Category Archives: Prison Life

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.

A Master of Training

by Eugene Youngblood, Roots of Success Master Trainer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
& Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos provided by DOC staff

Timing + Action = Success

I once read:

The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster.

The right action at the wrong time brings resistance.

The wrong action at the right time is a mistake.

The right action at the right time results in success.

The Roots of Success program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) is more than just environmental literacy; more than facts, figures, data, and information. Roots of Success is the first definitive action step for those who are caring, thinking, men on the cusp of change. If indeed the right action at the right time results in success, the men here at CRCC who have taken the Roots of Success course have taken the first step in the direction of positive change.

We are in the midst of a revision (addition) to our Roots of Success program where we are going to provide students with “hands on training,” resume writing, cover letter production, and other essential requirements for green employment. And with the full support of the administration we are finally able to not only fulfill our commitment as instructors but provide essential tools needed for effective reentry. Hopefully, this will culminate in a “green” mock interview fair.

When all is said and done; we want to make sure that more is done than said… because we know actions speak louder than words.

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New Roots of Success instructors and staff sponsors at Airway Heights Corrections Center pose with Master Trainer Eugene Youngblood, far left.

Instructor Training at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Eugene Youngblood has taught the environmental literacy curriculum, Roots of Success, for more than two years now. Since September, 2014, he has led students through the 50 hour curriculum ten times, and also taught Correctional Industries’ condensed version of the course. His writing about the Roots of Success curriculum (above) shows his enthusiasm for the program and investment in its students.

Mr. Youngblood also is a Master Trainer for the curriculum. Last month, he left his “home” facility, Coyote Ridge, and visited Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) to certify 18 new instructors for the facility. He spent two days with the class of instructor candidates, well-supported by Roots’ training script and multi-media presentations. Consultation with Dr. Pinderhughes, the curriculum’s creator, proceeded and followed the session.

students

Future Roots of Success Instructors listen intently to a presentation during the 2-day training.

By all accounts, the instructor training was a success. From Dawnel Southwick, one of the program’s staff sponsors at AHCC, in a message to program partners:

Mr. Youngblood was consistently professional as the facilitator, and set a high standard for participants in the Roots Instructor class.
Each student participated and was given practical and effective feedback about their strengths and weaknesses in the process.  The feedback was applicable and easy to understand.  No one was left out or neglected. Each student was treated with the highest respect, and responded positively to the facilitator, curriculum and presentation. I noticed all the students were engaged, interested, and eager to hear and learn from Mr. Youngblood.

Thank you for allowing and making this amazing opportunity happen here at AHCC.

practice

An instructor candidate takes his turn practicing leading the class.

classroom

Productive small-group work punctuates presentations during the instructor training.

Adding Salt to Popcorn: Gaining a taste for sustainability

by Grady Mitchell, Roots of Success Instructor and Master Trainer, Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

Grady-Mitchell-portrait

Grady Mitchell speaks to a graduating class. He has taught the Roots of Success curriculum twelve times, and was certified as a Master Instructor in 2015.

A few years ago, prior to Roots of Success (ROS) someone could have held a conversation on sustainability and I’m sure it would have been as interesting to me as popcorn without the salt. Today I am not only able to present the curriculum to students, but also have a variety of discussions with them on the subject. In a sense my own experience has given me even more material to share with students (myself and my colleagues like to refer to our classes as peer to peer education) because most of them had no idea the impact of their habits and choices have on the environment, any more than I.

Sustainability in simple terms means being able to meet our needs now without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. However, this term has been taken hostage so to speak because manufacturers use it for their own selfish gain. We as consumers have to take sustainability back and know that sustainability is survivability. By adding the word ‘Just’ before Sustainability, makes it fair and equal.

This is significant to me because in order for the future generations to be sustained, an interest on the matter needs to prevail now. Failure can’t be an option because to do so could literally mean the extinction of those we love dearly and plan on leaving our legacy to. Sustainability is a built in feature of all natural environmental systems provided that human interference is absent or minimized.

Roots-Class-Photo-2-Photo-by-DOC

Grady Mitchell sits with his fellow instructors a graduating class of Roots of Success. Photo by DOC staff.

To get to a more sustainable lifestyle is going to require, inevitably, some radical changes in attitudes, values and behavior. The answer to creating global values and actions is blurred for now. How we get to less pollutants and more sustainable reliances and reuse may depend on generations yet to come (if we make it that far), because as it stands, we haven’t been doing too good of a job. Changing our personal habits; reducing the carbon footprint; our practices being altered for the benefit of sustainability is ‘just.’ In the book “Last Child in the Woods,” a phrase was coined called Nature Deficit Disorder. All it takes to cure this disorder is to get outside and enjoy nature. With seven billion people in the world, imagine the impact from just being sustainable or creating nature. Imagine a society where our lives are as immersed in nature as they are technology.

turtle-release-techs-and-piliponis

Turtle technicians x and x hold healthy western pond turtles prior to releasing them. The turtle program staff sponsor, Shaun Piliponis, stands with them. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In order to make sustainability more inclusive takes education and a willingness to embrace lifestyle changes. The guerrilla gardener of South Central Los Angeles, Ron Finley stated, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale.” If the inspiration was focused on making sustainability hip, cool, the thing to do, then we have a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. Allowing our generation to see with their own eyes and then pass it on to the next is “just.” César Chavez stated:

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

One of the videos available to our students in our Roots of Success class tells us, in 1915 a Canadian commission on conservation made an interesting proclamation, they said “each generation is entitled to the Interest on the Natural Capital, but the Principal should be handed on unimpaired.” We enjoy the fruit (the interest) from the tree (the principal), but if we cut the trees down both the principal and the interest will be gone forever. So in the end, Just Sustainability could really mean we all take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for community, the planet and most important, the ones who come after us.

Climate Science at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

By Gretchen Graber, Institute for Applied Ecology Contractor

As part of the sustainability lecture series at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, climate scientist Steve Ghan spoke about the most effective techniques to decrease global carbon emissions. Mr. Ghan thanked us for the opportunity to present his research at Coyote Ridge and said, “I got the best questions I’ve ever been asked at a public presentation. All inmates were fully engaged. The staff are professional and enjoy their work. The facility is new and very impressive.”

The lecture series is funded by Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) in Washington D.C. Along with the BLM, the lectures series is a result of partnerships between Sustainability in Prison Project (Washington State Department of Corrections + The Evergreen State College) and Institute for Applied Ecology.

Thank you to Mr. Ghan and all the volunteer presenters for their time and sharing their scientific knowledge with us!

crcc-lecturer

Climate scientist Steve Ghan said of the students at the prison “I got the best questions I’ve ever been asked at a public presentation.” Photo by Gretchen Graber.

We will end the year with a presentation on the advantages and disadvantages of hydraulic fracking.

Just Sustainability and Restorative Justice

By David Duhaime, Roots of Success Master Instructor, Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Duhaime-teaching-Roots-of-Success-SCCC-5-7-14-230

David Duhaime teaches the first module of Roots of Success at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

When I consider what’s sustainable I realize that I don’t believe anything is. I am new to environmental issues; teaching Roots of Success is what sparked my interest. Over the past three years my thought has developed into a belief that all systems will continue to evolve, sustaining only the dynamic process. Society continues to change as does the justice system. All things change, people, the planet, all systems considered by environmentalists. If change ends, wouldn’t that mean the end of existence?

There can be no Just Sustainability without a complete education, meaning that everyone has to understand all issues. This would be more than a political education. We would have to revamp how we raise our children to include cultivating their understanding of how they interact with the whole, what impacts they will have and what right to equal access we all have to everything, plus stewardship and responsibility for the inheritance we will pass to future generations. Most people in prison often miss any part of that. We generally don’t know about stewardship and responsibility and those charged with keeping us don’t set that type of example. Perhaps we were all brought up with similar ideals.

Before Roots I worked as a literacy tutor and within self-development groups. In both I came to the idea of interest. If one has no interest, fairness is forfeit. My literacy students could not make significant progress until their interest peaked. They had to want to learn. Only then had the learning become interesting. Getting someone else interested seems to me analogous to Stephen Covey’s “Circle of Influence”: How do I get another interested in learning about what to them is peripheral or non-existent? I need to find the way to expand my influence. One of the first techniques I learned was the “Life Experience” method where the tutor listens to the student’s personal story, writing it down verbatim, and then has the student read their own words back.

Environmental Justice, I believe, requires active involvement, which is predicated on interest. Roots, environmental issues, and one’s stock in the world around them are often outside students’ experience or interest. “Scotoma” is a word I once learned that refers to a blind spot in our psyche or attention, something we ignore unconsciously. If we want to have genuine environmental justice, we must find a way to get all parties interested, which means getting past our automatic process of ignoring, which has developed through nature, a process which may eventually lead to our extinction.

Everyone has scotoma. Leaders in politics, leaders in industry, educators, and prisoners all have interests and areas of personal blindness. If we can find a way to get a student involved in their own education, perhaps we can find the way to make sustaining the environment a way of life for people. We can find a way to believe in their ability to make a difference and have a fair share of bounty and security without taking from others. To help people make the leap to a sustaining life style we have to ask what they need and how their interest can be developed.

How do we get people in prison involved? Here, the facility has started some agricultural and recycling practices, as a result of the SPP lecture series and a realization that it can reduce expenses. Prisoners who could see a value to themselves have embraced similar practices and looked for ways to learn more. I am interested in those that still do not have the ability to see the value of learning how they are affected and in turn are part of the cause leading to the affect. Some believe that they should do anything to cost DOC more money, that imprisoning humans should not be cheap, not making the connection to their taxpaying families. Others have no idea about how they affect the world by their actions. There are as many variations as people, staff and prisoners. Lectures and Roots are steps to include more people, but have also, for me, highlighted the blind spot. We need to find something to make it personal, not about saving DOC money or getting a certificate to get some good-time back. How is taking care of the environment related to me and my life, the lives of my loved ones and the world I will live in when I leave this place? Though we focus on personal benefits in Roots, students often have already put on the blinders putting in only the minimum effort and thought. Part of that is due to personal habit and discipline. We may know something is right to do, but have been doing it this way for so long that we don’t have the motivation or discipline to change. Bad examples are drug, alcohol and tobacco use. We know what is harmful about them but we keep using them anyway. Can we learn methods to cure these issues while making it a broad enough cure to use in all aspects of our lives and behavior?

SCCC-Roots-instructor-team

David Duhaime sits with his teaching team and graduating students at a graduation ceremony. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

We talk about grassroots methods of making something happen. However, in prison, I see that prisoners emulate authority. Prisons behave so similar to prison staff that I often tell people that if you switched clothes, and roles, nothing would change. But take that thought further. Think of clothes as the Habit or uniform we wear to fit in. How we behave is also the habit we wear to fit in to our lives. If the people in authority were also encouraged and educated and involved in EJ issues and how to model (mentor) the behavior we are looking for, learning stewardship and treating everyone fairly, could we then make progress in developing habits that may lead us closer to the fantasy of Just Sustainability, and a realistic Justice System.

At SCCC I ran into groups with staff as sponsors and had to work with them, a new experience for me; making me uncomfortable, threatening my comfort zone. I worked through it and found value and personal growth in the experience. People everywhere experience something similar with anything that challenges us to think and act in ways not habitual to or supportive of our lifestyle. An idea that may terrify proponents of the status quo and us against them is to include DOC staff, prisoners, law makers, law enforcers, citizens, students, and educators in a popular education dialog about moving forward with environmental justice and how to evolve our communities so we are the dynamic force for change and sustainability. Some might call that a Restorative Justice approach.

Can we perceive our own blind spots and see beyond them?!

Introducing Just Sustainability

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager, and Liliana Caughman, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

This issue is dedicated to Just Sustainability—sustainability redefined to include the needs and inputs of all populations and demographics.

Historically, the environmental movement has focused on the needs and views of a relatively small segment of Americans. This approach has often overlooked the sustainability needs and interests of people beyond the environmental mainstream. People of color, people without college degrees, people from the working class or living in poverty are rarely afforded the benefits of the environmental movement, such as sustainability education and easy access to nature. These populations also bear the brunt of most environmental hazards in the country. Just Sustainability sees cultural diversity as essential to the environmental movement, and resolving long-ignored environmental injustices as the primary focus.

x technician talks about his work growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants for the indoor spaces; his program area is one of many in Washington State Penitentiary's Sustainable Practice Lab. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dwayne Sanders talks about growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants. His program is in Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practice Lab, which hosted nearly 300 program tours in a year; tour guide and program clerk Ray Chargualaf stands in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Even less attention has been paid to how cultural diversity would benefit the environmental movement itself. To take on the scale and complexity of environmental challenges, the environmental movement needs more diverse buy-in and input. Extending ownership opens up myriad new ways for taking on environmental problems and creating solutions. Affluent, highly educated people cannot achieve national or global sustainability without help. “Sustainability will be achieved, if at all, not by engineers, agronomists, economists and biotechnicians but by citizens.” (Prugh, Costanza and Daly 2000)

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Butterfly technicians pose in front of educational poster set up for visiting Girl Scouts Behind Bars. Photo by Seth Dorman.

What does inclusiveness look like? It means inviting input and investment from all citizens and promoting sustainability programs in all communities and institutions. It requires us to learn across differences. Inclusive sustainability, Just Sustainability, is a path of mutual transformation.

Lecture-students

Lecture series students take in a presentation on raptor biology and conservation from West Sound Wildlife. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

In Washington State prisons, we have found willing, inventive champions of sustainability. They have transformed prison culture and operations. Because of their work, we are better prepared to transform the world at large. SPP staff asked a few incarcerated SPP partners—most of them Roots of Success instructors—if they would write what Just Sustainability means to them. This newsletter shares five responses, and we will publish several more on our blog in the coming months.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff who has been a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff and a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Going Above and Beyond for Sustainability

by SPP Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

DOC Classifications Counselor, Gina Sibley was the SPP liaison for Cedar Creek Corrections Center for almost two years.  We want to thank her for her partnership and support and congratulate her on her recent promotion.  She will be missed!

Gina Sibley always went above and beyond while supervising the technicians in the bee, turtle and frog programs at Cedar Creek.  Supervising was not all she did.

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

She joined in the experience by participating in seminars on science journal articles, facilitating the creation of a turtle emergency response team,  staying late to participate in and supervise the bee keeping certification classes, assisting in capturing honey bee swarms, coordinating clearances for tours of the program and the list goes on!

Ms. Sibley Helping Mr. Boysen Measure Shank Length

Ms. Sibley helping turtle technician Mr. Boysen measure an endangered Oregon spotted frog. Photo by Sadie Gilliom

Thank you so much, Gina.  You have made your mark on SPP and we know you will continue spreading the word of science and sustainability wherever you go.

Ms. Sibley and the Tomato

Ms. Sibley with a tomato grown in the aquaponics greenhouse. Photo by SPP staff

Saving Resources at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is located in eastern Washington, far from the environmental activism of the Puget Sound. Yet, the prison has become a statewide leader for conserving and recycling resources.  

AHCC is a model for energy conservation. Facility staff regularly check and restore their equipment, fixing it before it breaks. The approach improves performance and life expectancy, and staves off epic fails. By practicing preventative maintenance, they have become a model of efficiency.

garbageThe prison has also set the standard for sorting waste. Without any fancy equipment, they have figured out how to turn the waste stream into valuable commodities. They sort their waste at the source, or “up stream.” Every day, porters (we call them waste stream technicians) sort the waste stream into dedicated cans, and the results are impressive. Nearly everything is reclaimed or recycled; all that’s left is a tiny can of mixed-materials (see photo).

laughing-about-garbage

A porter (waste stream technician), AHCC’s Kraig Witt, and Sustainable Operations Manager Julie Vanneste discuss that it’s hard to know what “garbage” means anymore.

In the many gardens, staff and inmates have transformed hardpan into thriving soil with compost. They use no fertilizers or pesticides, and make their compost in small batches on site. The result is gorgeous, healthy produce.

An inmate gardener harvests high quality radishes outside his living unit. Each living unit has its own garden, and each has its own personality. The three gardeners who were tending this one with enormous enthusiasm.

An gardener harvests radishes outside his living unit.

Each living unit has its own garden, and each garden has its own personality, shaped by the gardeners who tend it. The three gardeners I met showed enormous enthusiasm for the work. They turned 1 strawberry plant into 1,200. They gleaned tomato and cantaloupe seeds from cafeteria food. They figured out how to reclaim seeds from everything they grow. They can boast a truly closed-loop system!

garlic-farmer

This Horticulture Porter said that adding masses of compost transformed this area from an unproductive low spot to the gorgeous plantings of garlic there now.

Sagebrush in Prisons Project

by Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator, Institute for Applied Ecology

Sagebrush nursery partners stand together in the hoop house. From left to right, they are Mr. Bowen, Ms. Graber, Ms. Olwell, Ms. Erickson, Mrs. Trainer and Mr. Le. Photo by Washington DOC staff.

The iconic greater sage-grouse, a species recently considered for endangered species listing, is getting a helping hand from a unique set of partners: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), and Sustainability in Prison’s Project (SPP).

Peggy Olwell, the National Plant Materials Program Lead, BLM-Washington D.C. and Vicky Erickson, geneticist for the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Region visited the “Sagebrush in Prisons Project,” at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA, on June 3rd. BLM is sponsoring the program propagating 43,300 Wyoming Big Sage and Three-tip sagebrush, plants that will be carefully nurtured over the summer months and planted out in burned shrub-steppe habitat managed by BLM, this November in Douglas County, WA.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

The tour was given by Sam Harris and Dorothy Trainer of Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator with IAE. Olwell and Erickson were able to witness the intangible benefits of the program while meeting the inmates and supporting DOC staff that are growing the sagebrush.  “Community is being created within DOC as a result of the project,” said Mr. Harris. “Coyote Ridge staff have excelled at managing the new program and special thanks goes to Dorothy Trainer and Sam Harris for their intelligent management of the program,” said Graber.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

Areas where the sagebrush will be planted are occupied by greater sage-grouse, the species targeted for population increase and recovery. The partnership among BLM, Washington DOC, IAE is part of an unprecedented effort to prevent endangered species listing of the grouse.

Greater sage-grouse are unique from other grouse species in not having a muscular crop used for digesting hard seeds. They forage on sagebrush leaves, herbaceous perennials and insects. Planting genetically appropriate sagebrush species from locally derived genetic sources provides important food and crucial habitat for the birds.

Olwell and Erickson also viewed a living quarters unit, met and talked with several dog training inmates and petted a puppy during their tour at CRCC. “Here’s to a positive future for the greater sage-grouse and to more sagebrush,” commented Olwell.