Category Archives: SPP Network

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Washington

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

In April, I was fortunate to spend days and days immersed in the topic of astrobiology. What is astrobiology? It is the study of how stars and planets form, how that relates to life here on Earth, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. Alongside hundreds of incarcerated students and dozens of corrections staff in both Washington and Ohio, I got to learn about what is known, what is still unknown, and ponder immense questions. I had stars in my eyes, for sure!

Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program, describes element creation in the core of a star to students at Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington, responds to a question from a student at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Washington State’s lecture series started at Mission Creek Corrections Center where they packed the gym; 150 students’ attention and curiosity gave us a great sense of success. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated is a new program, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Astrobiology Program, and in partnership with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Utah’s Initiative to bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated (INSPIRE). The program was brought to us by Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program; she is a master of describing exquisite concepts and making them relevant to our lives.

Here I will share details from the Washington State programs; I will share Ohio’s in part 2. In Washington, Daniella was joined by Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington. Our small team visited five prisons in four days, reaching 450 incarcerated students and 52 corrections staff. At each venue, Drew and Daniella told us a three-part story.

Part One: Creation

Daniella introduced us to the life cycle of stars—who knew that stars had life cycles!—and how their birth, maturity, and death creates and distributes most of the elements that makes up the Universe as we know it. She told us: Every atom in our bodies, the water we drink, the food we eat, our buildings, our roads, the things we buy and make, all were built in the heart of a star. It’s a dizzying concept, one that connects everyone and everything.

She outlined how these elements may have come together in the nutrient and energy rich environments of hydrothermal vents—hot water vents at the ocean floor—to create the first microbes, the first life on Earth.

Part Two: Adaptation

Part two came from Drew. He told us about his research with microbes, single-celled organisms, that live in extreme environments on earth. His personal and professional favorites live in near-boiling pools of acid—really! He emphasized that there are microbes living and thriving in nearly every environment on Earth. Those inhabitants also influence their environments; their life processes take up, transform, and leave behind new elements and structures. The microbes can quickly adapt to take advantage of new conditions, and so back and forth, life and the Earth interact and influence each other. His research investigates how much energy microbes use to live in extreme environments, and in this way sheds a bit of light on where and how we might find microbes beyond our Earth.

Students respond to a question from Daniella. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Part Three: Exploration

Daniella’s part three dove into this search for life, focusing on the most promising worlds within our solar system. I was amazed to learn that there are some excellent contenders! I was particularly taken by moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Europa  and Enceladus, that have global oceans: hidden beneath icy crusts, their worlds are covered with liquid water. On Enceladus, there is also evidence of geothermal vents. Given that one of the theories for the origin of life places it in Earth vents, this news of similar environments on a moon of Saturn gave me the chills (the good kind).

At every venue, the students dazzled us with ideas and questions. I think that’s the best part for me—hearing how others are making sense of the concepts, the collective insights and exploration. I learned as much from them as from the scientists…as usual!

Our second stop was Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Students and staff had to walk through the rain to attend, and still brought their best selves. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

To the class at Twin Rivers Unit, Monroe Correctional Complex, Daniella emphasized that astrobiology is not possible without collaboration, and she invited the students present to bring their diversity of knowledge and insight to the topic. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Students had trouble signing up for the session at Washington State Reformatory, also in Monroe Correctional Complex, and that seemed to mean that only the most avidly interested were present. Their questions and comments were advanced, for sure. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Our last stop in Washington was at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

 

All attendees left with a gorgeous, ten page summary of the presentation. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Big news for the SPP-Evergreen team

Dear SPP partners and friends,

I am pleased to make some Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) announcements!

The Evergreen State College recently decided to change SPP’s campus status from a Faculty Project to a Public Service Center. SPP had grown far beyond the scope of a Faculty Project since I took over the co-directorship in 2011. An exciting outcome of this new transition is that establishing SPP as a Public Service Center allows a new model for the directorship.

I am pleased to announce Kelli Bush as SPP’s new Co-Director! She is filling my former role leading the Evergreen side of the partnership. Kelli and her excellent counterpart at Washington State Department of Corrections, Steve Sinclair, will oversee SPP’s programs statewide, and guide and consult on SPP-modeled programs internationally.

Kelli Bush releases Oregon spotted frogs in 2015. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In her 8 years as Program Manager, Kelli has shown herself to be an effective, detailed, and diplomatic leader. She has handily managed the Evergreen side of the SPP partnership, is a thoughtful and supportive supervisor, and has kept all the bits and pieces of this program working smoothly. During my tenure as Co-Director, I could not have asked for a more capable Program Manager than Kelli. As my responsibilities as a faculty member at the college cycled through more demanding transitions, Kelli took up much of the ambitious and challenging work of shaping and implementing programs. I am delighted to formally recognize her talent, vision, and capacity as a leader.

Kelli Bush and Steve Sinclair co-present SPP at American Correctional Association’s conference in August, 2017.

SPP’s Director for WA Corrections Steve Sinclair shares a high regard for Kelli:

“I have had the privilege of knowing Kelli since around 2008. Since that time and as I assumed new roles for SPP, my interactions with Kelli have increased and re-affirmed what I know from my earliest interactions: Kelli is truly dedicated to the mission of SPP, she brings organization and a steadfast determination to the work of SPP. Kelli has played a key leadership role in maintaining operations throughout the many transitions. In her new role, I am sure her vision will drive SPP to new and greater accomplishments.”

This transition to a Public Service Center is essential: organizational and program development and operations require day-to-day decision-making at every level. Even with this shift, SPP will still receive important faculty support and input. As Senior Science Advisor and a member of SPP’s Advisory Panel, I will ensure the ongoing academic strength of SPP programs, and optimize my involvement around scientific contributions. Relieved of administrative duties, I will be able to give more focus to engaging additional members of the faculty which will increase the range and diversity of expertise available to staff.

Dr. Carri LeRoy ready to release Oregon spotted frogs in 2012. SPP staff photo.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to all of you for your roles in helping us to build and champion SPP. We extend special gratitude to the college’s leadership and the Board of Trustee‘s for supporting this organizational transition. I look forward to my interactions with all of you in the future. Thank you for all you do for SPP!

~Carri
Carri J. LeRoy, Ph.D.
Member of the Faculty, Freshwater Ecology
The Evergreen State College

In 2011, Carri and Kelli celebrating the butterfly program with partners, filling up the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly greenhouse at MCCCW.

Kelli and Carri share a laugh with Joslyn at SPP’s ten year celebration in 2013. Photo by Danielle Winder.

My First Few Months at SPP

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

When I first heard about a job opening at the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I couldn’t believe there was a group that combined two of my passions. I called my best friend and excitedly shouted at her all I had learned about SPP. Her response was simply “you’re applying for that, right? Cause it’s perfect for you.”

Well, I applied for the position of Green Track Program Coordinator and practiced for my interview over and over. I would like to think I projected an air of confidence during my interview, but I desperately wanted to make a good impression so I made myself quite nervous. A few days later, I received the call offering me the position! I don’t really remember the call, I just remember being so excited I could hardly breathe.

For the second time in my life, I knew I was on the right path.

Emily Passarelli and Bethany Shepler observe nursery technicians at WCC picking buds from violets that will be used for re-seeding later. Photo by SPP Staff.

Sitting at my desk a few months later, I still know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I still get excited to go to work, I love the challenges this job brings, and I can’t wait to find out what I learn throughout my time here.

Although I don’t get to go to prison as often as my colleagues do, when I do I find that I’m always surprised by how normal everything feels “inside.” I sometimes forget where I am until I see the barbed wire and guard towers.

Group photo of Climate Symposium at SCCC. This was an incredible event about climate change and the actions people can take to mitigate it. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The thing that surprises me the most is how inspiring the inmates are. They are full of hope. Out of all the inspirational speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in my lifetime, the most powerful voices are those of the incarcerated individuals I work with. I often leave prison feeling hopeful and positive about the state of the world. Regardless of the tweets or breaking news, it’s the people who we’ve locked away that are showing me the way forward.

Environmental programs in corrections, near and far

In an Oregon prison, butterfly technicians pose with their larvae, growing in cups under energy-efficient LED bulbs. From left to right: Marisol, Carolyn, Mary, Sarah. Photo by Tom Kaye or Chad Naugle.

By Kelli Bush, SPP Acting Director for Evergreen, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Our summer newsletter highlights a selection of environmental programs in corrections. Most of these programs have been replicated across the country, and we have included a few international examples. Beyond these examples, environmental and sustainability programs are operating in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities nationwide and around the world. Many extend the SPP-style model of ensuring benefits for everyone involved—these are not just cost saving measures.

In these articles, we share perspectives from inmates, corrections staff, and outside-prison partners, demonstrating the collaborative nature of the work. Connections with allied environmental programs have strengthened a growing movement to offer environmental education, access to nature, and sustainable living skills to incarcerated people. We get to continually learn from each other to improve and expand programs, collaborate on new initiatives and evaluate impacts.

Dog handlers of Freedom Tails at Stafford Creek Corrections Center pose for Atsuko Otsuka, freelance journalist and author, consultant for the Guide Dog Puppy-Raising Program and the Horse Program at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Japan.

Together we are inviting people who are incarcerated to recognize the significance and relevance of their skills, talents, and contributions to the environmental movement. Honoring their creativity, experience, and resilience and adding the power of education creates potential for positive shifts in self-perceptions and agency. At the same time, we are working to add diverse and talented stewards to the environmental movement.

As a result of this growing movement, beekeeping is thriving in multiple states. Environmental education in correctional facilities is no longer so uncommon. Countless prisons are creating new standards for reclaiming and revaluing resources the rest of us are too likely to throw away. In Washington, we can barely keep up with the excitement and demands for sustainability programs in prisons. It is wonderful to be part of something big-hearted, socially inclusive, and life affirming!