Detention Center.

SPP shared Rachel’s internship opportunity on their listserv and I applied for the job. We worked together to coordinate the first-ever environmental education program provided to the youth at the detention center. It has been a great success! Rachel plans to continue the program and hopes to expand to Green Hill Juvenile Detention Center. Go Rachel!

Erica Turnbull, an SPP intern from Western Washington University, and Rachel studied reentry together during the summer of 2013. Photo by SPP staff.

From SPP to Water for the World

By Joey Burgess, Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator, Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Drissia Ras served as Conservation Nursery Coordinator at Stafford Creek Corrections Center from 2012-14 while completing her Master of Environmental Studies degree at Evergreen—the same position I am in now. For Drissia, performing weekly educational workshops and lectures was the most important aspect of her work. She believed that education was crucial to the transformation of this vulnerable population into valuable members of society with a future. She also appreciated the hours spent getting her hands therapeutically dirty while cultivating prairie plants. It was a much-needed break from academic endeavors.

Staff photo from https://friendlywater.net/ABOUT.

During coursework for Drissia’s Master’s degree, she found herself in Yakima County working with farmers, county officials, and other stakeholders on preserving water quality in local watersheds. A representative from a non-profit organization, Friendly Water for the World, was also involved. They invited her to embark on a research project to evaluate the performance of a household water filter, BioSand, for removing arsenic, and this became the subject of her Master’s thesis. She found that the water filter was extremely effective at removing arsenic, a valuable finding for applications of the technology in developing communities. Following graduation, Drissia continued to work with Friendly Water for the World, and became their Administration & Operations Director.

Drissia says her experiences from SPP serve her well in her current work. She appreciated the openness and flexibility that her supervisors provided; it meant she could get the experience she needed. SPP’s management style was perfect for her. She was guided effectively, and empowered to develop project-management and personal skills. Working in a prison with Department of Corrections staff, she expanded her communication skills in ways that now help her establish and maintain relationships with global partners.

Bri Morningred, Jaal Mann, and Drissia Ras, all three prairie conservation nursery coordinators, smile during an SPP celebration in 2013. Photo by SPP staff.

For the future, Drissia plans to continue working with non-profit organizations. Although she recognizes that every organization is distinct and dynamic, she finds SPP especially unique because of the network of partnerships it has formed. She hopes to implement a similar networking strategy into her future work with marginalized populations.

Lecture Series Coordinators 1, 2, 3

By Paula Andrew, Roots of Success Liaison, Training Coordinator, and “Chicken Lady” at Washington Corrections Center for Women.

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.” ~ Mandy Hale

When I first came to work at the Washington Corrections Center for Women nearly 5 years ago, I came from a background of work in men’s prisons, large and small. Looking back, nothing could have prepared me for the impact I would feel working with female offenders.

My heart went out to the women I encountered on a daily basis. The more I got out of my office and observed, the hungrier I became to try and bring some kind of normalcy to the women that were longing to make the best of their shattered world.

I was delighted when I found out I would be working with an organization called the Sustainability in Prisons Project – bonus for me! A group of caring Evergreen students and staff who want what I want for these women: a little dose of culture from the outside they can embrace and expand their world with…their little tiny corner of their now restricted world needs expanding.

Brittany Gallagher and guest lecturer Anna Thurston walk together to the prison classroom. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Enter Brittany Gallagher, Lecture Coordinator for the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Her job was to plan, organize, and recruit speakers for our monthly Sustainability lecture series. My job was to work with her to put things together on the prison end to make it happen. What a treat it was to work with her! She immediately had the respect of the women in the audience for the lectures. You could tell the women were excited when she talked about things they could do in their own community upon release, and it gave them hope for a sustainable future. Brittany’s quiet smile spread warmth throughout the classroom that was contagious! When Brittany graduated from Evergreen College, like all good graduate students do, I felt like I had lost a good buddy. She was off to the world of exploring her universe, and I was sad to see her go, but excited for her at the same time.

Tiffany Webb talks with lecture series students following a presentation. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

.  .  .  And then along came Tiffany Webb, pretty much the exact opposite of Brittany, with her wide grin, her dancing eyes, and her thirst for sharing her passion for all things sustainable with the world. Tiffany was quick to share her enthusiasm with the students and show them glimpses of life beyond the metal bars. Her stories were laced with leadership, compassion, and strength. Tiffany had a way of involving the students to the point there were actual tears among the lecture-goers when she left. It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye to Tiffany, but waiting in the wings was  .  .  .

Liliana describes her definition of sustainability to lecture series students. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

.  .  .  Liliana Caughman! Dear Liliana quickly became a reliable source of information to the women, one with good listening skills and a patient manner. She continues the Brittany/Tiffany legacy with passion and conviction, all the while spreading the word that these gals can make a difference in the world.

Brittany, Tiffany, Liliana are definitely “someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others”!

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.

Fracking Lecture at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

By Gretchen Graber of Institute for Applied Ecology.

Geologist Duane Horton talks about hydraulic fracking in a prison classroom at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Dorothy Trainer of Washington Corrections.

The Sustainability Lectures Series at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Washington State hosted the first speaker of the year on February 9th.  The subject of the lecture was an Introduction to Hydraulic Fracking, presented by geologist, Duane Horton. The subject of hydraulic fracking was requested by an inmate last year and we were happy to fill that request. The technology behind fracking was explained, as well as the geology behind what makes fracking possible. The advantages and disadvantages were very well described by Duane, showing why the process is controversial. As usual, many insightful comments were made by the audience members. The Sustainability lecture series is supported by the Sustainability in Prisons Project, relying on cooperative efforts of Washington State Department of Corrections, The Evergreen State College, and the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons

By Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

A WSP Beekeeper gets geared up and ready to check on the hives. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You might think that beekeeping in prisons is a nice idea, but not a big idea: maybe it’s a small, fanciful project that would crop up here or there. Not the case!

In Washington State prisons alone, we already have seven beekeeping programs up and running, and at least three more are in the works. Beekeeping is also in the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and many corrections facilities nationwide, including Georgia, Maryland, IllinoisOregon, Florida, Nebraska, and LA County. Beekeeping programs can also be found in foreign prisons like England, New Zealand, Italy, and France. We’ve  been contacted by prisons interested in beekeeping in Massachusetts, Albania, and Canada!

Three Maryland facilities host honeybee programs to provide training for inmates and boost the local population of pollinators. These hives are at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Photo by Anthony DePanise of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Outside of prison, reentry programs, like Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, offer meaningful work experience. The founding executive  director of Sweet Beginnings, Brenda Palms Barber, found that “Fewer than 4% of Sweet Beginnings participants go back into the criminal justice system, compared with the national average of more than 65% and the Illinois average of 55%.” How amazing is that?

Adding to the honeybee focus are countless prison gardens that are accessible to many types of pollinators: beds of flowers and herbs, small-scale vegetable production, and full-scale farms. Corrections facilities typically don’t use any chemical pesticides, so don’t contain the systemic poisons that threaten foraging pollinators; prison plantings are helping to rebuild pollinator habitat by offering a safe food supply. Some prisons add habitat structures for native pollinators, such as mason bee boxes at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (see photo) and a literal-log delivered to the retention pond at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

These programs tap into the many therapeutic benefits of working with nature, which has been widely documented in scientific research. Working with honeybees is particularly soothing; it’s impossible to get good results with bees without calming down. Both inmates and staff sorely need relief from prison stresses, and nature programs can be a place of refuge and recharge.

Also these programs provide a way for inmates to “give back ” to communities and the environment.  In recent decades, pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy: we depend on pollinators for more than 30% of human food and drink. Generally, nearly all plants with flowers need pollinators; 85% depend on insects for their reproduction! We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. In 2015, pollinator health was declared a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is has societal recognition and value. This is no fanciful endeavor—we need bees to thrive so that we can thrive.

A professional beekeeper devoted her summer vacation to teaching about bees in a prison; how cool is that. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In Washington, we are ramping up to a full-day Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons, to be hosted by Washington Corrections Center for Woman on March 3rd. More than 100 people are registered, and they will come from all 12 Washington prisons, the Evergreen State College, various non-profits and community groups, and multiple beekeeping associations, including the statewide association that oversees beekeeping certification. A major bonus of holding the summit inside a prison is that incarcerated beekeepers will be able to participate. All partners will share best practices, future prison beekeeping plans, safety ideas, community outreach plans, and pollinator health knowledge. We can’t wait to hear what great ideas and thoughts come from our many, fantastic partners!

Each program depends on partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and expert beekeepers. They are united in learning about and tending to something beautiful, complex, and a little bit scary…until it becomes second nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

New Turtles and New Technicians!

Text and photos by Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers programs just received new turtles last week!

New turtle at Larch Corrections Center

New turtle at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

These turtles just finished their treatments at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center and the Oregon Zoo and moved on to the prisons to be cared for and monitored by the trained turtle technicians at the prisons.

Technician Eldridge holding a new turtle at Cedar Creek

Speaking of turtle technicians, we would like to welcome two new technicians who joined the Larch program at the same time the turtles arrived. A big salutations to Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Larson!  They are getting some great training from current lead technician, Mr. Goff, before he moves on to try out the new dog program at Larch.

Two new turtle technicians at Larch posing with new turtles

Here’s to new turtles, new technicians, and to the future release of these turtles back into the wild!

Happy New Year!

Snakes in a prison

Text by Giovanni Galarza and Joslyn Rose Trivett
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Last week, SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center brought Giovanni Galarza and two snakes into the classroom. Giovanni is an Evergreen student and herpetology enthusiast, and he gave an exceptionally compelling presentation. Thank you to Ricky Osborne for his powers of photography—seeing these images is almost as good as being there!

Sierra, a Desert Kingsnake, investigates his enclosure before the lecture. Desert Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes native to the Southwestern United States, and are immune to the venom of Rattlesnakes which they prey on.

A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.

Giovanni passes around Brandy, a young Corn Snake, for students to touch.

Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.

Giovanni assists a student with proper handling of the Corn Snake.

For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with live snakes. Everybody seemed to gain a new appreciation for these beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.

 

The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.