Category Archives: Science

The Magic of Caring for Turtles

By William Angelmyer, former SPP Turtle Technician and current student at The Evergreen State College. Photos by SPP staff unless otherwise noted.

Bill worked as a Turtle Technician for SPP from 2015-2018 and is now completing his undergraduate degree at The Evergreen State College. Note that some of the turtle care protocols referenced in this blog have changed since Bill left the program.

Bill Anglemyer holds at western pond turtle.

“Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.”

Summer is coming to an end. This is an exciting time for the SPP Turtle Technicians at Cedar Creek. The end of summer means that soon the technicians will be receiving new turtles. Speaking from personal experience, I know that summer is a good time to do a lot of reading and research—basically, doing book work. Without turtles to manage, we technicians spend the summer studying and catching up on other projects.

Raising mealworms for the next round of turtles and entering data for a woodpecker monitoring project  keep us busy every day, but the real valuable time is the time spent learning about biology and animal behavior. Of course this takes some self-motivation to launch because you are responsible for your own choice of study. No one makes you read text books. For those of us that use education as a coping mechanism to deal with incarceration, we can’t be stopped from studying. After an entire summer of reading, though, it is a refreshing change to receive new western pond turtles and start practicing animal care and shell disease management. Although this hands-on work carries with it a new level of stress and anxiety, it also provides valuable moments fraught with emotional ups and downs. Caring for the turtles brings home some of the studying from a theoretical context into a concrete reality. All of the turtles we receive after summer have gone through a recent debriding process. Debriding is a procedure where portions of their shells have been cut away in order to stop the disease from spreading.

Mealworms production at Cedar Creek. All part of a balanced turtle diet.
Anglemyer reveals the healed plastron of a turtle about to be released into the wild.

Unfortunately, this procedure—removing damaged portions of the shell—also leaves the turtles with wounds that have to be taken care of diligently in order to ensure that they heal efficiently and without infection. This is where the emotional rollercoaster part of the job comes to bear. Not all the turtles heal at the same rates. Some turtles heal slowly. Sometimes, they heal very slowly. Sometimes turtles will stop eating for days or weeks. Cataloging their  progress and behavior can be worrying at times.

Turtle Technician Bill Anglymeyer and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler evaluating turtles before releasing them back into their habitat.

However, these new worries are accompanied by a refreshing hands-on learning experience. Many of the technicians have never worked closely with reptiles. Many people have preconceived notions about reptiles having a deficiency of personality. Moreover, reptiles are stereotyped as being only focused on needs and lacking social interactions. After working closely with turtles, though, it is easy to recognize the personalities of each individual. Like many mammals, some are social and playful, some are fearful and isolate, and some are fixated completely on food.

Western pond turtle, a state listed endangered species and one of only two native turtles in Washington State.

Seeing this new perspective is one of the most valuable experiences I gained as a Turtle Technician. Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.  My work with SPP was also greatly valuable to me because seasonal changes offer such a wide variety of experiences. Summer means book work and the fall means implementing that study into practical experience—along with the experience of caring for real animal lives. I miss my times at the CCCC Turtle Area. That may seem a little insane, considering I was incarcerated at the time. But the time I spent learning and caring for creatures, which I had had very little understanding of before, was a magical time during which I rarely realized that I was incarcerated.

Bill on Evergreen’s organic farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Wastewater Treatment at Olympic Corrections Center Continues to Impress

Text and Photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Olympic Corrections Center once again earned an Outstanding Performance Award in 2018. Photo courtesy of Department of Ecology.

Olympic Corrections Center (OCC)’s wastewater treatment plant is among the best in the state. The Department of Ecology (DOE) has recognized OCC’s outstanding performance, and for being 100% compliant, for 8 consecutive years. In 2018, OCC once again earned an Outstanding Performance recognition. A blog posted by DOE highlighted OCC’s accomplishments with a quote from Mike Henry, the Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator:

“We have won the award quite a few times and I think everyone is determined to win the award because they don’t want to be the first group of operators to not win it. The operators are proud of the awards. We have them hanging in the lab, except for the ones hanging in our administration building. That makes me think that our administration is as proud of our achievements as we are.”

And the administration certainly is—they proudly showed the awards to me as soon as I arrived.

Everyone at the facility is very proud of the program, and they should be. OCC’s team consistently averages 0.4 mg/L of suspended solids in their wastewater. DOE requires that the maximum limit of suspended solids in wastewater amounts to 30 mg/L. That means their wastewater contains 98.7% less than the maximum limit. Keep up the great work, OCC!

Below are pictures of the treatment plant showing the journey that OCC’s wastewater goes through before flowing into the nearby river. Take a look!

The first stop in the wastewater journey is this big pool where the water is aerated.
This is a secondary clarifier that allows for solids to sedimentate out of the water.
This is one of their secondary clarifiers that was empty for its regular cleaning.
One of the last stops the water goes through is to be disinfected by this UV disinfectant.
All of the wastewater is tested throughout the process to ensure that it is up to regulation and that everything is operating the way it should be. This is the lab that incarcerated participants use to test the water.
The solids from the treatment are used in OCC’s large-scale composting operation. The compost is also fed by food and yard waste from around the facility.
The compost is used around the facility to create and stimulate soil. Here, the compost has been used to foster the garden expansion around the greenhouses.

Turtle Release Day for Cedar Creek

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos by Bill Anglemyer, Evergreen student and former Turtle Technician.

SPP Biological Technician, Jeramie Inge, and Evergreen student, Bill Angelmyer, with a western pond turtle. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

With the technicians responsible for their rehabilitation, on April 10th, ten turtles made their way back to the ponds at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. Three incarcerated Biological Technicians working for The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) had spent the last five months caring for the turtles and monitoring their progress. The turtles had been healing after being treated for the mysterious shell disease that has been afflicting their population.

Left to right: SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, and SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

The turtles are western pond turtles, a state-listed endangered species. The historic population had been devastated by human harvesting. Their numbers were lowered additionally by habitat destruction and an influx of invasive species. Twenty-five years ago, the population of western pond turtles in Washington State was estimated to be only around a hundred and fifty. Efforts were taken to protect and enhance their numbers. These efforts have been successful. The current population is estimated at eight hundred.

SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing one of the western pond turtles he cared for at Cedar Creek.
SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing a western pond turtle.
From left to right: WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological technician Donald McLain, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, and SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge.

Tragically, the shell disease appeared in the last decade, and it is seriously impacting western pond turtles. While Washington State Fish and Wildlife biologists and veterinarians attempt to find the cause of shell disease, they are trying different tactics in treating the turtles that are most afflicted. After the treatments, which involve removing diseased sections of the turtles’ shells, the turtles need a place to heal. The technicians at Cedar Creek make sure that the turtles are well-fed and have clean habitats. Additionally, the technicians keep detailed records of the healing progress of the turtles’ shells. Lots of effort goes into keeping them as stress free as possible. The rehabilitation area is kept quiet because loud noises and other external stimuli cause stress in the wild turtles, which hampers their ability to heal.

WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy.

Releasing the turtles back into the wild was a fairly simple and fanfare-free procedure. The technicians, SPP coordinator, SPP liaison, corrections officer, Fish and Wildlife biologist, and myself walked the strategically placed wooden planks that grant access to the edge of the pond. The plastic shoebox containers that were used to transport the turtles were opened, and the turtles taken out and gently placed in the water. Most of the turtles looked around for a second, as if to gain their bearing, and then swam off disappearing into the pond. Although the turtles need the treatment, they are wild critters, and they don’t like to be in a captive environment; they take to the murky pond like a prisoner to freedom.

WDFW Biologist Emily Butler shows Biological Technicians from Cedar Creek how she identifies each turtle.
WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It was a great experience seeing the turtles swim off into the pond. It was great to talk to the technicians about their experiences caring for the turtles. To hear the technicians talk about their plans for the future was inspiring. This is because I was a turtle technician at Cedar Creek for three years. I was caring for turtles inside the prison only a short year ago. The current technicians seemed to be inspired by my presence too. We talked about education—I’m currently in college. I was elated to hear that each one of the technicians was seriously considering furthering their education once released. I hope to be invited to future releases and to meet with new technicians.

Left to right: Donald McLain, William Rathgaber, Jeramie Inge, and Bill Anglemyer. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Turtles Arrive at Cedar Creek

Text and photos by Marisa Pushee, Conservation Coordinator.

Our friend, Yellow, is always camera-ready.

Ten western pond turtles have arrived at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Biologist, Emily Butler, delivered the first four turtles to CCCC in early December and provided incarcerated Biological Technicians with an overview of turtle care for this year’s program.

Emily Butler, Biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), delivers this year’s western pond turtles to Cedar Creek.

Biological Technicians George Gonzalez, Donald McLain, and Jeramie Inge help the turtles settle in.

Biological Technician, Lorenzo Stewart, examines the effects of shell disease on one of the turtles.

Upon arrival, and before technicians transfer them to their new homes, the turtles are offered an appealing snack of prison-grown mealworms.

A state listed endangered species, the western pond turtle struggles with a shell disease. Each year, wildlife veterinarians at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) treat afflicted turtles. Technicians at CCCC then care for, feed, and monitor the turtles through their recovery period. In the spring, they will be released back into their habitat.

Lorenzo Stewart labels each enclosure.

The turtles at Cedar Creek have access to underwater and basking areas, both heated to comfortable temperatures for the turtles. While their surroundings are kept simple and clean during their recovery, it is important that the turtles have hides where they can escape for some privacy. This enclosure features two hides, one for each of the turtles.

The turtles are typically housed two per enclosure, for companionship. Technicians monitor each pair to ensure compatibility.

CCCC has been caring for western pond turtles from the Puget Sound region since 2013. The biological technicians have the program running smoothly and efficiently.

The Value of Education

Written by Alexandra James, Conservation Nursery Program Coordinator, and Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator; Photos by Alexandra James

Students discuss environmental issues, their complexities, and how to approach finding solutions. Everyone was encouraged to discuss issues that were important to them and the ways they could research those topics to develop a better understanding of them.

Education is a core component of our mission. Our aim is to provide diverse formal and informal opportunities for education, and to offer new knowledge and new skills to inmates, staff, and community partners. We integrate education into every one of our programs, acting on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all participants. In addition, we have two dedicated programs with education as a central focus. These programs are the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series and Roots of Success, an environmental literacy program.

Bethany shares some of the experiences and opportunities that accompanied her education.

For our October Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) we decided to focus on the practice of education itself. Bethany Shepler, SPP’s Green Track Program Coordinator, led the workshop and asked students to think about what education is and what it means to them. Students tackled conceptual questions, investigating the benefits of education for themselves and their community, whether they’re incarcerated or otherwise.

To demonstrate the value of education, Bethany talked about the impact education has on reducing recidivism rates. Recidivism is when a previously incarcerated person returns to prison after release, and while this can occur for any number of reasons, usually this happens because they fall back into their old lives. To illustrate education’s role on reducing recidivism, she highlighted the many academic studies that cite education as the most successful means of reducing recidivism.

Roots instructor David Duhaime talks about how education enables you to become better at critical thinking; roots instructor Cyril Walrond is behind the podium.

None of this progress in reducing recidivism or bringing education into prisons would be possible without the support from Washington Department of Corrections (WA DOC). WA DOC stands apart from many states because of their drive to work with incarcerated individuals instead of controlling them. WA DOC focuses on education and is an advocate for positive personal change. Dan Pacholke, the previous Secretary of Prisons, gave a TED talk in 2014 where he talked about the changes WA DOC made to how it operates and thinks. It is SPP’s belief that the changes Dan Pacholke talks about and initiated are partially why WA DOC is becoming more successful at reducing recidivism.

Bethany was joined by three Roots of Success instructors who engaged their peers and facilitated a discussion on the direct benefits of learning. Participants were excited to share their perspectives on education and how education has positively impacted their lives. Through dialogue and facilitated discussion, participants worked collaboratively to explore a topic of interest and report core aspects discussed back to the group – sparking great conversation and peer mentorship.

Roots instructor and Master Trainer, Cyril Walrond, encourages students to take up the initiative to start classes or projects they want to see at their facility.

There was a feeling of excitement pulsing through the room as the workshop neared its end. Two SCCC staff, Kelly Peterson and Mark Sherwood, took advantage of the excitement and shared information with participants on how to engage in various educational and trade skill opportunities within the facility, noting that opportunity starts with a general interest. Through curiosity, inquisitiveness and encouragement, education flourishes; that’s what happened at SCCC on October 18, 2018.

Art of the Oregon silverspot butterfly

By SPP SCCC Conservation Nursery Coordinator Graham Klag

Fall colors continue to take flight at Stafford Creek Corrections Center through the artistic talents of conservation technician Michael! Inspired by SPP lectures and nursery work, Michael’s artistic illustrations of the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta) captures the beauty of prairie conservation work. The Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is grown at SPP Prairie Conservation Nurseries for the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

The Early blue violet is the sole host plant for the caterpillar of the butterfly who needs to eat ~ 250 violet leaves to complete its life cycle. Michael and the conservation technician crew at Stafford Creek continuing to grow their knowledge of Washington and Oregon’s prairie ecosystems, while out growing the Early blue violet, for the habitat and lifecycle of Oregon silverspot butterfly. SPP is thankful for our conservation technicians’ work and artistic inspiration!

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.