Category Archives: Prison Life

Team building for native violets at Washington Corrections Center

Written June 11, 2015
Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant
All photos by Joey Burgess

A horticulture student in the Skill Builders Unit at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) tends to native violets in the prison's new seed beds.

A horticulture student in the Skill Builders Unit at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) tends to native violets in the prison’s new seed beds.

My first two months working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) was characterized by collaboration and progression, both of which I consider keystone concepts for sustainability. At Washington Corrections Center, a men’s prison near Shelton, WA, we partner with Centralia College, Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) staff, and inmates with cognitive impairments to raise Viola adunca (early blue violets) for seed. The project holds novelties for everyone involved and it has flourished thanks to flexibility and open minds.

carrying-conetainers

A horticulture student carries a rack of early blue violets that are ready to be planted.

Because of precautionary protocols, making infrastructure changes within the walls of a correction facility is not a speedy process. However SPP, WDOC, & Centralia College have truly united and the effect has been excellent. After only three months the violets are flowering, and we have already started harvesting seed. Our success is not limited to the health of the violets; it is also evident in the mental health and progression of the inmates.

watering

Another member of the class-and-crew hand waters violets.

An interest in horticulture is an inmate’s ticket to the project, but dedication keeps him there. Whether it’s planting, watering, cultivating, or harvesting, we focus on one skill at a time. We encourage each person to find a connection to the work. This holistic approach has created an atmosphere of personal and community development. Inmates are brimming with questions about the broad scheme of SPP, and how they can find similar work upon release. Also, it has been surprisingly common for WDOC officers and administrators who are not involved in the project to ask how they can help, even going out of their way to arrange for our 9,000+ violets to be watered over hot weekends.

SPP staff

SPP partners weed and care for the violets as a team.

Although in its infancy, the Viola adunca project has created an unlikely community. The original goals were to raise violets for seed and provide inmates with valuable skills. However the project has become a platform for more than that: proof that under a common goal, even stark boundaries can be blurred.

frog

One of the horticulture students discovered a Pacific chorus frog among the violets. Looks like the SPP logo!

 

Roots of Success Marathon Instructor Training, Part 1: The first three days

By Christina Stalnaker, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and Roots of Success Coordinator

After a rigorous, 4-day training event, all 12 prisons in Washington State have a cadre of Roots of Success instructors. Each day, a fresh group of instructor candidates learned the necessary skills to teach Roots’ environmental literacy curriculum. In total, we certified 31 new instructors representing programs at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Larch Corrections Center, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, Olympic Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center, and Washington Corrections Center for Women.

On the first day of training, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, founder of Roots of Success, teaches and certifies Roots instructor candidates from WCC. Master Trainers observe her teaching methods in preparation for the next two days, when they will teach and certify the candidates themselves. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

On the first day of training, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, founder of Roots of Success and expert on Green Workforce Training, taught and certified Roots instructor candidates from WCC. Master Trainer candidates observed her teaching methods in preparation for the next two days, when they would teach and certify instructor candidates themselves. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

The first three days of the training were held at Washington Corrections Center, and served to train fifteen male Roots instructors. At the same time, 6 of our exemplary and seasoned instructors earned their promotion to Master Trainer.

Several weeks prior to the big event, Master Trainer candidates from Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center, and Washington State Penitentiary began studying Roots’ teaching aides. Roots of Success Director Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes led the course on the first day, and the 6 observed and took notes. Then she handed  the reigns over to the future Master Trainers; for two days, they took turns leading the class.

Master Trainers follow the day’s agenda with their training scripts as they take notes on Dr. Pinderhughes teaching techniques. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Master Trainer candidates used their training scripts to follow each lesson as they took notes on Dr. Pinderhughes’ teaching techniques. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

The Stafford Creek Master Trainer team- Cyril Walrond, David Duhaime, and Grady Mitchell- teach instructor candidates for the first time. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

On day 2, the Stafford Creek Master Trainer team–Cyril Walrond, David Duhaime, and Grady Mitchell–taught instructor candidates for the first time. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Dr. Pinderhughes met with the Master Trainer candidates for several hours after each training day to review notes, give and receive critiques, and hone their instructional skills. These Master Trainers now have the credentials to train and certify new instructors for the program. Certifying Master Trainers is a major accomplishment for SPP-WA & WDOC; Roots of Success has become nearly self-sustaining. This valuable education program is gaining momentum, and graduating hundreds of students across the state.

Congratulations to all the newly certified Roots of Success Master Trainers and Instructors! A giant Thank You goes out to Roots staff, Master Trainers, new instructors, WDOC staff, and SPP GRAs for helping us take this monumental step forward in our Roots of Success program!!!

Men from Clallam Bay and Larch Corrections Center attend the Roots of Success Instructor certification course May 10, 2015. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Men from Clallam Bay and Larch Corrections Center attended the Roots of Success Instructor certification course so that they could teach the environmental literacy program at their facilities. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Kieth Parkins, Roots Master Trainer from WSP, works with a future Roots of Success instructor. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Kieth Parkins, Roots Master Trainer candidate from WSP, works one-on-one with a future Roots of Success instructor during a class exercise. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Grady Mitchell, Stafford Creek Roots Master Trainer, takes the helm of the Roots classroom. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For a few hours, Grady Mitchell, Stafford Creek Roots Master Trainer, took the helm of the Roots instructor classroom. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Roots instructors are most successful when they work as teaching teams. Here Cyril Walrond, Stafford Creek Roots Master Trainer, takes notes on the chalkboard and engages students as they describe the characteristics of their future students. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Roots instructors are most successful when they work as teaching teams. Here Cyril Walrond, Stafford Creek Roots Master Trainer candidate, challenges students to describe the characteristics of their future students. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Aliesha Baldé, Roots of Success staff, documented the entire training via photograph and video. Master Trainers use the videos as a training tool to refine their instruction techniques. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Aliesha Baldé, Roots of Success staff, documented the entire training via photograph and video. Master Trainers used the videos as a training tool to refine their instruction techniques. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Be on the look out for Part 2 of the photo gallery with highlights from the Roots of Success training with the women at Washington Corrections Center for Women and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women.

Flight of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies

By Christina Stalnaker, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and Roots of Success Coordinator

It was a smaller crowd than usual: two males fluttered around a single female. The lighting was ideal and temperature at just the right degree for a successful pairing. As these butterflies moved in their miniature habitat, two inmate technicians quietly watched to verify if they had a fruitful engagement. We had just entered the greenhouse of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) captive rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women on an early spring morning.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

These butterflies were the first of their cohort to eclose, marking the beginning of TCB flight season. Eclosure is one of the final stages of a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly’s life cycle—it occurs when the butterfly emerges from its cocoon. When the remaining butterflies join them in flight, the technicians will place two females and up to seven males in an insect habitat. Lindsey Hamilton, SPP’s TCB program coordinator, later explained to me that placing so many in the habitat at once ignites the male’s competitive behavior. In the wild, TCB males can be found next to a female pupa, waiting for her to eclose.

Having just emerged from its cocoon, a Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Having just eclosed (emerged from its cocoon), a Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey water and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

The technicians had been waiting for us to arrive at the prison’s greenhouse to “process” two more butterflies that had just completed eclosion. The word “process” is far too ordinary to describe this next step in caring for these beautiful, endangered butterflies. Upon emergence, the butterflies patiently wait in their tiny container for at least 24 hours before feeding on honey water and taking flight. I had never handled butterflies before and was pretty nervous. Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, proudly demonstrated how to handle and process the delicate insects. After she showed me exactly what to do from start to finish, I went on to process the second TCB on my own.

Name?, TCB technician, shows Christina how to "process" an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton,

Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, shows Christina Stalnaker how to “process” an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

First, we recorded the ID number and color code. Next, we removed the mesh caging and the TCB from its insect cup, gently pinch its wings, and closely examined the butterfly to determine if it is a male or female. Mine was female; I could tell by looking at the tip of the abdomen. Females have a pointed tip at the end of their abdomen, whereas males’ are more rounded. After placing her on the balance, we recorded her weight. Swirling the end of a q-tip in the honey water and teasing her proboscis with a paperclip, I set her down and watched as she tasted her first drops of honey as a butterfly.

A Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

A Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Once captive rearing is complete and the females finish laying their eggs, the butterflies are released to various South Sound Prairies, like the Glacial Heritage Preserve (photographed below). Here they will live the remainder of their lives, and we hope that they continue to mate and lay eggs in their native habitat to bolster populations directly.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor's Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is managed by many of our partners to ensure they continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is intensively managed by our partners to ensure the continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Gardens at Airway Heights Corrections Center

by SPP Network Manager, Joslyn Rose Trivett
All photos by AHCC staff.

A gardener at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) harvest carrots from one of the gardens on the campus. Photo by DOC staff.

A gardener at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) harvest carrots from one of the gardens on the campus.

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC), located near Spokane, Washington, has abundant vegetable gardens. There is a huge main garden, and nearly every living unit has its own courtyard garden. Inmates tend these gardens, and send the produce to the prison’s kitchen; their harvest goes to inmate-dining halls.
Nearly every living unit at AHCC has a courtyard garden.

Nearly every living unit at AHCC has a courtyard garden, growing produce in the eastern Washington sunshine.

Volunteers from the nearby community support and enhance the gardening program. Two community volunteers work with the K-Unit (a living unit) Seniors in the K Unit garden. A Washington State University (WSU) Spokane County Extension Horticulture Specialist, Jeremy Cowan, makes presentations to all inmates active in the program, and consults on every garden at the prison. DOC staff Kraig Witt, a Recreation Specialist, and Lt. Leonard Mayfield also are integral to operations, and do a wonderful job of coordinating all the gardens.

Inmates in the kitchen process vegetables grown on-site, and on their way to the prison menu.

Cooks process vegetables grown on-site, preparing them for inmates’ dining hall.

Many thanks to all involved for their dedication to the gardens. The bring nature inside and healthy, delicious food to the menu.

Update June 29, 2015

The gardens at AHCC are thriving, and on track to out-produce last year. Here are photos from only a few days ago:

Welcome garden is in bloom!

Welcome garden is in bloom!

AHCC-gardens-June-2015-3

The prison’s main garden is showing acres of healthy crops.

A living unit garden and surrounding grounds are lush and green.

A living unit garden and surrounding grounds are lush and green.

New Turtle & Frog Technicians

We recently hired two new inmate technicians that bring exciting new skills to the Frog and Turtle Program! Inmate technician Anglemyer is an aspiring journalist and inmate technician Boysen has skills in plumbing and mechanics. Both technicians have already proven to be great assets to the frog and turtle program by improving the frog and turtle tank structures. Under their care, the Oregon spotted frog tadpoles are strong and healthy and the western pond turtles are doing great!

Anglemyer and Boysen in the turtle facility.  Photo Credit: Sadie Gilliom

Anglemyer and Boysen in the turtle facility. Photo Credit: Sadie Gilliom

Here is an excerpt from Anglemyer’s cover letter that expresses his dedication to the frog and turtle program:

Seeking Turtles

Goals

With his interest in journalism, we hope to hear more about his experience with the frogs and turtles in the future! We are excited to see what both Anglemyer and Boysen continue to bring to the program!

Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 2

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

This blog is the second photo gallery from my visit to the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla (see part one here).

wood-shop

Roy Townsend runs the wood shop, and when he describes his work he lights up like he’s singing. The shop fixes desks, chairs, and guitars. With donated/reclaimed wood, they also build beautiful chess boards, train sets, and other specialty pieces that become valuable auction items for non-profit fundraising.

Roots-classroom

The Roots of Success classroom is housed within the lab and the program serves as a ten week job interview for the SPL. Four days a week for ten weeks, students spend the morning in the classroom and the afternoon in various sustainability positions. About 70% of the 127 graduates so far have been offered jobs, and no one can recall anyone turning down the opportunity. It’s a great model for turning theory into practice.

SPL-Clerk,-Parkins

Kieth Parkins is an exemplary spokesperson for the lab, and knows its programs inside-out. Robert Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, stayed with us throughout the tour, but Kieth served as the primary tour guide. Throughout the tour, I was struck by the inmate technicians’ investment in the programs, and their eloquence in presenting them.

sign-shop,-Williamson-2

We met Ray Williamson in the SPL’s sign shop, and he spoke passionately about his investment in peer-led programs. He said that when inmates run programs, they feel ownership, and that they listen to each other in a way they would never listen to staff. He expects to be in prison for life, and considers it his life work to help rehabilitate other inmates so that once they are released they never come back.

sewing-area-2

The sewing area is colorful and hopping with activity. They produce quilts, upholstery, and teddy bears for non-profit auctions. They see their teddy bears as their ambassadors.

teddy-bear-eyes

Nearly all the materials for the sewing area are donated–the only costs are the sewing needles and the teddy bear eyes, shown here.

sewing-area

Here is another view of the SPL sewing area. Some favorite pieces are displayed on the wall.

sewing

Gus started the teddy bear program. He said to me, “Never in my life—and I’m 60 years old—never in my life wanted to get up and go to work until I got this job.”

 

That seems to me the perfect last word on the Sustainable Practices Lab.

 

 

Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 1

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In late November, I had the pleasure of touring the Sustainable Practices Lab, or SPL, in Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The SPL started up only two years ago—a large empty space save for 15 sewing machines. Today it is a hive of activity and productivity. The lab houses numerous sustainability programs fixing and repurposing all kinds of donated and reclaimed materials. The SPL employs 139 inmates and has donated to more than 88 community organizations in the area. Astounding!

I will share a photo gallery of the first half of my tour in this blog, and the second half in a week or so; there is too much to cover in one posting.

exterior

The exterior of the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) provides little hint of the bustle and color it contains.

Learning-center-&-TV-repair

This is the SPL Learning Center. All the prison’s televisions are repaired here (saving about 12 TVs a month from the landfill), and the resident TV shows TED talks. Mr. Thang is the self-taught electronics technician; Rob Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, says Mr. Thang can fix anything!

The front office of the SPL

An inmate started an aquaponics program in spring, 2014. Now they are in the “proof of concept” stage, aiming to raise 700 heads of romaine lettuce each week. Waste water from the fish tank filters through a bed of tomatoes and pumpkins where ammonia turns into usable nitrogen…

These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

…then the nutrient rich solution passes through the roots of hundreds of lettuce plants. These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

bike-and-chair-repair

This is the bike and furniture repair area of the SPL. Technicians repair and customize chairs for hundreds of corrections staff, saving thousands of tax payer dollars every year–technicians throughout the SPL told me with pride that they are motivated to save tax payers as much money as possible.

bike-wheels

A collection of wheels will be put to use to refurbish reclaimed bicycles; once the bikes are fixed up they will go to children and adults in the outside community.

Sign-renovation

An inmate technician who goes by the name Turtle renovates signs for state agencies. He said, “We are much like this wood. We have our issues…the SPL is going to take the time to bring the good out, invest the time. Return us back to society in better shape than we came in.”

wood-reuse

Another quote from Turtle: “The Sustainable Practices Lab is an avenue; it gives us the psychological tools to choose to do the positive.”

vermicomposting2

The SPL vermicomposting program hosts 9 million worms. They compost one-fifth of the prison’s food waste: 2,500 lbs every week is transformed from garbage to the highest quality soil amendment.

vermicomposting-sifting

An inmate technician in the vermicomposting program hand sifts worm castings.

Thank you to Rob Branscum for starting the SPL, and for hosting the tour. I suspect that the lab’s success can be credited to Mr. Branscum’s belief in inmates’ abilities and creativity (and, of course, that he has the support of many others in WA corrections). Incarcerated men have been given a workplace in which they can thrive!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.

 

SPP’s New Lecture Series Certification

by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator
Students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) take in the lecture on Mt. Rainier.

Students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) take in the lecture on Mt. Rainier. Photo credit: John Dominoski

This past Thursday at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), inmates were recognized for their science and sustainability education achievements! This is a new certification program through the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series in which inmates are recognized for attending 5, 10, 20 or more lectures.

Tiffany Webb congratulates a lecture series certificate recipient.

Tiffany Webb congratulates a lecture series certificate recipient. Photo credit: John Dominoski

Following the award ceremony, Jeff Antonelis-Lapp, a faculty of The Evergreen State College, presented on the natural history of Mt. Rainier— a topic he is currently researching and writing a book about. The presentation included both the geological history and indigenous peoples’ interactions with the mountain hundreds of years ago. Mr. Antonelis-Lapp also spoke about future hazards associated with Mt. Rainier, particularly lahars (volcanic mudflows). He displayed breathtaking images of the mountain, surrounding areas, archeological sites, and animals that call the range home. Those in attendance received a fact sheet and image of Mt. Rainier to keep.

Tiffany Webb talks with an inmate during the lecture.

Tiffany Webb talks with an inmate before the lecture. Photo credit: John Dominoski

After the lecture, Jeff and I toured SCCC’s sustainability programs. This was my first time at Stafford Creek during this time of year, and I just have to say, their gardens are beautiful! The flowers are blooming in brilliant colors and you can tell the inmates involved are very proud of their work.
The "Lifer" garden at SCCC in full bloom.

The “Lifer” garden at SCCC in full bloom. Photo credit: Tiffany Webb

“Participating in the transformation of the world” : Roots of Success at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Students meet in small groups to discuss the material

Roots of Success students meet in small groups to discuss the material.

By Amory Ballantine, SPP Roots of Success Coordinator
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

On Wednesday, May 7, I had the privilege of sitting in on my first Roots of Success class and, later, attending the previous cohort’s graduation ceremony. The class I visited is held at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) in Aberdeen and team-taught by inmate instructors. It was the second class in Roots of Success’s curriculum, titled “Fundamentals of Environmental Literacy.” I was moved and impressed by how the curriculum’s structure engages students in thinking critically about challenging technical concepts, and by the learning environment instructors and students have created.

Inmates in SCCC’s Roots program are clearly committed to environmental justice and to each other. Instructors and administrators encouraged students to generate ideas for institutional changes and to educate each other, drawing parallels between commitments to environmental sustainability and commitments to one another’s success.

We sat in the back of the classroom, behind twenty-seven students in khaki and beige. At the front of the room were flipcharts, a table, a podium, and three instructors: Grady Mitchell, Cyril Walrond, and David DuHaime. They took turns teaching for about an hour each, separating sections with short bathroom breaks. Now team-teaching Roots for the fourth time, the instructors are excellent at what they do. Their styles are unique, complementing each other well, and they worked together seamlessly. Mitchell’s presence is commanding and dynamic, DuHaime’s careful and personal, and Walrond’s heartfelt and encouraging. All of them joked with the room, putting us at ease, while gently challenging every student to contribute to discussion. Because they are inmates themselves, instructors use examples relevant to students, creating an environment which promotes collaboration and camaraderie. While teaching the concept of bioaccumulation, for example, Instructor Mitchell described the formaldehyde added to prison sheets to keep them from sticking together. “Shake an unwashed new sheet and you’ll see the powder that comes off! I sleep with a towel on top of the pillow now.”

Instructors DuHaime, Walrond, and Mitchell facilitate conversation about the waste cycle

Instructors DuHaime, Walrond, and Mitchell facilitate conversation about the waste cycle.

Instructor Walrond writes students’ answers during discussion of perceived obsolescence

Instructor Walrond writes students’ answers during discussion of perceived vs. planned obsolescence.

Instructors posed lots of questions to the class, who had good, interesting and insightful answers. They learned about waste and consumption cycles, how small amounts of toxins accumulate in our bodies over time (bioaccumulation), climate change, environmental justice, and more. Students’ diverse backgrounds and life experiences made for very interesting and enriching discussions.

They appeared wholly absorbed in a discussion of climate change, including concepts of “climate injustice” and environmental injustice. Instructors asked the class how global warming might impact health, and students came up with several examples of ways poor people might be affected: being unable to afford air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter; keeping doors and windows shut in the summer because of safety concerns in high-crime areas; being unable to afford to go to the doctor when sick; being unable to afford insurance coverage for their homes in case of climate-related disasters. One student pointed out that you could say it was the other way around, and in fact social and economic injustice are exacerbated by climate change. In a discussion of planned vs. perceived obsolescence, someone shared the powerful insight that not only products, but people– including entire neighborhoods or communities–could be perceived obsolete.

A student asks if homes can be perceived obsolete, leading to discussion of perceived neighborhood obsolescence

A student asks if homes can be perceived obsolete, leading to discussion of perceived neighborhood obsolescence.

A Convicts Redemption

By Jamar Glenn, Western Pond Turtle Technician

Who would’ve thought a turtle’s life was so parallel to mine? I was given a great opportunity to work with an endangered species, the western pond turtle (WPT), which was placed here at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). These animals were infected with an illness called “shell disease.” This disease eats at the plastron, which is the bottom half of the turtle shell. If not treated immediately this disease can kill the animal.

Jamar Glenn studies a turtle after a trip to the vet; both he and SPP's Graduate Research Assistant Fiona Edwards (left) helped build the prison's facility for the turtles.

Jamar Glenn studies a turtle after a trip to the vet; both he and SPP’s Graduate Research Assistant Fiona Edwards (left) helped build prison facility that houses the turtles.

From the beginning of the turtle’s life it’s faced with an obstacle to reach its destination of “freedom.” In the beginning stage the mother lays her eggs along shore, leaving her young to fend for themselves. It’s up to the turtle to follow nature’s designed course to make it to its final destination. To get there the turtle has to go survive a series of threats to finally be free:

  1. Predatory animals who feast on the young hatchlings
  2. Human consumption, commercial trapping for food and pets
  3. Loss of habitat
  4. Rare illness

In this particular case of shell disease, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) run a series of tests and administer intensive treatments with the turtles. Once the turtles are treated, they are then given to CCCC for additional care: we give 20-minute iodine baths, feed them a diverse diet, weigh them, and give additional care to any lesions located on the plastron. We then submit observation notes to the scientist and veterinarians so they can keep records on each individual turtle. The turtles stay under my care for 2-4 months. Once healed, the turtles are released back into the wild to carry on with their turtle lives.

As I released my first turtle, I thought about the turtle’s life and the events it had to endure. Constantly on the run from predators, being captured and taken away from its natural habitat, and riddled with illness, to finally returning home healthy and determined to stay free if she has anything to do with it. She was tagged upon release, so she’ll be under the watchful eye at all times.

As she swam away, I thought about my own life. How I also had to go through my own life struggles ever since I was a youngster. I’ve been alone with no assistance. Predators were my enemy (rival gangs). My illness was my addictions (drugs/alcohol), and my loss of habitat was prison. I too will be tagged and watched by “the eye.”

Turtle technicians Timothy Nuss and  Jamar Glenn on turtle release day.

Turtle technicians Timothy Nuss and Jamar Glenn on turtle release day.

The author releases a turtle.

The author releases a healthy turtle.

I came to prison when I was 16 years old; I’ve been incarcerated now for 17 years. My time has come for me to be released here next year. This program has really enlightened my heart and mind, opening my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity. It’s taught me how to be consistent, responsible, great job ethics, and communication skills. These are tools I didn’t possess in my younger years. I finally can give back to society in my own special kind of way, doing something I never could imagine myself doing. I too will be under the eye, I too will return home healthy, and determined to stay free if I have anything to do with it! Who would’ve thought a turtle’s life was parallel to mine.

For more about the turtle release, see Fiona Edward’s blog on the event.