Category Archives: Prison Life

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.

 

Princess Remington and Pele: Royalty in a prison classroom

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Vulture-and-students

June’s lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) welcomed royalty from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. I had met Pele, Fire Goddess and falcon (a kestrel), once before, and she was as impressive as ever. However, never before had I met a turkey vulture, and I was immediately smitten with Princess Remington.

Princess-Remington

Princess Remington was named for the gun that disabled her left wing during a flight over Shelton. Now she graces classrooms throughout the Puget Sound so that students can discover the magnificence of turkey vultures.

The Princess’ handler is Fawn Harris, our coordinator for the conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center. She also is staff at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and she answered nearly an hour of questions on turkey vultures. We learned that turkey vultures are social birds. They travel in groups and are monogamous. Fawn says that if she offers Princess Remington food she does not like, the vulture will still remember and express her dissatisfaction with Fawn a week later.

Fawn told us that Princess Remington was unusually at-ease in this classroom. She bowed to the assembled students!

Fawn-is-a-great-presenter

Fawn Harris clearly loves her work, and she shared a wealth of information about turkey vultures. Never again will I see them the same way.

While vultures are classified as raptors, they don’t have the typical talons or hooked beak. In fact, they are not capable of killing and they are rarely aggressive. Turkey vultures only eat animals that are already dead, finding them with an exceptional sense of smell. The acid in their stomach’s is comparable to battery acid, and diseases cannot pass through. By scavenging, they effectively remove maladies such as rabies, botulism, and cholera from the environment – without vultures, we would see far more of these nasty diseases.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels, North America's smallest falcon.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels.

Deb Wilbur told us about Pele. She is an American kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon. Deb fed Pele a baby mouse, and she tore it apart as the presentation went on. The crunching was audible to at least the first couple rows – gross and amazing! A special thanks to Deb who has volunteered her time at two or three other SPP lectures.

Lecture-students

kestrel-and-students

Deb took Pele for a tour of the classroom.

The lecture series students offered excellent questions to the presentation, and were fully attentive to the visiting royalty. At the lecture’s conclusion, one of them remarked to me “Another great lecture!” Holy cats, if they are all that good, I have got to start attending more of SPP lectures!

SPP Internship on Reentry

by Carolina Landa

June 6, 2016

This semester has been very amazing for me working with SPP, an organization that I respect and owe a lot to. One of the most self-inspiring moments was going back into a prison after almost two years of being released. I was able to go with Marcenia Milligan and Misty Liles who are working on a DOC pilot program for reentry. The work they are doing is amazing, first off. They are really dedicated at helping incarcerated people succeed on their reentry back into the community. The 1.5 million grant is only being used for incarcerated people and the reentry services offered to them—none is going to DOC staff salaries. The reentry team made this decision at the beginning, which is humbling to think of and shows heart in the work they are doing.

As I entered Monroe Correctional Complex I became overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry—there was no way around this and I anticipated it would happen. There was just something about hearing those doors and gates lock that immediately took me back to 5 years ago when I first became incarcerated. I don’t think that will ever go away. But the feeling I was able to feel while I was able to interact with the men was priceless, and it affirmed very much for me that I was and am following exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

Carolina-reentry-6-16-2

A slide from the reentry presentation Carolina created as an SPP intern. Photo in top left is by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

People incarcerated are truly some of the most amazing people I have met. Society might not view it that way but I do. There is a bond with them that I immediately have because I know the struggle and I understand their story.

I decided to focus my time around reentry because I feel it is something where SPP could help a lot of the people in the programs in the prisons and after release, as they have helped me.  What I ended up learning about reentry is that it is very complex. Being able to come up with, let’s say, a list of resources is complex because that list is always changing.  I also realized that a semester is not enough time to dedicate to reentry, especially for SPP, as this is all new to them.  The only story, advice and resources I can give are what I have used myself in reentry.  I agree that there are some good organizations out there, but what happens is that a lot of the time the funding is only available for maybe a year, and then is gone.

Successful reentry has to be all focused around networking: I really believe that is what reentry means. Who you know is an important factor and also using what others have used before you.  I will continue to dedicate my time to reentry with SPP as I feel very passionate about helping others who have been where I once was. This list of resources will take a while to conduct and in the end it will most likely be some organizations, but I believe most will be names of persons that I will pick up along the way.

I very much am grateful for this opportunity to work with SPP. Thank you; it has helped me be the person I am today, by continuously believing and encouraging me. I only want to help others succeed as well.  We are well on our way to making reentry focus a bit more stronger for SPP.

Carolina-reentry-6-16

 

Larch’s First Turtle Release: A Technician’s Response

by Sadie Gilliom, SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, and Mr. Goff, SPP Turtle Technician
Photos by Sadie Gilliom, except where noted

On May 18th, 2016, Larch Corrections Center released its first nine turtles into a pond in Klickitat County. These were state-listed endangered western pond turtles that received care at Larch. The turtles had been removed form the wild by biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife because they were suffering from a shell disease. They received acute treatment by the veterinarian at the Oregon Zoo and then transferred to Larch Corrections Center where two trained technicians cared for the turtles until they were ready to be released back into the wild.

Larch Turtle Ready for Release

A Larch turtle is ready for release.

Release Site

The release site was a lovely pond in Klickitat County.

The team—myself, Larch’s SPP Liaison Mr. Piliponis, Superintendent Oliver-Estes, the two technicians, Sergeant, and Mark Francis—drove 3 hours to a beautiful wetland. It was a sunny day with a clear view of Mt. Hood. We were greeted by WDFW biologist Stefanie Bergh, the founder of the Western Pond Turtle breeding program, Frank Slavins, and Oregon Zoo volunteers and staff. The Oregon Zoo was releasing the turtle hatchlings from their head start program on the same day.

Sgt. Mark Franklin Guarding the Turtles

Sgt. Mark Franklin guards the turtles.

Supt. Oliver-Estes Saying Farewell to a Turtle

Larch Superintendent Oliver-Estes says farewell to a turtle.

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill Learning About Turtle Anatomy

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill examined empty shells to learn more about turtle anatomy.

After meeting everyone, learning about the different tools the biologists use to study the turtles, and the technicians answering lots of questions about the Larch turtles from curious volunteers, we made our way down to the water’s edge. One by one all of the turtles were gently placed near the water. Then they trudged their way into the pond to swim off and join the others. This march to freedom was a moment to remember for all of the many players in the army to save the western pond turtle, but perhaps most memorable for the turtle technicians who are prepping for release themselves.

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill Teaching Zoo Volunteers About Westen Pond Turtles

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill taught young zoo volunteers about western pond turtles.

After the turtle release, Turtle Technician Mr. Joseph Goff shared his response to the experience:

“On Dec 19 2015 I became a caretaker. It was probably the last thing I thought I would be doing in my current situation. Caretaking is a humbling experience. It gives you a perspective on yourself, but also makes you focus on something or someone else. To be one of the reasons that these turtles survive is amazing. Also to see all the other people that have a part as well or are even just interested in knowing what they could do to to help. In so many ways this in something pure. To have so many people come together on one common ground doing what they can to help a turtle that has no means to help himself.

This program has opened my eyes—first to my future. I always have loved anything to do with nature or animals. I want to go back to school for it now. I want to volunteer and do it for a living. This program has also changed my perspective on people. Outside of family I guess I’ve lost my ability to put trust in or listen to others. Surrounding myself with people who always had ulterior motives or just take and pretend to care. It made me close-minded and hardened. In fact, a lot of people probably might have said I was one of those people that had ulterior motives that pretended to care.

Now I’m caring for these turtles who ironically are sick just like I was. They are enclosed and cared for. When their time is up and they are well they get to leave; if they get sick again they come back. I’m also involved with other caregivers that have helped me find a part of myself I had lost along the way. I believe this program has greatly changed my current life and if I continue with this same line of work or similar, I will be forever changed.”

Turtle Technician Mr. Goff Releasing a Turtle

Turtle Technician Mr. Goff Releasing a Turtle.

Watching the Turtles Swim Away

The technicians watched the turtles swim away.

All the Collaborators for the Turtle Program

Here is the Larch’s Turtle Program team. Photo by Zoo Volunteer.

All snaps! Airway Heights amazing firewood program

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

I have known about Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)’s firewood program for years, but had no idea of the scale. I have never seen so much firewood.

On public lands such as parks and state forests, AHCC’s community crews remove trees which fell during storms, and cut trees which are crowding others or posing a hazard. Logs come back to the minimum security yard for splitting, stacking and curing. The prison partners with SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners) to provide people of low income with no-cost firewood, to heat their homes. The winter of 2015-16, AHCC’s firewood program donated more than 660 cords of wood to Spokane County residents! 

half-the-firewood

This photo shows about *half* the firewood currently stacked at the Corrections Center.

chipper-meeting

A spontaneous meeting forms around the chipper: DOC staff, visiting compost experts, and a technician discuss the finer points of chipping waste wood. (The chips get turned into compost for the gardens, of course.)

firewood-2

Dang, those are good looking stacks!

firewood-splitter

A technician paused in his work with the splitter so I could take his photograph.

firewood-maul

The crew manually splits and stacks firewood, building their communities’ resources.

 

Photos from WCCW Work party

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In late March, the prairie conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center for women held a work party. Three SPP staff who had never before worked in an SPP nursery got to join the crew for a day: Sadie Gilliom, SPP turtle program coordinator, Liliana Caughman, lecture series coordinator, and me. It was a gorgeous, sunny spring day—hot, even, under the hoop house plastic.

Our gracious hosts were conservation nursery technicians Stephanie Boyle and Lerissa Iata, SPP Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and DOC’s Scott Skaggs. It was such fun to join their work, and help them catch up with the needs of sprouting seeds.

work-party,-spp-staff

SPP’s Liliana Caughman fills her seeding tray with Lomatium seeds while Sadie Gilliom and Carl Elliott fill racks with soil.

 

seeds

The Lomatium helped inspire the work party—it started sprouting in the fridge earlier than normal.

 

Conservation technicians Stephanie Boyle makes tags to label seed lots sown.

Conservation technicians Stephanie Boyle makes tags to label the seed lots sown.

 

Conservation technician Lerissa Iata checks on prairie species growing in the hoop house at Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Conservation technician Lerissa Iata checks for weeds growing among prairie species.

 

killdeer-parent-words

Since the violet beds were built, a pair of killdeer has used them as a nesting site, and the birds are adored by many at the prison. As is typical for killdeer, they laid their eggs out in the open, and anytime a visitor comes near they put on a loud and vigorous display.

 

killdeer-eggs

Beyond the killdeer eggs, on the first truly warm day of spring, you can see many sun lovers out in the yard.

 

group-laughing

I asked the work party to pose for a group photo, and they were such cool subjects that we all cracked up.

 

Joslyn

I admire the balsamroot seedlings in the nurery. I love plants! Photo by Liliana Caughman.

 

Anywhere and everywhere we can, we bring nature inside prisons. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Anywhere and everywhere we can, we bring nature inside prisons.

Washington State Penitentiary Collaboration for the Birds!

By Kelli Bush, SPP Program Manager

It’s always nice to do positive projects. It helps us do our time with rewarding accomplishment knowing it helps the community and wildlife. ~Michael Feeney

We appreciate the opportunity to work with the public for environmental causes. ~Roy Townsend

Roy Townsend, Michael Feeney, Robert Beck, Robert Haugen, Luke Andrade, and Jose Ayala pose with the barn owl next boxes they build in the Sustainable Practices Lab. Photo by DOC staff.

Roy Townsend, Michael Feeney, Robert Beck, Robert Haugen, Luke Andrade, and Jose Ayala pose with the barn owl next boxes they build in the Sustainable Practices Lab. Photo by DOC staff.

Inmates working in the Sustainable Practices Lab at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) are building owl boxes for the Blue Mountain Audubon. The boxes are installed in vineyards to help with rodent control—a strategy that will benefit viticulturists and owls alike. The boxes are designed to be suitable homes for barn owls. The Blue Mountain Audubon’s Owl Nest Box Project was inspired by the Hungry Owl Project, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the use of toxic rodenticides while promoting owl and wildlife conservation.

Rodenticides can be slow to poison rodents. Poisoned rodents are sluggish and debilitated—easy prey for owls, hawks, eagles, falcons and other wildlife. Consuming contaminated rodents can make predator animals ill and can even result in death.

Barn owls have voracious appetites. Installing barn owl boxes can be a cost effective way to manage a rodent problem without relying on rodenticides, and can support healthy wildlife. According the Hungry Owl website, a single Barn Owl family can consume 3,000 rodents during their 4 month breeding cycle. Barn owls can have multiple clutches a year, raising the total for possible consumed rodents to 6,000 – 9,000 a year per owl box!

Blue Mountain Audubon installs a barn owl nest box in a Walla Walla area vineyard.

Blue Mountain Audubon installs a barn owl nest box in a Walla Walla area vineyard.

According to WSP Corrections Specialist Chris McGill, the first round of owl boxes built by inmates was “a big hit” and they have received a request for 20 more boxes. This is an excellent example of a collaborative program to benefit people and wildlife. Great work WSP Sustainable Practices Lab!

Planning action for Clallam Bay

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

After months of pre-meetings and scheduling, Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) hosted two days of Action Planning: deciding next steps to expand SPP programs at the prison. The event brought together many great minds and stakeholders: the Director of Prisons Steve Sinclair, prison Superintendent Ronald Hayes, the well-stocked Sustainability Committee, visiting experts on beekeeping, rainwater catchment, and the Makah tribe, SPP managers, and Capitol Programs staff from Headquarters. We were there to plan for two or three new sustainability initiatives.

There was no shortage of excellent ideas in the room. We explored the merits of many, many programs and strategies. Narrowing our focus was a real challenge—so many contenders, so many promising avenues toward sustainability, how to pick which are the very best?

At the end of Day 1, we held a vote, and it was a relief to see a few clear winners emerge.

Officer-Buttram-makes-a-point

After a day of good-natured debate over CBCC’s sustainability priorities, the group gets ready to vote.

CBCC-vote

When the votes were cast, the clear winners were water conservation/culture change and beekeeping.

Culture change through water conservation

The top choice was a hybrid focus: water conservation and culture change. At a prison where it rains 95 inches a year (that’s really wet), and pulls water from a salmon-bearing stream, the group was determined to use less tap water and catch more rainwater. Promoting these changes seemed an ideal way to promote sustainable choices in general.

To achieve this goal, we decided on several action items, including:

  • create posters to display throughout the facility (see example below)
  • publish and distribute sustainability newsletters, with versions for inmates and staff
  • in each housing unit, hold Town Hall sustainability meetings
CBCC-SPP-resources-offender-version

This poster promotes saving resources at the prison, with an inmate audience in mind; the version for staff is slightly different.

Beekeeping

The other winner was beekeeping—all agreed that a honeybee program could bring numerous rewards to the prison. Corrections staff and inmates could gain recognized education and certification. In-prison beekeepers could enjoy calming, meditative work with the hives. The hives could contribute healthy bees to pollinate the prison’s organic gardens and bolster local honeybee population. All involved could help build the international effort to restore the pollinators on which we depend.

We settled on these actions to bring beekeeping to CBCC:

  • Create beekeeping posters
  • Write and submit a proposal to the prison Captain, identifying planned costs, siting, and safety protocol
  • Consult with the North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers on how best to offer certification program at the prison

All in all, we were impressed by how much we were able to plan in two days. The actions taken since also attest to Action Planning’s worth: we have been busy as bees turning those plans into reality.

 

Honeybee love

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

I am dangerously allergic to yellowjacket stings. I have been stung by yellowjackets many times, and I fear and avoid them.

As a good ecologist, I know that honeybees are very different than yellowjackets, but I still wanted to stay away from them. Even the thought of bees, wasps, and hornets has been enough to scare me. I tolerated SPP’s honeybee programs because I supported them in principle, but never wanted too get too close.

A few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I’ve changed: I have learned to love honeybees. It happened by accident—I didn’t set out to change my mind, but changed it is!

I love this photo of bees in flight; on some of them, you can clearly see their "baskets" full of pollen on their rear legs. Image from organizedchaos.com.

I love this photo of bees in flight; on the central bee, you can clearly see one of her “baskets” full of pollen. Image from organizedchaos.com.

I think the shift started last summer, working on King 5’s story on beekeeping. Mr. Anglemeyer, Mr. Boyson, and Officer Epling’s enthusiasm and praise for the program must have been infectious. It was also the first time I met Laurie Pyne of the Olympia Beekeepers Association, and she radiates excitement about honeybees. Last fall, her guest lecture on honeybees had my rapt attention, and I memorized parts of her presentation without even trying.

Also during recent months, we have heard more and more beekeeping interest from prison staff and inmates. Cedar Creek has graduated their second class of Apprentice Beekeepers. Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women, and the Penitentiary also have hives. For the prisons that don’t have honeybees yet, we keep hearing that they want them: Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Airway Heights, Coyote Ridge, and Washington Corrections Center all want honeybees too…time for me to get with the program! Luckily, seems I already have.

If I stood right next to a hive, I might still feel like screaming.

Fiona-freaking-out

Jamar Glenn and Fiona Edwards stand among honeybees flying to and from their hives. Photo by SPP staff.

But it seems more likely that I would feel like this:

WSP-bee-kiss

A beekeeper at Washington State Penitentiary shows his love for a honeybee swarm. Photo by DOC staff.

Thanks for being patient with me, honeybees. I’m your new biggest fan.