Category Archives: Prison Life

Building the pool of environmental instructors for the women’s prisons

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On April 28th, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes trained and certified 22 women at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as Roots of Success Instructors. The training was a great success, and we are pleased to have reinforced the pool of women who can teach the curriculum—that’s the only way to meet the demand! We hear from both WA Corrections staff and Roots of Success graduates that this program is highly regarded: it creates respectful relationships within the prison community, and it’s an effective tool for building skills for life and work. Those testimonials line up with results from program surveys that show increased knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Congratulations to the instructors and a special thanks to Raquel and Chad Flores from Roots of Success, Vicki York and Paula Andrew from WCCW, Dagoberto Cabrera from MCCCW, and all DOC staff who helped make this training possible! We can’t wait to see what the newly certified instructors accomplish! Please enjoy our  photo gallery of the training.

Roots instructors are asked to think about difficult questions and find solutions together. They received guidance on how to instruct when the content is difficult and complex issues, and how to encourage full engagement and critical thinking from every student and themselves. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were encouraged to ask lots of questions. Dr. Pinderhughes found this group to be impressively engaged and thoughtful. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

One instructor candidate shares her thoughts and experiences as Raquel Pinderhughes listens. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were selected by WCCW and MCCCW staff members. They were picked because of their dedication to environmental issues and their desire to learn and do more. Congrats to the new instructors for their hard work and dedication! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Vicki York, a WCCW staff superstar, originally attended the class just to observe. However, she found herself so engaged that she herself earned a instructor certificate too! Go Vicki! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Raquel Pinderhughes came from San Francisco to train the new WCCW and MCCCW instructors. Her tireless effort and enthusiasm is an inspiration. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We are so lucky to have an engaged and thoughtful group of new Roots instructors. Both Roots of Success and SPP can’t wait to hear about the ideas and discussions that come from the classes these women will teach. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Three

Part Three: Session at the Women’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here, and Part Two is here.
Photos and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The WCCW visit room and sometimes-classroom is captured in the mirror at the front.

In January, we presented lecture survey results to students at the men’s prison, and gathered their feedback and ideas (that story here). We needed to repeat the process at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), but had to wait until there was an opening in the lecture series schedule. That time came in March.

As a part of the presentation, Liliana also gave an overview of SPP programs statewide and at WCCW.

The program classroom at WCCW can have a very different feel than the one at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lectures are held in the visit room. The layout is not ideal, and the buzz of vending machines can be a distraction. That day, we learned from the students that program demand is met just fine by the seats and sessions available—they aren’t clamoring for more, like we hear from the male students. While Stafford Creek has nearly 2,000 residents, WCCW has less than 800, and WCCW residents can choose from a relative abundance of programming. These factors likely contribute to a somewhat more casual classroom atmosphere than at the men’s prison.

Again, Liliana Caughman presented her report from the lecture series surveys, and again the students nodded with agreement at the results. However, this group was more quick to talk about a negative result: the small number of students (5%) who respond negatively to the lectures. A student self-identified as one of these, and I was glad to hear more from her when we broke into small groups: her critique was more acute than others’, but the particulars were similar to widely-expressed comments.

More engaging!

In my small group, we passed a talking piece to make sure everyone had chances to talk, and I think it made for a high quality discussion. A few students shielded themselves from potential germs by only handling the talking piece with the help of a napkin.

Liliana, Elijah Moloney, and I each sat with a third of the group to further discuss the program and program surveys. From nearly everyone in my group, I heard that they want more interactive and varied sessions. Several students said they struggle to sit still and pay attention through a 90 minute presentation. I heard that a short presentation is fine, and especially if it includes a way to take notes (we would need to provide the paper and pencils), humor, specimens, live animals, or video. They asked us to make time for writing, worksheets, quizzes on the content, games, and individual or small group exercises. Overall, they want content that’s more “sticky.” All this lead to the most potent suggestion: they aren’t very interested in lectures, so why not call the program something else?

Good point! I recall Sarah Weber’s research 2012 study that “… the lecture-style presentations appeared more effective for for male students, whereas workshop-style presentations appeared more effective for female students in improving inmate knowledge and attitudes on environmental topics.”  More recent results from the men’s prison, including what we heard during the January session, point to a wide-spread preference for interactive, more engaging sessions. Lectures may be more effective at conveying information, at least for some groups, but workshops have a wide-spread, strongly positive effect on environmental attitudes.

Topics & Surveys

The students asked for sessions on sociology, psychology, communications, physiology, mental plasticity, and evolution. These are some of my favorite topics too.

Like the male students, they asked for more knowledge questions. A few suggested more variety in the questions about attitude, so that respondents are less likely to answer automatically.

What next?

I find it super satisfying to have extensive qualitative and quantitative results on the program; it makes it easy to decide what next! Here is what we will do:

  • Rename the program. Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has served us well for years, but it’s time for an upgrade. Program partners have agreed on Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.

  • Update guidelines for guest presenters, with pointers on how to create inspiring, challenging, “sticky,” content.
  • Recruit guests with expertise on social, political, physiological, and evolutionary aspects of the environmental field.
  • Increase the number of knowledge questions on the surveys.
  • Use a larger set of attitude questions, varying which are included each time; some questions will ask about identity and plans for action.

We have already started work on each of these actions. Liliana has started using the new name with guest presenters, and was pleased to see that the word “workshop” had the desired effect on their planning and facilitation.

I still recognize that seven years’ data from the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series showed us that the program has been enormously successful and well received. Now we are ready to make it even better!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.

Topics

The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.

Surveys

To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.

 

 

A day for pollinators in prisons

Text by Dr. Jody Becker Green, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Corrections, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Between sessions, Bee Summit participants posed for a group photo.

Superintendent Dona Zavislan welcomed the summit guests to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On Friday March 3, SPP partners filled the gymnasium at Washington Corrections Center for Women for a summit on beekeeping programs in prisons. About 125 expert, apprentice, and novice beekeepers spent the day sharing best practices for rebuilding pollinator populations. We also shared the delights of working with honeybees and other pollinatorsthese social insects and plant-pollinator relationships served as lovely metaphors for productivity and mutual support.

During the summit, eight beekeeping students received their apprentice-level certification. The host prison offers beekeeping education within the Horticulture program taught by Ed Tharp (pictured with microphone), and as a complementary program instructed by Carrie Little, the founder of Mother Earth Farm. The apprentice beekeeper shown is Candace Ralston.

The agenda was packed, and covered everything from equipment safety to food justice to native pollinator habitat needs. Other highlights are described in photos throughout this article.

Lonniesha Veasey, an incarcerated beekeeper and Horticulture Teaching Assistant, shares her thoughts and questions during the summit.

The day ended with spring rain pounding on the gymnasium roof, and generous outpourings from incarcerated beekeepers, expert beekeepers, and leadership from the Washington State’s Department of Corrections (WA Corrections). Anticipating release in just a few days, an incarcerated woman reflected on her years in prison: she said that horticulture programs had become her reason to get up in the morning, and meant that she now has plans for her future. SPP’s co-director Steve Sinclair praised the event, and said, “We invited magical people here, so let’s go make magic!” A Massachusetts beekeeper, Susan Goldwitz, told the group that we are like bees, turning dust into sweet, liquid gold.

Staff came from all 12 WA Corrections’ prisons, and were joined by experienced beekeepers from across the state, incarcerated beekeepers, SPP-Evergreen staff and students, biologists, and other community partners and topic experts.

The current head of WA Corrections, Jody Becker-Green, gave final remarks. She thanked everyone in the room for the part they played in the summit, and in developing and offering pollinator programs in prisons. She described her own love of beekeeping, and the feeling in the room while she spoke was transcendent. An excerpt is offered here.

I am probably the last person you want up here doing closing remarks for this summit because I could talk about bees and beekeeping for hours!

I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, for the travel and schedule coordination it took to give a day to this event. Your generosity of time and spirit is remarkable. The only way programs like these are possible is through the many contributions each of you is willing to make. The fact that you keep showing up with your ideas, optimism, and creativity is an incredible gift to the prison community, and to the communities beyond the fence as well.

Acting Secretary Dr. Jody Becker-Green shared love for honeybees—their many impressive and amazing attributes—and brought a beautiful closing to the day’s events.

As we have learned today, bees are quite simply amazing creatures, whether they are the little solitary bees, living their relatively simple lives, or honeybees, thriving in incredibly complex, interwoven and democratic societal structures.

Next to humans, honeybees are perhaps the most widely studied creatures in nature. Throughout the years, research has demonstrated that a honeybee colony is instinctively able to organize itself into a super-efficient society. Honeybee colonies provide profound lessons in democracy, communication, teamwork, and decision-making that we may all be wise to learn from. I know that I have learned a lot from watching and studying the bees that make their home on my property and try to apply those lessons to leading a complex agency.

One of my favorite books, Honeybee Democracy, written by Thomas D. Seeley, describes how honeybee colonies make decisions both collectively and democratically. Seeley says that every year, faced with the life or death problems of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. The level of sophistication, communication, trust and connection that occurs within a hive is almost hard to comprehend.

Fruit trays spelled out SPP appreciation and, so fittingly, displayed fruits that rely on pollinators for reproduction. The summit was well supported by WCCWs event crew and staff members who provided a delicious and gorgeous spread of snacks, and decorated the gymnasium with flowers and banners.

My love for bees began about eight years ago after making a visit to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). At the time, I was working for the Department of Social and Health Services and was interested in learning more about the sustainability efforts underway within the Department of Corrections. After spending a great deal of time with the beekeepers at CCCC, I was hooked. It was only a matter of months before I become a beekeeper and achieved my certification.

Throughout the years, bees have become highly symbolic for me. I have found a much deeper meaning in the art of beekeeping beyond the ecological value they have in sustaining our ecosystems. Let me share just a few examples of this meaning with you.

Bees enter the world with distinct roles and commitment to the greater good. The spirit of the bee has a strong work ethic as they literally will work themselves to death, however, they also know the importance of stopping to smell and enjoy the flowers they are able to find the delicate balance between the two. With competing demands and priorities balance between work and life, balance is not always easy to attain and maintain. I constantly remind myself and others of the importance of balance for overall personal and professional health and well-being in order to be the best version of self in all that we do.

Bees play a very specific role in nature pollinating other plants. This is necessary to the on-going life cycle of many crops. An end result of pollination is the provision of honey and wax that is enjoyed by many, thus adding to their value. Einstein believed so deeply in the importance of bees to the ecosystem that he predicted if bees disappeared humans would not survive more than four years afterward.

The pollination process also symbolizes our social nature of interdependency and mutual benefit. Bees live and work as a community. As they go from flower to flower, that progression enriches the world.

SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair acknowledges the composting crew at Washington State Reformatory as an example of the creativity and excellence achievable in a program.

Bees work with a spirit of cooperation, working cohesively for the good of their community. They show us the importance of both teamwork and communication in their day-to-day lives.

Bees are also strong protectors and defenders of that which is important to them. They are willing to give their life in defense of whatever mission prevails. As humans, we are anchored in core values and beliefs and will also defend that which we hold to be true in our words, actions and deeds.

Finally, while bees struggle with daunting environmental challenges, they show us about perseverance and resiliency. They support each other to overcome adversities, and it is that bravery, trust, and effort, that makes usand much of the life on earthable to depend on them.

 

Most of the funding for the event came from a generous donation from the Seattle Foundation to partners at The Evergreen State College. The Seattle Foundation has supported SPP annually for multiple years, and their support has made a real difference in what programs are able to achieve.

Thank you to Mann Lake, Betterbee, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, beekeeping suppliers who donated gifts for summit attendees.

Numerous partners helped make the event a success. From left to right: Evergreen graduate students covered presentation IT and note taking; WCCW’s event crew (red t-shirts) were our logistical hosts, ran the sound system, and made the space beautiful and functional; Felice Davis and Joslyn Rose Trivett MC’ed and coordinated the program, and Jeremy Barclay worked with KOMO 4 to produce a video about the summit.

More coverage of the summit and beekeeping in prisons programs:

Three expert and influential beekeepers share a moment at the conference. Beekeeping associations have given essential support to prison programs, and tell us that incarcerated beekeepers are invaluable to pollinator recovery in the state. From left to right: Gary Clueit, President of Washington State Beekeepers Assocation (WASBA); Laurie Pyne, Master Beekeeper and President of Olympia Beekeepers Association; and Ellen Miller, Vice President of WASBA.

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.