Category Archives: Sustainable Operations

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!

Evergreen’s President for Climate Action

Letter from Higher Education Leaders on Climate Action

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Late last week, Evergreen’s President George Bridges joined hundreds of his colleagues nationwide in signing the Letter from Higher Education Leaders on Climate Action to president-elect Trump and members of Congress. In the letter, they urge the government to support:

1. Participation in the Paris Agreement, with the resulting national carbon reduction and clean energy targets, to protect the health of our current communities and our future generations.

2. Research in our academic institutions and in federal agencies to ensure that our national climate, energy, and security policies are based on leading scientific and technical knowledge.

3. Investments in the low carbon economy as part of a resilient infrastructure to ensure the country can adapt to changing climate hazards. These investments will also help grow American jobs and businesses. (Full text available here.)

In his associated statement to the Evergreen community, George said:

Our study and practice of environmental stewardship are deeply linked to our commitment to addressing global concerns about the health and welfare of all communities. Evergreen also assumes that understanding and solving environmental challenges such as climate change or food security requires firm grounding in research in the natural and life sciences. Equally important is understanding the role that social, political and economic forces play in causing these challenges and remedying them fully and effectively. Advancing knowledge about the challenges is critical. (Full text shown below.)

At SPP, we are tremendously grateful that the college’s president has taken a stand on what may be the most confounding, complex, and critical challenge yet faced by humankind. Thank you, George!

Here is George serving the campus community at the 2nd annual Clams with George free lunch; he loves to treat us! Photo from Evergreen archives.

Accountability: Brainstorming article

By Julian Reyes, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Reyes-Roots-Instructor

Julian Reyes speaks at a Roots of Success graduation event. Photo by DOC staff.

The planet is what provides us with food, cycles our water, filters our air, and shields us from harmful atmospheric gases. The planet is where we thrive. How can something so intricate to the survival of human life becomes the bearer of such disregard and disdain.

People must learn the practice of sustainability. The ability to keep up a practice or habit that is beneficial for many is something important for everyone. Being in prison allows people the opportunity to take a moment to examine the world and its practices. Prison is a closed environment where one small thing can affect everyone, and only a handful of corporate entities provide the prison system with the necessities for survival.

Corporate sponsorship has slowly taken over the global market place. No longer can society rely on the family run organizations or businesses. Once ownership becomes nameless and faceless, ownership becomes emotionless. The motivation for profit becomes absolute.

Corporations employ practices that cause harm to what they come into contact with because of cost cutting measures that cut too many corners which are environmentally friendly. All of the damage causes harm to the earth, deterioration to the ozone, while also polluting the water table.

Heavily toxic chemicals are in use in a variety of occupations, and many of these chemicals are rarely disposed of properly. The places corporations establish, like mines and factories, soon become danger zones and areas of contamination. People must quickly realize that they only are harming themselves.

CRCC-Roots-graduation-8-23-16

At a graduation ceremony, Roots of Success students pose with their certificates and instructors. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Creating a sustainable lifestyle culture is paramount, and Roots of Success is teaching people a new way to think. Being aware of the environmental injustice is the first step to finding a solution. The second step is continuing to hold people accountable for their actions.

Instructor-Training.Reyes

Roots of Success Instructor Julian Reyes and Master Instructor Eugene Youngblood. Photo by DOC staff.

Allowing corporate interest to shape societies attitude of more, more, more must stop. Consumerism, instant gratification, and newer is better are the ideals being professed by these corporate entities.

Bigger is not always better. New is not always the answer. American society has become a throw away and waste it culture, and Roots of Success must continue to try to open the eyes of the people.  

Sustainability & Justice

by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
Photos by DOC staff

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times. Photo by DOC staff.by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times.

Too often we assume that the concept of sustainability is exclusive to the realm of environmental justice. That somehow the idea of conserving natural resources, protecting endangered species and habitats, or reducing our energy consumption will automatically result in a healed earth.

This assumption overlooks the most important factor in actually employing sustainability approaches and practices to meet the growing demands of environmental justice—the human being.

Transforming our earth requires the transformation of people, more specifically, the transformation of people’s attitudes and behavior, as it relates to the environment. The greatest potential and need for this change to occur exists within prisons.

Society has condemned and confined prisoners to prison because of their unsustainable (criminal) behavior. Their behavior has wreaked havoc and devastation within communities similar to the unsustainable human behavior that has led to the environmental crises we currently face. In this sense, the sustainability concept not only applies to radically improving our relationship with the earth and environment but also in our effort to redeem, reform, and rehab[ilitate] prisoners.

Einstein once said that the current dilemmas we face could not be solved at the same intellectual level in which they were created. We are going to have to revolutionize our thinking in how we establish responsible environmental and criminal justice practices. What better way to achieve this goal than to incorporate the solution of one with the other.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Roots of Success program (Roots) puts this wisdom of Einstein into practice. These types of programs provide prisoners with the necessary skills and experience to successfully reintegrate into society and find employment in the green economy.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

At Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC), SPP creates programs and opportunities for prisoners to engage in sustainability activities. For instance, the sagebrush project allows prisoners to acquire experience with the native plants of Washington State. The sagebrush plays an essential role in the eastern Washington landscape, as it provides numerous species with food and shelter. If the sagebrush were to become threatened or even extinct, this would have serious implications for the Washington State wildlife.

Sagebrush-and-tattoo-arm

A technician in the sagebrush program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center checks the health of a plant plug. Photo by Jeff Clark, Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, the Roots course empowers prisoners with its environmental literacy curriculum. While it builds environmental understanding, it also focuses on building the individual student. This means students are challenged to assess their attitude and behavior toward the environment and by extension their attitude and behavior toward society. By introducing the green economy and green jobs to students, Roots highlights the opportunity for students to become gainfully employed and be a veritable solution to our environmental problems.

Ultimately, what we do today determines our tomorrow. SPP and Roots are planting seeds that are sure to bear the fruit of sustainability and justice. So let us take a cue from these programs and dig our hands into the dirt to cultivate a better future.

Saving Resources at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is located in eastern Washington, far from the environmental activism of the Puget Sound. Yet, the prison has become a statewide leader for conserving and recycling resources.  

AHCC is a model for energy conservation. Facility staff regularly check and restore their equipment, fixing it before it breaks. The approach improves performance and life expectancy, and staves off epic fails. By practicing preventative maintenance, they have become a model of efficiency.

garbageThe prison has also set the standard for sorting waste. Without any fancy equipment, they have figured out how to turn the waste stream into valuable commodities. They sort their waste at the source, or “up stream.” Every day, porters (we call them waste stream technicians) sort the waste stream into dedicated cans, and the results are impressive. Nearly everything is reclaimed or recycled; all that’s left is a tiny can of mixed-materials (see photo).

laughing-about-garbage

A porter (waste stream technician), AHCC’s Kraig Witt, and Sustainable Operations Manager Julie Vanneste discuss that it’s hard to know what “garbage” means anymore.

In the many gardens, staff and inmates have transformed hardpan into thriving soil with compost. They use no fertilizers or pesticides, and make their compost in small batches on site. The result is gorgeous, healthy produce.

An inmate gardener harvests high quality radishes outside his living unit. Each living unit has its own garden, and each has its own personality. The three gardeners who were tending this one with enormous enthusiasm.

An gardener harvests radishes outside his living unit.

Each living unit has its own garden, and each garden has its own personality, shaped by the gardeners who tend it. The three gardeners I met showed enormous enthusiasm for the work. They turned 1 strawberry plant into 1,200. They gleaned tomato and cantaloupe seeds from cafeteria food. They figured out how to reclaim seeds from everything they grow. They can boast a truly closed-loop system!

garlic-farmer

This Horticulture Porter said that adding masses of compost transformed this area from an unproductive low spot to the gorgeous plantings of garlic there now.