Category Archives: Prison Life

Good News

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) is in the news! We have received extensive press coverage from media sources nationwide. The common threads emphasized by all are the innovative nature and the collaborative mode of the work that have contributed to the inspiring success of the SPP. Click on the links below — and feel free to provide your comments.

KBTC Northwest Now: Click here to watch the episode

Northwest Now’s Daniel Kopec hosts SPP Project Co-Director Dan Pacholke, Project Manager Kelli Bush and Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Douglas Cole to explore how the unique collaboration between the DOC and The Evergreen State College is addressing some of Washington’s pressing social and scientific concerns.

KBTC Full Focus: Being Green: Click here to watch the episode

This episode of Full Focus takes a look at how the Sustainable Prisons Project is engaging offenders in the rearing of endangered frogs and the inspiring stories that have resulted.

KCTS 9 Connects: Click here to watch the episode

KCTS 9 reporter Leslie McClurg takes the show behind bars when she visits the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington to discover how the SPP has inspired one offender to pursue college credit by studying sustainability while incarcerated.

The Promised Land featuring Nalini Nadkarni: Click here to listen to the episode

SPP Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni escorts host Majora Carter from the treetops of the Olympic Rainforest canopy to the incarcerated men at Stafford Creek to lead them in a lively and insightful discussion of “what should happen next” for the SPP and sustainability in society.

Science Nation: Click here to watch and read

Science Nation explores how the SPP  and inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington are helping themselves and nature to recover by working together to raise endangered prairie plants for restoration.

PBS News Hour, Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Click here to watch the PBS news hour segment (short version)

Click here to view the OPB Oregon Field Guide segment (long version)

Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Jule Gilfillan details how the SPP is helping the military and two Washington prisons to reduce waste and protect the environment by training offenders as conservation scientists; all while saving money and supporting biodiversity.

To donate to the Sustainable Prisons Project, CLICK HERE to visit the Evergreen Foundation’s website.

Inmates Restore Prairie, Make Video to Teach Others

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

The end of the growing season brings a lot of clean up and preparation for the Sustainable Prisons Project.  This year’s native prairie plants, raised in conjunction with offenders at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, are ready to be shipped off to their permanent homes. While some of the plants will be sent to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), others are being distributed across various restoration sites around the south Puget Sound prairie landscape. Many are being planted to enhance habitat sites for Taylor’s (Whulge) checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies.

Delivery and installation of the 173,336 prairie plants began a few weeks ago and will continue through early spring 2011. For all the partners involved in this fantastic restoration project, this is a great accomplishment. Together we have increased the amount of plants produced by 70% compared to 2009.

Offenders at SCCC sort prairie plant seeds.

Reaching the delivery and planting phase  is the result of a lot of hard work. One of our biggest challenges has been working with wild collected seed and recalcitrant or difficult germination strategies. The various species of native prairie seeds are sown into yellow tubes or cells, then stored in larger trays. The total number of cells sown by the offenders was 338,485 with 2 to 6 seed sown per cell.  In the end, approximately 5o% of the cells contained plants.  This low fill rate may be caused by the quality of the seed material, the low viability rate of the seed, or the variability in the dormancy to germination process.  The prairie plant restoration project at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is an evolving process – there still a lot to learn about how to best grow these native prairie plants.  Our cooperators at The Nature Conservancy are working every season to improve seed quality through better collection, threshing, and processing techniques.

Offenders raise thousands of prairie plants each year.

Another factor in the low success rate per cell may be human error. Working with so many plants is just plain difficult sometimes. However, with time and experience the tasks become easier and more expertly accomplished. The current crew of offenders has worked diligently this summer to hone their skills and improve the efficiency of the nursery project while also improving morale and camaraderie. This effort shows in the number and quality of plants produced. They will also be able to help train and pass on these skills to offenders in the future, which will add to the success of the project.

Part of mastering any skill is the ability to teach it to others. The process of teaching a skill causes us to look more closely than we usually do to the mechanics of how we perform a task. Work conditions in a corrections center lead to frequent turn-over in the offender employees. Some sort of training tool was needed to get new offender employees up to speed and give them an understanding of the context and purpose of the nursery project.  The well-trained and skilled crew at SCCC recently helped create a video to serve as a training tool for new offenders working on the project.  Over the course of a few weeks, offenders practiced developing a script around their particular expertise in the production process. We decided to focus on five skills: 1) preparing soil and fertilizer in the cell trays, 2) sowing the seed of three species with differing seed sizes, 3) covering seed with soil or gravel grit, 4) record keeping  and 5) watering, weeding and cultivation skills.

Filming at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

The Center for Creative and Applied Media (C-CAM) at The Evergreen State College provided the production help and equipment for a day of filming at Stafford Creek. The students and staff from C-CAM did a fantastic job drawing out the script from the offenders, as well as setting up and framing the video.

Mixing the potting soil and adding the appropriate quantity of fertilizer.

Record keeping is vital to improving the long-term success of the project.

Applying the right amount of cover soil over the seed.

Preparing to water in newly sown seeds with a gentle spring rain of water.

The training video would not be complete without providing the context for why this nursery project exists. The nursery work and skills are good training for offenders, but another goal is to restore important prairie habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout the south Puget Sound. Some of the plants from SCCC were delivered to a prairie on Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). During the first week of November, a hard-working field crew was on hand to plant out 30,000 plants to increase butterfly nectar sources and serve as larval hosts.

Filming at the Joint Base Lewis McChord Plant Out

Up close and personal with some of the plant out crew; each of the 30,000 goes in one at a time.

Filming the plant out crew with Kimi the prairie dog.

Luckily, nature provided us with a spectacular backdrop and view of the prairie lands at JBLM, perfect for filming a training video.  The students from C-CAM were able to practice filming a wide variety of shots.  The resulting video will be edited over the next few months, voice-overs added, and it will be finished in February. This will be a valuable training tool for new offenders joining the nursery crew during 2011.  As training improves and new discoveries are made each season, we look forward to improved native plant propagation operations.   Watch for the finished video on our web site February 2011.

Rod Gilbert of the Fish and Wildlife Division of Joint Base Lewis McCord explaining the importance of the plant production to prairie restoration for the film.

Cedar Creek’s Captive Crickets

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

This past spring, Cedar Creek Corrections Center and the Sustainable Prisons Project began experimenting with a new captive rearing project to raise crickets.  The goal of the project is to create a more sustainable, stable supply of food to meet the demand created by housing a growing population of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs. Crickets are one of the largest expenses for the frog project. Cricket suppliers are located out of state.  Long-distance shipping complications can impact frog feeding schedules, and definitely increase the project’s carbon footprint. As a result of these issues, the offenders at CCCC decided they would try their hand at cricket husbandry and breeding.

Few organizations in Washington raise their own crickets. Most suppliers, including pet shops, purchase crickets from out of state breeders.  By locally-growing crickets for the Oregon Spotted Frog conservation project, SPP offenders and staff are taking another step toward creating a more sustainable, cost effective, and stable food supply.

Inmates and scientists are discovering best practices for rearing crickets.

The Project is also contributing to scientific knowledge, compiling best practices protocol for raising crickets in temperate climates through trial-and-error experimentation. While visiting with offenders to check on how things have progressed, SPP Research Associate Jill Cooper was impressed to see how much the offenders had learned through observation and experience, in such a short amount of time. One inmate explained to her how the current batch of “breeders” that were delivered to the prison, “aren’t really the age which the cricket farm said they are.”  He pointed to the “ovipositor” or egg-depositing tube noting that they were obviously under developed and not ready to lay eggs yet.  Crickets chirp to indicate when they are ready to breed.  The inmate is considering starting his own cricket farm when he is released to offer a more sustainable source of crickets to customers here in the northwest.

Training Officer Ron Gagliardo of Amphibian Ark recently made a visit to CCCC to advise inmates and staff on the cricket rearing operation.  Previously from the Atlanta area, Ron has extensive experience with frog and cricket rearing.  He was a tremendous resource.  The inmates were able to ask him many questions and his input will undoubtedly improve upon the initial success of the cricket operation.

There have been many bumps along the way, but things have been looking up for the cricket operation.  Offenders are able to raise crickets to help supplement the frog’s diet, and have learned much in the process. While the cricket project can not yet support all the food needs, we estimate that the current operation will eventually support at least half of the crickets needed to feed about 200 frogs.

Farewell Frogs!

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

Releasing frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

It has been another successful season rearing Oregon Spotted Frogs at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  A total of 1,346 were released into a wetland site on Joint-Base Lewis-McChord.  The four rearing institutions (Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Northwest Trek, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center) came together to release this year’s batch of frogs into the wild; a collaborative effort to stabilize the native populations.

The Sustainable Prisons Project has been working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) to raise endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs since 2009. CCCC boasts having the largest frogs of any participating rearing institution, with100% of this year’s frogs large enough for release into the wild.

CCCC’s rearing success can be attributed to the amount of time and attention the offenders are able to give the frogs.  The offenders form genuine bonds with the frogs; some are given names, like “Lefty” or “NASCAR.”  The few deceased frogs have been placed in an offender-created “frog cemetery,” with hand-made gravestones.  One of the inmates patiently waits with his hand in the frog pond, and frogs will often come sit in his hand to be pet.

Cedar Creek Frog Maintenance

The day of the release, the frogs were loaded into containers and driven north to Joint-Base Lewis-McChord and their new home. CCCC is a minimum security pre-release facility, sometimes referred to as “camp,” where offenders are sent with minimal time remaining on their sentence. For participating offenders, the release of the frogs in part symbolizes their own impending release back into society.

Superintendent Doug Cole and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson of CCCC along with SPP Student Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper had the opportunity to release some of the frogs.  “It was a sight to see all 1,346 frogs hop into the water and instantly disappear with their well camouflaged bodies,” said Cooper.

Red coloration indicates healthy growth

Each frog has a micro-chip and will be tracked by volunteers who regularly visit the wetlands to conduct research, using special wands that detect the frogs’ signals.

At the conclusion of the release, 29 of the frog “runts” from other institutions were taken back to CCCC because they were not large enough to be released.  These frogs will be nurtured during the winter and released in the spring.  One offender says that this new batch of frogs is, “more skittish than the last;” hardly any of the frogs come sit in his hand.  Nevertheless, they are rapidly growing.  In just the past few weeks, the frogs have gained weight and are already beginning to show some red coloration. With another successful year of frog-rearing logged, the future looks bright for the Cedar Creek frog team.

Opportunity to Support the Sustainable Prisons Project

Nearly a month has passed since the announcement of the deep state budget cuts that terminated the Sustainable Prisons Project’s two-year contract with the Washington State Department of Corrections. The Sustainable Prison Project (SPP) staff and students at The Evergreen State College have been working to secure alternative sources of funding to keep the Project moving forward.  As mentioned in a previous blog, initial success has come in the form of “bridge funding”  allocated by the The Evergreen State College. This funding will provide temporary breathing room, supporting the Project’s core staff and operations through June 2011.  Even with the bridge funding, however, SPP programs and staff will be significantly reduced if additional funding sources are not secured. Therefore, it is at this time that we ask SPP supporters to step forward and aid in the continuation of the Sustainable Prisons Project by donating to the Project’s fund.

The need for the scientific research, conservation work,  and education provided by the SPP is at an all-time high. The recent state  budget cuts have induced severe changes for DOC: 300 jobs have been frozen or cut, monthly offender lock-downs have been implemented, and drug treatment and education programs have been substantially reduced.  Meanwhile, the loss of biodiversity, accelerated by increasing pollution and habitat destruction, threatens the very ecosystems on which we all rely.

Many of our projects address these problems by connecting scientists, offenders, prison staff, and graduate students in collaborations to implement cost-saving sustainable practices, captive-rear endangered native species, while also providing a multitude of learning opportunities for offenders, students and scientists.  If the Project ends, society as a whole will lose the beneficial human, economic, and ecological impacts made possible by the SPP at a critical time when the Project can  serve as a national model for addressing societal problems in a healthy and sustainable way.

We are actively seeking grant and foundation support;  it is our goal to restore funding to our previous level by June 2011. This process of pursuing grant and foundation funds, however,  takes several months to complete. Donations received by the SPP at this time will help ensure our work continues as planned while the process of applying for grants is underway.  If you have ever wished to be involved with the Project, or have been involved and have wanted to “do more”, now is your opportunity to make a difference by providing education, conservation, and life-changing hope.

Examples of what your donation will provide:

$25 = 100sqft of Rare Native Prairie Plants restoration

$100 = one fully raised Oregon Spotted Frog

$200 = total sponsorship for one Science and Sustainability Lecture in a prison

$500 = supplies needed for the new Butterfly Conservation Greenhouse

$1,200 = Science Training for Conservation Projects for offenders and staff

$1,300 = one Student Research Intern’s monthly stipend

$5,000 = Green Collar Job Training Program for offenders (beekeeping or arboriculture)

Despite funding setbacks, the SPP continues to receive regional and international recognition.  We have received hundreds of notes and responses to the DOC termination announcement from people around the country and the world, stating their support for the project and their desire that it continue. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recently selected the SPP as a recipient of the “Bright Ideas in Innovation in American Government Award” for 2010.  The SPP was also featured on the National Science Foundation’s website in a Science Nation video segment detailing the important impacts of the prairie plant restoration efforts underway at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

While unfortunate, the loss of the DOC contract presents opportunities for growth. We are seeking participation from individuals, foundations, and agencies in the form of volunteers, ideas, contacts, and funds. Any contribution, whether it be $200 to sponsor the honorarium for a Science and Sustainability lecture, or a donation of supplies for our captive rearing projects, will make a real impact on the future course of the SPP and the lives of those it touches.  We thank you for your interest and support, and encourage you to share in the success of the Sustainable Prisons Project by making a contribution. Donations may be made through the Evergreen Foundation by clicking here.  We also invite you to share this message with others.

Thank you!

Please contact Project Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni (nadkarnn@evergreen.edu) or Project Manager Kelli Bush (bushk@evergreen.edu or (360) 867-6863) with any additional questions, gifting arrangements or information on how to become more involved with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

Outreach at the South Sound Science Symposium

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

On October 27, 2010, former and current Sustainable Prisons Project Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper attended the South Sound Science Symposium on Squaxin Island where they represented SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog Captive Rearing Project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, WA.

The symposium provided an opportunity to network within the South Sound’s scientific community and spread the word about the great success SPP conservation projects have experienced in the past year.  Plomski and Cooper presented a scientific poster at the symposium describing the Project, garnering  interest in the Project from symposium goers.

The symposium proved to be a great outreach and learning opportunity for Sustainable Prisons Project staff and event attendees. “It was wonderful to see the wide array of cutting-edge environmental work being done in the Puget Sound area,” Cooper said.

Dick Meyer Brings Fair Trade to Prisons

On October fifth in Gig Harbor, Washington, Olympia resident Dick Meyer walked through the security gates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) headed for the visit room. “When I worked here thirty years ago,” he said, “they didn’t have all this security.”

The reason for his visit? To bring fair trade education to prisons through the Sustainable Prisons Project’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, a program geared toward scientific education and sustainable practices.

A former counselor for WCCW in the early 1970’s, Meyer left social work to become a small business owner in the Puget Sound region. The founder of Traditions Café in Olympia and owner of The Antique Sandwich Shop in Tacoma, Meyer currently uses his storefronts and free time to promote fair trade partnerships and awareness.

Guest lecturer Dick Meyer demonstrates a Tibetan singing bowl inside his fair trade shop in Olympia, WA.

“I view talking about fair trade and doing outreach as something that’s motivating for me to do. Whatever opportunity to engage people in talking about values and relationships is important to me,” Meyer said.

Each month, the Sustainable Prisons Project hosts guest lecturers in three of Washington’s prisons to speak with offenders and DOC staff about topics related to science and sustainability. Speakers include scientists, engineers, environmentalists, farmers, business owners, and community activists, with topics ranging from bear ecology to sustainability in poetry.

Seated in a circle with DOC offenders and Sustainable Prisons Project staff, Meyer began his talk with a brief history of the fair trade movement. According to the Fair Trade Federation, of which Meyer is a member, fair trade is an economic partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. Fair Trade organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change.

Stories about various products, such as clothing and chocolate, stimulated an hour-and-a-half long discussion between Meyer and the offenders about the issues surrounding fair trade. Having brought sample items from his stores, Meyer demonstrated what fair trade products look like and how the average person can go about finding and supporting such partnerships. Nearly all the products were hand-made by women cooperatives in developing countries.

Through the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, the Sustainable Prisons Project seeks to connect lecture participants to the larger world of scientific research and conservation while introducing offenders to educational and employment opportunities they may pursue upon release. A large part of this involves presenting on lecture topics that have relevancy and meaning to the offenders’ current situation as prison residents.

Meyer discussed the connection he saw between the women sitting with him in the prison and those working across the globe in conditions and economies that fair trade is trying to change. “The information is not readily available about how much the rest of the world has to work to survive,” he said. “And to a certain extent they can’t control their own destiny. The message is not exclusively, but predominately, about women, and to the extent women inmates can empathize and understand; I think that at least one part of it becomes a shared empathy.”

For more information about fair trade, visit www.traditionsfairtrade.com.

Hard news in hard times: Sustainable Prisons Project Hits Economic Downturn

Post by Project Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni

Economic conditions at the national and the state level are increasingly difficult due to sharp drops in state tax collections. Responding to these lean times, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire has instituted deep budget cuts.  She recently enacted a 6.3% across-the-board cut to head off a deepening budget deficit

Over the past three years, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) has funded the Sustainable Prisons Project through a contract with The Evergreen State College. During that time, the WDOC has cut more than $220 million from its budget, frozen or cut more than 1,200 jobs, closed two prisons, slashed inmate populations, and cut the number of offenders on community-supervision probation.

On October 1, 2010, Eldon Vail, Secretary of the WDOC, announced a new 6.3% cut in its budget, which translates to a $53 million reduction. To achieve the savings, one prison will be closed, and 300 jobs will be frozen or cut. Employees will experience employee furlough days and cuts in pay. Inmates in larger prisons will be locked-down one day a month to reduce staff overtime costs. Drug treatment and education programs will be reduced.

Sadly – very sadly – the two-year contract for the Sustainable Prisons Project that began July 1, 2010 will be another casualty of this process. With one month of notice, WDOC funds that have supported our staff and students to carry out our activities will disappear. These activities include our science and sustainability lecture series, green collar job training, and conservation biology projects. Recycling, gardening, and composting will continue, as they have become part of regular DOC operations.

Our SPP group and The Evergreen State College are working hard to find alternative and bridge funding through grants and donations. Although there are some promising leads from the many people who strongly support our project, we have no guarantees for the future at this time.

We will keep our readers posted on this blog and through the media. If you have any suggestions or contacts that might lead to future support for this project, please contact our leaders (below). We are hopeful that our project will flourish even in these hard economic conditions.

Contact:
Nalini Nadkarni, Co-Leader, The Evergreen State College
nadkarnn@evergreen.edu
(360) 867-6621

Dan Pacholke, Project Co-Leader, WDOC
djpacholke@doc1.wa.gov

Kelli Bush, Project Manager, The Evergreen State College
bushk@evergreen.edu
(360) 867-6863

Offenders Prepare for Frog Release

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Liesl Plomski

Offenders at Cedar Creek Corrections Center have been preparing their Oregon spotted frogs to be released in late September at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  In this process each frog must be weighed, measured, pit tagged, and photographed. Pit tags are little chips that are inserted under the skin which can be scanned to reveal an ID number. Following release into the wild biologists can recapture frogs, scan the tag, and identify individuals.  Once they have identified an individual frog, scientists compare the frog’s weight and size prior to release with current weight and size.  These measurements help the biologist assess the individual’s health and may provide an indication of their ability to survive in their natural habitat.  If a frog has lost the pit tag, it is possible to identify them from their photo. Each Oregon spotted frog has a unique spotting pattern on its back.  Preparing the frogs for release is one more way offenders at Cedar Creek are contributing to scientific research and assisting with the recovery of Oregon spotted frogs.


WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife Biologist Marc Hayes collecting data


Oregon spotted frog photo for identification post-release

Change is in the Air!

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

The nursery infrastructure (greenhouse, hoophouse, water, power) and the original garden area at Stafford Creek Correction Center is being moved across the central facilities area this month. At first this task may seem a bit demoralizing, deconstructing buildings and digging up growing plants to only leave empty space behind. However, the offenders remain upbeat and active, carefully tending to the transplants and picking out their favorite flowers and vegetables to relocate. The promise of more room for the gardens and nursery, as well as an updated infrastructure, is an added incentive to get them through the hard work. The cool maritime cloud layer that has been especially persistent this year helps minimize transplant shock for both people and plants.

Temporary Home for Prairie Plants

Temporary Home for Prairie Plants

The moving process not only adds to the physical workload, but also has provided intellectual challenges for the offenders. A number of them have contributed to the design and layout of the new garden, as well as providing detailed design assistance with the greenhouse. They are making sure the internal drainage system is improved, the water supply system is more efficient, and that the movement of materials such as flats and finished plants takes less work and physical strain.

The staff and offenders have put in a lot of hours above and beyond the call of duty to make sure this late summer move is an opportunity and not a loss.

Greenhouse With no Walls

Greenhouse With no Walls