Category Archives: Sustainable Operations

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.

Growth!

Text and photos by Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator.

Following some adjustments this past winter, the aquaponics system at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) is now thriving. It took a lot of work and perseverance from Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) Biological Technicians, but their dedication has paid off.

Earlier this winter, SPP technicians noticed that these plants were looking a little yellow, an indication that they weren’t getting enough iron.

In January, Nick Naselli and Daniel Cherniske, co-founders of Symbiotic Cycles, assessed the state of the system and found that the pH, at 7.8-8, was too alkaline for plant life. The high pH had made the iron in the system inaccessible to the plants, resulting in yellowing of the leaves and stunted growth. In order to combat these problems, Symbiotic Cycles and SPP Biological Technicians changed the system’s bio-media from grow stones to red pumice rock and added iron nutrient to the system. Take a look through the photos to see the impact of these adjustments!

SPP Biological Technician, Lorenzo Stewart, situates the plugs in the system’s raft beds.
With the adjustments to the pH and iron levels, the greens started to take off.
SPP Biological Technician, Donald McLain, checks the plants for insects. Technicians spray plant leaves with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, natural soap, and water to deter the aphids.
Symbiotic Cycles Co-founder, Daniel Cherniske, assesses system progress during a recent site visit to Cedar Creek.

Plants that do well in an aquaponics system include leafy greens like lettuce, kale, chard, mustard greens, and bok choy. Cilantro and chives also thrive, and they even help keep away aphids.
The greens from this system are used in Cedar Creek’s kitchens to help provide the facility’s incarcerated population with fresh, healthy meals.

The greens are looking much better, well on their way to harvest.
After a little TLC, the plants are looking plush! The fan in this photo helps improve air circulation, which is beneficial for the plants and can help deter aphids.

With summer around the corner, SPP Biological Technicians will soon have to combat rising temperatures and increased sun exposure, but the introduction of a fan and shade cloth will help maintain a healthy and productive system.

LED Retrofits Pay Off

By James Atteberry, Facilities Manager for Washington State Penitentiary
and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

These LEDs are in the Steam Plant.

Starting in 2015, Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) has been committed to converting all lighting to LED (Light Emitting Diode) fixtures. LEDs are far more efficient than conventional fixtures, so replacements and retrofits should save energy and reduce expenses at the same time.

LEDs illuminate exercise in the South Complex gym.

East Complex parking lot lighting looking good after the switch to LEDs.

In the past year, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)’s headway toward meeting the commitment stands out; WSP’s Electrical Department has transformed their lighting landscape. The in-house team of staff and incarcerated electricians has completed eight major projects so far, renovating the lighting for the steam plant, general store, engineers warehouse dock, Unit 7 roof, east complex parking lot, and inside and outside the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) and gyms.

Of course, these retrofits required a sizable investment up front, but the payoffs come quickly. For the in-house projects completed thus far, the initial costs were about $73,000; pay back from incentive programs cut more than 30% off that price, reducing it to around $50,000. An additional project was contracted out, and another funded by Capital Projects; even in these cases, WSP received the incentive pay back. Before long, expected energy savings will pay off the rest: reduced energy bills for each area will pay off installation costs in one to six years. For example, the new lighting in and around the IMU will save WA Corrections $5,181 in energy bills annually; the savings pays off installation costs in less than three years, and, after that point, it frees up funds to spend on other necessities and improvements.

If that’s not already sweet enough, the labor saving in maintenance is huge as well. Some LED fixtures can last up to 20 years before needing repair! LED retrofits look like a total win for the prison. We offer our credit and thanks to WSP’s Electrical Department and to WA Corrections leadership for the vision and hard work that has gone into saving energy and creating efficiency.

These are the new LED roof lights; image to the right shows a close up.

The Sustainable Practices Lab exterior is now lit by LEDs.

Sustainability at Olympic Corrections Center

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

I recently visited Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) on the Olympic Peninsula near Forks, Washington. OCC is a “camp” for incarcerated individuals with 4 years or less remaining in their sentence. Inmates at OCC learn trades and gain valuable experiences for when they release. Among many options available to them is working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as response teams for flooding, forest fires, and other work within national parks. OCC has an impressive garden setup where they grow plants and seedlings; they use these areas as labs for learning horticultural science and plant biology (a Peninsula College program). They also have excellent composting and wood shop programs.

It was a privilege to see their programming. Here are a few snapshots of their great work.

The greenhouse at OCC has seedlings, produce, flowers, and tropical plants. They grew dozens of flower baskets for Mother’s Day, for both inmates and staff to give to their mothers and wives.

Greenhouse technicians, like Wade pictured here, care for the plants while learning how to sow and grow a prosperous garden. 

Look how big this succulent is! Greenhouse technicians have been caring for this guy for about 10 years.

Mark Case is another greenhouse technician. He hopes to have his own garden when he releases where he can put to use all of the knowledge he’s gained from working and learning in the gardens at OCC.

This pineapple isn’t ripe yet, but it sure is cute! When the pineapples are ready to eat, the technicians harvest and eat them.

Food, garden, and organic waste is composted on site at OCC. They have a large warehouse specifically designed for composting organic waste. The facility trains technicians who can then use this knowledge and skill base when they get out of prison.

OCC produced about 23 tons of compost last year alone! The product is used to amend the soil throughout the prison grounds. 

The wood shop at OCC uses donated or reclaimed wood to make wood toy trucks, tractors, and cars. Each intricately detailed toy goes to charity for children.

Here are some more completed projects awaiting to be painted with sealant. Such nice work!

Aquaponics training at Cedar Creek

Text and photos by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) has partnered with Symbiotic Cycles, LLC to expand the aquaponics system in the prison’s horticulture program. Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) conservation technicians will be assisting the horticulture team with aquaponics, and I recently attended a training session in support of this collaboration. Cross-training in aquaponics will allow technicians who primarily work with wildlife to gain further knowledge of sustainable practices and explore an innovative technique for growing food.

CCCC horticulture and conservation technicians listen eagerly as instructors describe the importance of regenerative agriculture.

Daniel Cherniske and Nick Naselli of Symbiotic Cycles began the training with an overview of aquaponics—the marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics—followed by a detailed system orientation. Daniel and Nick dedicated a significant portion of their training to discussing sustainable food systems. We learned about soil chemistry and the decline of vital nutrients in many industrial crops along with the wasteful overuse of freshwater resources. Aquaponics offers a unique solution to these issues by creating a “closed-loop” of recycled water and converting nutrients from fish waste and bacterial respiration into a rich growing environment. The horticulture and conservation techs couldn’t stop asking questions!

The system is now operational, thanks to the hard work of CCCC staff, inmates, and partners. Soon it will be producing fresh leafy greens for the prison kitchen while functioning as an educational laboratory.

Horticulture tech William Witt looks on as Daniel Cherniske confirms that, yes, soon there will be beautiful green plants growing in this plain-looking box!

These filtration barrels will house important bacteria. They are the most sensitive part of the system and technicians must be careful not to let the valves become blocked.

Nick Naselli gestures to the filtration barrels that will take up water from the fish pond below.

A freshly introduced goldfish, whose waste will provide important nutrients for bacteria and plant growth.

Horticulture tech Lorenzo Stewart and Nick Naselli share a hilarious aquaponics joke.

Sprouts like these will soon take root in a substrate of non-toxic styrofoam floating above a pool of nutrient-rich water.

 

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center looks gray, but it’s the “greenest” prison in the nation!

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

At first glance, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) does not look very green, but superficial looks can be deceiving; it’s sustainable programming and practices are the most impressive of any correctional facility. CRCC’s main campus is LEED Gold certified, the first prison in the world to hold this accomplishment! (Check out this article about CRCC’s sustainable standard.)

At first glance Coyote Ridge looks very gray. This was especially true when I visited in overcast, rainy weather.

I visited the prison in late November, and had the chance to tour the programs and meet with partners. The sustainable practices of the facility were highly impressive, but even more impressive were the staff who work there and the inmates who have dedicated their lives to learning, education, and environmental activism. I met with the instructors for Roots of Success and we talked about the program, the facility’s annual Environmental Awareness Day, and the many hopes they have for advancing sustainability programming at Coyote Ridge.

I am continually impressed by the people I get to work with, and the inmates and liaisons at Coyote Ridge are exemplary program representatives. I asked what could be done to improve their program and the inmates unanimously agreed “more books and readings about the environment, the sciences, sustainability, environmental activism, and any other subject along those lines.” They want to learn as much as they can and are utilizing every resource they have access to.

Coyote Ridge has developed a “Sustainability Passport” to track and recognize participation. As incarcerated individuals complete a program, they get a stamp on their “passport.” A regular offering is the prison’s Sustainability Lecture Series, similar to the Environmental Workshop Series at two prisons west of the Cascades. They bring in outside experts to deliver lectures and seminars on environmental issues and sustainability. Guests have come from organizations like the Department of Ecology, the local beekeeping association, and experts on the Hanford Site.

This is Bentley. He is a handsome, energetic, lab mix puppy that was brought to the prison with the rest of his litter to be raised and trained by inmate dog handlers. He and his litter-mates have already been adopted, and some by staff members at the prison. Many staff members adopt shelter dogs that the inmates train because they get to know and love the dogs during their time at the facility.

Coyote Ridge hosts a beautiful, thriving dog program. Incarcerated individuals have played a greater leadership role in this program compared to other prison pet programs we know. The dogs that come to the facility are from Benton Franklin Humane Society and Adam County Pet Rescue. They come to the prison because the local shelter doesn’t have the space or time to care for the dogs; because it’s a pregnant dog that can receive inmate handlers’ attention 24 hours a day; or because the animal has been abused and needs extra-gentle care and attention to learn to trust people again. The dogs work with a variety of trainers while they’re at the facility so that they learn to listen and be comfortable around different people.

This is Shannon Meyer. He is one of the inmate dog handlers at CRCC and this was the current dog he’s working with, Rocky. When Rocky came to the prison he wouldn’t let anyone touch him and would get aggressive easily. Mr. Meyer has been working with Rocky for several weeks to get him to trust people and is pleased with his progress. Rocky’s red bandanna signals that he may not respond well to being pet or held by anyone other than his handler, but he happily let me pet him – proof of his progress.

The handlers at CRCC look like they love what they do and see the value in their work with the dogs. One of the handlers, Mr. Meyer, had this to say: “When I got here (in prison) it was just about doing my time, but now, with my dog, everything is about taking care of him and my life is about him.”

I also met these 8-day old puppies who were born in the prison. Their mother came to prison pregnant and gave birth to her puppies in the handler’s cell. Her handler, Mr. Archibald, will care for her and her puppies until they are ready and able to be adopted.

On all fronts, I was impressed by the greenness of programming and attitudes at the prison. Keep up the excellent work, Coyote Ridge!

CRCC during the summer. The picture is looking at some of the units and the courtyard with a rock garden in the center. The gardens at CRCC all feature native plants and rock designs. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

Liaisons are our Roots for Success

Text and photos (except where noted) by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

A Roots of Success graduate at CRCC shows his appreciation for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental education program that promotes awareness of environmental issues, problems and solutions, personally, locally, regionally, and globally. Roots of Success is offered by the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 10 of Washington State’s prisons. The program is championed by incarcerated instructors and students, and more than 1,200 people have graduated since the program began in 2013.

The unsung heroes of Roots of Success are the DOC staff members who serve as program sponsors, or “Roots Liaisons”. The program wouldn’t be possible if not for the incredible individuals that work with us within facilities. Even though I can’t highlight all of them, I want to recognize a few extraordinary people who make Roots of Success possible: Chris McGill at WSP, Gena Brock and CRCC, and Kelly Peterson at SCCC.

The Roots Liaisons are in charge of finding and scheduling the classroom, ensuring secure and functional multimedia equipment, responding to needs of instructors and students, and program reporting. This program would not be possible without the Liaisons’ determination and hard work.

Chris McGill is the Roots Liaison at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). He manages the amazing Sustainable Practices Lab, where Roots serves as a prerequisite for jobs in the lab’s shops. Chris first got involved with sustainable programming when he and small team of inmates decided to transform an empty space at the prison into a garden.

Gena Brock is Roots Liaison for Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC); in the photo above, she poses with the Roots of Success Instructors at the prison. As the Roots Liaison, she has provided steadfast program support and is always thinking of ways to improve the program at CRCC.

Kelly Peterson at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) is a relative newcomer to the Roots program. Kelly recently took on the role of sustainability liaison at SCCC, and is the point of contact for everything from beekeeping to gardening to the aquaponic “EVM” nursery. SCCC’s Roots program has been going strong since 2013, and we fully trust her to continue that success. She is dedicated, productive, and positive—pretty much everything you would want in a partner!

Climate Change Symposium in Prison: Incarcerated people creating solutions

Text by Erin Lynam, Workshop Series Coordinator
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On October 18th at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we held the first ever Climate Change Symposium in a prison. The five hour event brought together 91 environmental students, eight SPP-Evergreen staff members, five guest speakers, and five DOC staff members.

First up was Mike Burnham from Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) who gave a presentation about region-wide planning and action for climate change resilience. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

TRPC asked participants to break into small groups to play their board game, Resilience Road. Each group collectively selected and prioritized responses to a climate change challenge for a hypothetical community. This small group included SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The exchange of ideas and insights was a highlights of the symposium. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Students had the chance to show just how knowledgeable they are regarding environmental issues. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

But the game wasn’t all work, it was fun too! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

TRPC graciously donated a copy of Resilience Road to Stafford Creek Corrections Center so that students can continue to play and inform their work as environmental stewards. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During the symposium students were given an opportunity to mingle and engage with guest speakers and SPP staff about climate change. Here they talk to SPP’s former Turtle Program Coordinator Sadie Gilliam. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Next up was incarcerated environmentalist and longtime SPP participant, Toby Erhart. He shared what climate change means to him and what actions he’s taking to address it. He is an active member in the conservation nursery program, beekeeping, and the composting program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

After staff, guests, and students had a lively discussion over a shared lunch, members of Got Green gave a presentation. Johnny Mao, Johnny Fikru, and James Williams of Got Green presented on Got Green’s social and environmental justice work in low income and communities of color. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During Got Green’s presentation, James Williams stated that even though the students may be apart from their community, they were not forgotten and he considered them part of his community. This acknowledgement of oneness is an incredibly rare moment in the prison environment and was moving to witness. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To wrap up the symposium and reflect on everything they learned, SPP invited the students to share what they found most important and what steps to take next. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To have the opportunity to spend the day learning alongside individuals who are emphatically committed to keeping our planet healthy was inspiring. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prison Shares Earthworm Wealth with Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Text and photos by Sadie Gilliom, current SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator and previous Northwest Trek employee

The worm bin built for Northwest Trek with the team who created it.

Inside the three rows of razor wire, Monroe Correctional Complex houses more than incarcerated people. A partnership between an incarcerated individual and a correctional staff member initiated a waste reduction program that now is home for millions of thriving earthworms. Under the supervision of an officer, and with support from SPP-Evergreen, Nick Hackney—now a world renowned worm expert—and his team grew 200 worms into more than 10 million that process up to 40,000 lbs of food waste per month! The worm farm’s success has inspired addition of other programs; all are housed within a larger Sustainable Practices Lab. All the lab’s program have the benefit of coordination and oversite provided by Officer Jeff Swan.

This program has been around for over 6 years now, and the worm technicians have been spreading their worm wealth.  Most recently, the crew came built a heated outdoor worm bin for Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (Trek).  Trek plans to use the worm bin as a public engagement tool and will feed the worms with the scraps from the staff lunchroom.

Mr. Hackney shows Rachael Mueller how to use Trek’s new worm bin.

I had the privilege of coordinating the delivery and escorting a member of Trek’s conservation team, Rachael Mueller, up to Monroe for a tour and pick up of the finished product. I was present as two unlikely sustainability partners came together. It was a beautiful moment!

Mr. Juan shows how they use Bokashi bran to ferment meat before feeding it to the worms.

A few of the vermiculture techs helped load the bin into the truck.

Vermiculture Tech’s, Sadie Gilliom and Rachael Mueller pose at the end of the worm program tour.

The worm team at Monroe gave Trek a well-designed worm bin, shared their knowledge on how to maintain it and gave them a sample of black soldier fly larvae from a pilot program to see if they would want to use them as animal feed. Northwest Trek will be sharing the knowledge and story of the worm team’s impact on sustainability practices with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I would call that a great partnership!

Mr. Hackney and Rachael Mueller shake hands after the exchange

Thank you to Northwest Trek—especially the Conservation and Education Curator Jessica Moore—for being open to the idea. A big thank to the Monroe worm team and Officer Swan for donating their knowledge and a beautiful worm bin to Trek and their generations of visitors to come!