Category Archives: Prison Life

Gardening with Sophie Hart at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

by Sophie Hart, SPP volunteer

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

About a month ago, I began volunteering in the gardening programs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) through the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). My experiences at CCCC have been very positive. I find myself really looking forward to my time spent there each week. It has been great working with the staff, from superintendant Douglas Cole, programs manager Charlie Washburn and volunteer coordinator Kim Govreau, to the officers I encounter each week. All have been welcoming of my efforts and presence, and I am especially thankful for their support and dedication to the gardening programs. I think they have truly tough jobs, and I am impressed by the positive attitudes and spirit they bring to their work. I see them show respect to inmates, and get respect in return.

I am grateful, too, to be working with a group of hard-working inmates. They seem to enjoy their work, and have responded kindly and welcomingly to my input. When I first began volunteering, I was worried about establishing my role with them. Recently, though, we have been so busy measuring garden plots, discussing what seeds to order and preparing the beds for Spring planting that I haven’t had much time to dwell on the fact that I’m in a prison working with inmates. They don’t do much to remind me of that either.

Of course, I am reminded whenever an inmate opens up about what led them to CCCC. And every time I hear myself called “Ms. Hart.” And when I am buzzed-through the control office to get to the gardens outside the fence. But when the inmates discuss their experiences working on the gardens, they remind me of any other gardener. Some talk about their time in the greenhouses as a reprieve from their daily lives, and the gardens as their own space to take care of. This month, everyone is itching to get growing.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

In the brief time I have spent at CCCC, I can tell that SPP doesn’t only impact the inmates by providing interesting and engaging jobs, but the programs also affect the way the facility is perceived, by staff and prisoners alike. On my first visit to the prison, Mr. Cole led our group on a tour of the prison grounds, stopping at their many different gardening plots. We discussed the history of each plot: what was planted there before, how the soil behaved, how it was watered. When I asked about pests, I was told about their deer problem: the gardening spaces that are situated outside of the fence are frequently munched on by deer coming out of the (seriously beautiful) surrounding state park. Mr. Cole then laughed and jested that the fence wasn’t actually there to keep the men inside, but really to keep the deer out. An inmate challenged that it still wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping out the raccoons who love to rummage in the open compost heaps. Suddenly, the tall, chain-linked, razor-wire fence lost some of its edge. I remember this story and smile when I see it, imagining stealthy raccoons successfully navigating corrections’ security system to sneak in to the prison to steal from the gardens.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

Working With Offenders at Shotwell’s Landing Nursery

Working With Offenders at Shotwell’s Landing Nursery

By Graduate Research Assistant Jaal Mann

When most people imagine offenders in a prison work crew, they probably see surly, unmotivated folks who don’t want to be there and may even be frightening. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Prison work crews make a large part of our conservation nursery work possible. They assist with  everything, from cleaning and sanitizing used cells to sowing seeds and weeding germinating plants. Most offenders participating at Shotwell’s Landing nursery are highly motivated and want to learn. They are excited when they hear how their work is going to help conserve endangered prairie species, and it really seems to make them feel more connected to the world outside of prison. “I’d come out here every day if I could,” said one inmate as he prepared the lower hoop house for new seedlings that they would sow a few weeks later.

Many of these offenders are already highly knowledgeable about biology and horticulture. They are able to offer valuable input on nursery methods and are often pleased to contribute ideas to make the nursery run more smoothly. They take pride in their work, and most of the offenders truly appreciate when we describe its ecological context; they want to understand the impacts of their labor and see how it fits in to the bigger picture of conservation. In general, they are much more open-minded than many non-incarcerated people.

After a couple of hours working with offenders, people realize that while certain rules must be observed, working with prisoners isn’t such a frightening experience.  The inmates are excited to work hard to help make a difference.

 

All photos by Jaal Mann.

Conservation Nursery Crew Begins Work at WCCW

Conservation Nursery Crew Begins Work at WCCW

By Graduate Research Assistant Brianna Morningred

With the completion of two hoop houses, work with the inmate crew at Washington State Correction Center for Women (WCCW) has begun. We have three inmates working with us and it is so wonderful that they all are genuinely excited to be a part of the project. The very first day Carl Elliott and I introduced ourselves and began teaching the women about the work they will be doing. One of them had horticulture experience, but regardless, conservation nursery work is a lot different than your average gardening.  All three women picked up the technique quickly and were excited to get started.


WCCW conservation nursery technicians and their supervisor work in a new hoop house. Photo by B. Morningred.

 

We began sowing work with CAHI, also known as Castilleja hispida or Indian Paintbrush. This rare native plant species is crucial for the preservation of Puget Sound Prairies.  As it is difficult to germinate successfully, we at SPP put a lot of care into sowing CAHI.  In order to help the inmate technicians really understand what they are a part of, I brought them visual aids to show them where their plants would go and why what they are doing matters so much. They seemed to really appreciate knowing that their work is a part of something bigger—which is one of most important points I wanted to get across.

As of January 9, 2013, our great crew at WCCW has sown approximately 300 trays—30,000 cells—of CAHI and they are still going strong.  The increasingly colder weather is making work a little more difficult but we are fortunate to have such a dedicated crew—being productive no matter what the fickle Washington weather may bring. In the next couple of weeks we’ll begin sowing WYAN or Wyethia angustifolia, the Narrowleaf Wyethia. WYAN is an essential daisy-like perennial that supports the endangered Fender’s Blue Butterfly species that are native to Washington and Oregon prairies.


An inmate technician at WCCW sows seed using a dial seed sower. Photo by B. Morningred.

 

In addition to learning a lot about sowing techniques, we have also organized a Lending Library so each inmate can check out one book each week for additional learning.  The women have really enjoyed this opportunity as their prison library is currently closed for renovation.  They have taken particular advantage of the copies of our Conservation Nursery Manual, which we have supplied for them to learn in more detail about the processes they are completing each day.

It has been a wonderful start at WCCW. We are looking forward to spring, warmer weather, and hopefully high germination rates!


Conservation nursery technicians arrange trays in a hoop house at WCCW. Photo by B. Morningred.

 

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs

Please note>> the best way to contact this program is to call the prison’s main number and ask for Floral Design: (253) 858-4200 – Main

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs
By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

WCCW and Tacoma Community College (TCC) joined together to implement an Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program for offenders.  GEDs or high school diplomas are now no longer a prerequisite to enroll in the Horticulture vocational training program (administered by TCC) at WCCW.

Students now have the opportunity to earn college level credits while earning their GED at the same time.  Throughout the I-BEST program, students learn skills through real-world scenarios.  The I-BEST/Horticulture curriculum provides opportunities for women to learn job skills and gain important experience in the horticulture field.  In 2012, offenders harvested more than 11,000 pounds of vegetables at WCCW and more than 147,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables at Mother Earth Farm.

WCCW’s floral department students have the opportunity to use the knowledge they have gained by designing floral arrangements for the community.  They design flowers for weddings, funerals, special occasions, proms, banquets, conventions and other holidays. This year alone they have designed flowers for 37 different weddings!

Most of us know that the Puyallup Fair is one of the biggest fairs in the world, but did you know that for the past six years WCCW’s floral designers have entered the Puyallup Fair under the professional design division?   They have consistently placed first, second, third and best of show!  Prizes are awarded based on arrangement, quality, condition, variety and finish.

WCCW staff is very proud of the accomplishments their programs provide the offenders.  Having programs like these in prisons improves morale and staff and offender safety.

 

A WCCW offender-designed floral arrangement awaits judging the Puyallup Fair.

 

 

Bountiful gardens at Washington Corrections Center for Women

By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

Program director Ed Tharp in the garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women.Gig Harbor, Wash.—Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the horticulture program at Washington Corrections Center for Women provides an opportunity for offenders to enroll as Tacoma Community College students in order to learn job skills and gain important experience in nursery operations and floral design. So far this year, the gardens have produced 9,365 pounds of vegetables that were harvested and then prepared and served in the offender kitchen—and it’s still growing.

“This is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had,” said program director Ed Tharp. “One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the ladies succeed when they get out.”

The facility’s horticulture department employs 10 students as teacher assistants who are responsible for the planting and harvesting of the gardens. Currently 51 students are enrolled in horticulture and 14 are enrolled in organic farming. Horticulture students learn about sustainable gardening, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, commercial greenhouses, floral design, floral shop operation and integrated pest management, just to name a few.  Organic farming students have the opportunity to work on an outside crew at Mother Earth Farm, an organic farm in Puyallup.

Canyon Little, Mother Earth Farm manager, said her farm has been able to produce about 148,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables on nearly eight acres of land in the Puyallup Valley. She told Tharp she was “impressed with how hard each of the offenders worked on every visit, and how they were eager to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through their education.”

The garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women“Because each offender demonstrated a high capacity of responsibility for day-to-day farm activities, I decided to assign special projects for each lady,” Little said. “The project idea was a way for the offenders to take ownership of the farm, learn something new and educate each other on their respective projects. Being a part of the learning process was an enriching experience as a manager, and I look forward to working with Washington Corrections Center for Women to explore new boundaries, build knowledge and experiences and work together to fight hunger.”

Mother Earth Farm works with the Emergency Food Network by supplying fresh produce to 74 local food banks, hot-meal sites and shelters in Pierce County. Other produce was sent to the Cannery Project in Kent, which converted the donations into more than 1000,000 cans of fruits and vegetables.

Washington Corrections Center for Women is excited to see what next year will hold. Next year’s garden is already planned and the seeds are ordered.

Using Worms to Reduce Food Waste at Monroe Correctional Complex!

By Donna Simpson, Administrative Assistant 3 at Monroe Correctional Complex

The Monroe Correctional Complex is using worms to reduce food waste disposal costs while also providing a meaningful science and sustainability education and work program for offenders.

Currently at 5 million worms, the vermiculture program can process 10,000 pounds of food scraps per month, resulting in a cost reduction of more than 25%.  This translates into big savings for the prison, which previously spent $60,000 a year on food waste disposal before several sustainability initiatives began.

In January of 2010, staff and offenders developed the vermiculture program by collecting just 200 red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) for three small breeding bins built by offenders. Very little funding has been invested in the program. As the worm population grew, new and improved models of worm bins were built by converting discarded barrels, old laundry carts, food carts, and recycled mattress materials. This indoor commercial-sized “Wormery” currently has more than 170 worm bins designed and built by offenders.  Seventeen of the bins are “flow-through” style.  The flow-through bins are primarily built from re-purposed materials by offenders, whereas they would typically retail at more than $5,000 each.

This program provides other benefits, including the by-products produced by the worms. Worm castings (worm manure) are a valuable, high-quality organic fertilizer sought after in the organic gardening market. The “Wormery” also produces 400 gallons of worm tea fertilizer per week. The worm castings and worm tea are used in the several acres of gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex.

Studies have shown that offenders who participate in horticulture programs while incarcerated have a lower rate of recidivism. Offenders develop important vocational and life skills. The worm technicians at MCC wrote an operations manual that is now available to assist other institutions in starting new vermiculture programs. They have also developed an extensive breeding program capable of exporting worms to other Washington institutions, agencies or schools. Thus far, Washington State Penitentiary and Stafford Creek Corrections Center have received worms as a result of this program.

 

Worm breeding bins

 

Flow through bins designed and built by inmates

 

Worm Breeding Bins

 

New Tilapia Program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

by Lucienne Guyot, Executive Secretary Correctional Industries and Lyle Morse, Director Correctional Industries

Construction is well underway on the greenhouse which will house tilapia at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen. The lean, fresh water fish will live in water heated by solar panels manufactured at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.  Offenders working in the new Correctional Industries program will rear the fish.  Besides feeding and general care for the tilapia, offenders will learn the craft of fish rearing including monitoring nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and regulating these substances along with water quality and temperature. They will perform equipment maintenance, monitor alarms and produce a protein source for use in offender meals. The facility is designed to have a capacity of 40,000 lbs of fish per year with the possibility for expansion.  The agency will develop a fish patty to serve as the primary dietary product.

The Department of Corrections is not new to offering offenders work in sustainability projects. This new Correctional Industries program is well-aligned with the on-going Sustainability in Prisons Project, a partnership between the Department, The Evergreen State College, state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations.

Tilapia Tanks and Greenhouse at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

 

SPP Lecture Series Update

SPP Lecture Series Update

by Graduate Research Associate Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

The SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has been up and running at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women since 2009.  Every month, inmates at each facility have the option to attend a lecture given by a community-based scientist, university researcher, organic farmer, or other teacher well-versed in one or more topics related to science, the outdoors, and environmental sustainability.

Thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of staff at Stafford Creek and WCCW, up to 50 inmates are able to attend each presentation, which may take the form of lecture, multimedia presentation, or workshop.  Recent lecturers and topics have included:

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston shares plant samples with her audience during a plant identification workshop.

Inmates who attend lectures are asked to complete surveys designed to measure changes in environmental knowledge and attitudes, as Lecture & Evaluations Intern Jaal Mann discussed in his blog post this spring.  Many inmates make it a priority to attend the lecture series, with one writing recently “Thank you for providing these lectures.  I look forward to them every month.”  Lectures often pique the interest of several inmates each month, who use the surveys to ask for more information on the day’s topic.  Others take more general lessons away, with one inmate noting “I learned that I should look outside at more things, and that things I’ve never thought about are interesting.”

Surveys also give inmates an opportunity to request lecture topics.  Recently requested topics include green building, aquaponics, urban farming, Mt. Rainier, geothermal systems, mammals, restoring biodiversity and a host of others.

SPP is always recruiting lecturers willing to visit a prison and share their time and knowledge with an inmate audience.  If you or someone you know would like to lecture as part of SPP’s Science and Sustainability Series, please contact Brittany Gallagher at galbri23@evergreen.edu or 360-867-6765 for more information.

Stormwater presentation at WCCW: Inmate blog

“Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” at WCCW: Inmate blog

Editor’s note: This post was written by an inmate at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where SPP hosts a monthly Science & Sustainability lecture series.  On May 1, Stokley Towles, a performance artist and faculty member at The Evergreen State College, gave a highly entertaining presentation called “Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” to a group of nearly 40 inmates at WCCW.
Mr. Towles will be performing this piece for the public starting this Friday, May 4, at the Seattle Center.  For more information, please see http://www.stokleytowles.com/.

Today I attended a 2 hour presentation of “Storm Watch” which took place in A Building at Purdy Prison, also known as WCCW, or vice versa.

WOW! Talk about an out-of-body experience! Not only was I able to get out of my cramped cell and leave the unit I live in; this is the first time in 5 years of being incarcerated  here in WCCW that I actually felt like being part of a community.

Who would ever guess that hearing about bowel excretion could feel like connecting with one’s community?! No, really! This guy from the Sustainability in Prisons Project was showing us diagrams from a laptop and projector on one of the walls in the visiting room on how storm water and sewage is piped underground from neighborhoods, and pretty soon before I knew it, I was enthralled in the dialog of communication from offenders. This guy whose nickname was “Street”  was beautiful – no kidding – he even showed us the hot pink socks he was wearing! Yeah, right there in the visiting room he props up his leg onto a table with the heel of his black, soft leather , worn dress shoe on the edge of the table and hikes up his beige chino slacks and displays his HOT PINK SOCKS! He, aka Street, says “I spend a lot of time with the sewage plant workers and garbage collectors, getting to know what they do on their jobs, actually walking around with them all day, seeing and hearing how they feel and what they think about what they’re doing. Everyone who works for the Seattle Sewage Plant gets a nickname. It’s for security reasons, because working for the City of Seattle is like being one big happy family and using an alias protects their identity out in the field”.

Today for just a minute I was out there – out in the field with Street, watching the sky for oncoming storms and climbing down storm drains (with a gas mask), checking out neighborhood ponds for “beaver workaholics”. Huh. Yeah. I felt like being connected to something other than being an offender incarcerated here in Prison. I sure the heck wasn’t thinking about all that chaos and drama back in the unit  I live in during those brief 110 minutes or so.

Thank you, Sustainability-in-Prisons-Project!

Thank you Stokley Towles!

Thank you Brittany Gallagher!

Thank you AA Paula Andrew!

Please come back!!

Stokley Towles performs "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter" as part of SPP's Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at WCCW on May 1, 2012.

 

To donate to SPP and support science and sustainability education in unlikely places, please click here.

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

by: Inmate Frog Technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our frog technicians at CCCC, who are currently experimenting with raising crickets to feed to the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being reared at their facility.

On 10/16/11, we received 65 over-winter frogs from a handful of sites. When received, frogs were about as big as dimes. Now they have grown to the size of half-dollars. They are doing very well, very good coloring, spotting on top and red on bottom.

When frogs were received, four frogs looked very bad and have since died. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with them, all I know is they would not eat and were very thin because of it. Except for that, everything has been going very smoothly.

We have now started a new cricket project. We have always bought our crickets from Fluker Farms to breed, but we have been unable to breed multiple generations with them.  Recently we got Jamaican Black Crickets from Woodland Park Zoo and we feel that we could breed a generation of these crickets.  What we hope to do is cross-breed European crickets with these Jamaican Black Crickets and try to get the long life span from the Jamaican but the easier edibility of the European House Crickets we buy from Flukers.

We are going to get 2500 European crickets (5 weekers) and 2500 Jamaican crickets (5 weekers) and raise them side by side, do everything the same between the tanks, food, water, temperature, etc. We are hoping to see which cricket is a more efficient candidate for our cricket project. And also see which crickets we can raise generations from.

In a totally separate experiment, we want to get 500 of each style crickets and raise them together in one tank, hoping to cross-breed these two crickets, getting traits from both.   We’ll see if that may be the best candidate for our cricket program.

Cricket Traits:

European House Cricket: The more popular of the cricket species, these crickets can grow up to 2cm in length. They are more extensively fed to reptiles. Easily digested.

Jamaican Black Cricket: These crickets grow fast and get bigger, probably reaching 3-4cm in length. In my experiences these crickets live longer and are easier to breed, but might be harder for the frogs to eat when they get too big.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.