Category Archives: Tours

Mission Creek butterfly technicians visit Taylor’s checkerspot habitat

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

Biologist Mary Linders shows incarcerated technicians which areas of the prairie are currently occupied by reintroduced Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies.

In late spring, incarcerated technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) had the opportunity to visit Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a reintroduction site for federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. These technicians work year-round to raise Taylor’s checkerspots in a greenhouse, but this is the first time they have been able to see the habitat where captive-reared butterflies and caterpillars have been released. Mary Linders and Josh Cook from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted a tour of the site, describing its history and ecology as they led us on a hike through the serene prairie.

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinis albicaulis) was in full bloom during our prairie tour, dappling the scenery with vibrant purple.

Our visit coincided with the end of the 5-week flight season, so adult butterfly sightings were limited. But technicians wasted no time in examining the Plantago lanceolata host plants and soon discovered Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars! These hatchlings were just like the ones back in the lab at MCCCW and it was thrilling to find them living out in the wild. At the level of our toes, the habitat appeared to be teeming with young larvae. This particular site represents a major success for Mary Linders and WDFW who carefully reintroduced the species here over many years with the help of rearing programs at MCCCW and the Oregon Zoo.

As a Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) coordinator, I am always searching for ways to connect incarcerated technicians with the ecosystems they are helping to restore. Butterfly technicians know a lot about Salish lowland prairies from readings and discussion, but seeing the habitat with their own eyes provided a whole new level of insight. Hopefully this kind of trip can become a regular component of the program. I know it will help this group of technicians as they return to the butterfly lab at MCCCW and integrate their experience on the prairie into their work.

Such an opportunity would not have been possible without the officers and staff at MCCCW who supported this trip, and who play a vital role in hosting the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program throughout the year. A special thank you to Mary Linders, Josh Cook, and WDFW for being so generous with their time and facilitating this valuable learning experience for SPP participants.

Technician Tracy Hatch studies harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) blooming near the trail.

(left to right) Mary Linders and Josh Cook introduce the habitat’s vegetation and discuss the role of fire on the landscape. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) is one of adult Taylor’s checkerspots’ favorite perches.

Mary Linders describes the reintroduction process and how the population has progressed in this particular area.

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) stands out against the lush green grasses. This and other paintbrush varieties are known host plants for Taylor’s checkerspots.

Susan Christopher and Nichole Alexander search for wild Taylor’s checkerspot larvae.

Success! Early instar caterpillars huddle within their delicate webbing on Plantago lanceolata, a satisfying moment for butterfly technicians and biologists alike.

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.

 

Teddy bears and rebuilt bicycles: From prison to the community

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

There are little bits of prison humor throughout the SPL; the signs for the bear and quilt production area read “Stuffed Animals Department” and “Bears From Behind Bars.”

Before visiting the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I was told it was an impressive set-up. Still, I was not prepared for how large and integrated it is. The SPL is basically a warehouse housing 18 programs, including a Teddy Bear program, aquaponics, SafeTap water filtration system (here’s an article on the guys at the SPL constructing water filters!), composting, wood-working, recycling, trout, gardens, quilt making, crochet/knitting, classroom, and the sign shop. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting too—the SPL is incredible to the point of overwhelming!

 

This is a view of the wood-working area within the SPL. In the background is some of the recycling (cloth and cardboard) as well as a little “plant hospital” at the back, where inmates care for “sad” plants brought in by staff members.

 

On the left side of the photograph is the aquaponics and trout area of the SPL. On the right is where inmates make quilts, teddy bears, and knitting and crochet crafts. There’s a room in the back of the photo that houses the wood-burning equipment, for sign etching.

I could not believe how resourceful the guys at the SPL are. Everything they work with is recycled or donated — even the teddy bears’ stuffing comes from recycled material retrieved from the prison’s waste stream.

 

These garden boxes are what started it all at WSP. Inmates rent a box for a small fee, and keep a garden with the plants of their choice. As the popularity of the garden boxes grew so did the sustainability programs available.

 

When an inmate joins the SPL their first task is to make a baby quilt. All materials for quilts have been donated by the local community. Once the quilts are completed, they are donated back to the community.

Of all of the stories I heard when I visited the SPL, I was most struck by one about an inmate rebuilding a bicycle. This particular bicycle came with a letter attached. The letter explained that the bike was owned by a little girl who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The parents kept the bicycle in their garage for almost 20 years before giving it to the prison to be refurbished. When SPL staff and technicians read the letter and saw the little girl’s bike, they knew of the perfect man to refurbish it: an SPL technician who had been incarcerated for hitting and killing a bicyclist while driving drunk. He was asked if he would be willing to refurbish this bike; he accepted knowing the task would be difficult and healing.

He refurbished the bike to look exactly like it did when the little girl rode it and returned the bike to her mother with a letter of his own. He detailed his healing process through refurbishing this bicycle; he was frequently moved to tears while working on the bicycle and even now, he can’t help but cry when he thinks about it. The mother of the little girl now takes the bicycle and the two letters with her to local schools and organizations where she talks about the dangers of driving drunk.

For me this story captures the heart and soul of the SPL, where every program is dedicated to reclaiming materials, creating value, and giving to the community. It’s a moving illustration of how ingenuity, creativity, and hard work can change lives!

Here’s a link to an earlier two-part blog on the WSP SPL: Part 1 and Part 2.

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.

Happenings at Cedar Creek Corrections

Text and photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator

After several months of planning, a new wildlife conservation program at Cedar Creek Correctional Facility will soon be up and running. We are excited to team up with biologists from the U.S. Forest Service to implement the woodpecker nest monitoring program. The program is mainly a research project: technicians review video footage of endangered woodpeckers at their nests, and document activities of animals that may depredate the nest.

Partners in endangered species conservation for Cedar Creek Corrections Center, from left to right: Technician, John Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Douglas Cole, Loretta Adams (SPP Liaison), Philip Fischer (U.S. Forest Service), Kelli Bush (SPP Co-Director), Teresa Lorenz (U.S. Forest Service), Technician William Anglemyer

In part to allow the new program, Cedar Creek’s conservation efforts will be served by a larger group of incarcerated technicians, adding about 6 more individuals to the existing two turtle technicians; the larger group will rotate through turtle and woodpecker programs, plus a future aquaponics program. Woodpecker technicians in the prison will receive similar training and education to that of undergraduate students who perform the same work. They will learn about topics such as wildlife species identification, ecology, conservation, and data documentation.

New turtle technician, Mr. Fitzpatrick leads a tour of the turtle facility at Cedar Creek.

Last month, U.S. Forest Service biologists, Teresa Lorenz and Philip Fischer were able to visit the Cedar Creek facility and turtle technicians treated them to a tour of the western pond turtle program. The newest turtle technician Mr. John Fitzpatrick did a great job of leading his first tour for an outside group. Mr. Fitzpatrick, the first incarcerated winner of a Mike Rowe Foundation scholarship, has been an excellent addition to the turtle team; he brings an infectious, positive attitude, and zest for learning. We are thankful for the animal handling skills, training, and wealth of knowledge he is receiving from veteran turtle technician Mr. William Angleymyer.

Mr. Fitzpatrick explains the mealworm rearing setup. The mealworms are a source of food for the turtles.

Cedar Creek currently has three resident western pond turtles, including one healthy turtle that was found by someone on the side of the road. Because this turtle is disease-free, he is being kept separately from the other turtles—in quarantine—until he can be released in the spring. The three turtles at Cedar Creek will be joined by 7 more by the end of November.

Training for the woodpecker nest monitoring project will take place in November where we will be joined with newly-hired technicians and members of the horticulture team.

 

Mr. Anglemyer shows the healthy turtle to Teresa and Phil from the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Turtle technicians Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Anglemyer pose with the healthy western pond turtle.

 

SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica with turtle technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Fitzpatrick

All snaps! Airway Heights amazing firewood program

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

I have known about Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)’s firewood program for years, but had no idea of the scale. I have never seen so much firewood.

On public lands such as parks and state forests, AHCC’s community crews remove trees which fell during storms, and cut trees which are crowding others or posing a hazard. Logs come back to the minimum security yard for splitting, stacking and curing. The prison partners with SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners) to provide people of low income with no-cost firewood, to heat their homes. The winter of 2015-16, AHCC’s firewood program donated more than 660 cords of wood to Spokane County residents! 

half-the-firewood

This photo shows about *half* the firewood currently stacked at the Corrections Center.

chipper-meeting

A spontaneous meeting forms around the chipper: DOC staff, visiting compost experts, and a technician discuss the finer points of chipping waste wood. (The chips get turned into compost for the gardens, of course.)

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Dang, those are good looking stacks!

firewood-splitter

A technician paused in his work with the splitter so I could take his photograph.

firewood-maul

The crew manually splits and stacks firewood, building their communities’ resources.

 

Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 1

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In late November, I had the pleasure of touring the Sustainable Practices Lab, or SPL, in Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The SPL started up only two years ago—a large empty space save for 15 sewing machines. Today it is a hive of activity and productivity. The lab houses numerous sustainability programs fixing and repurposing all kinds of donated and reclaimed materials. The SPL employs 139 inmates and has donated to more than 88 community organizations in the area. Astounding!

I will share a photo gallery of the first half of my tour in this blog, and the second half in a week or so; there is too much to cover in one posting.

exterior

The exterior of the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) provides little hint of the bustle and color it contains.

Learning-center-&-TV-repair

This is the SPL Learning Center. All the prison’s televisions are repaired here (saving about 12 TVs a month from the landfill), and the resident TV shows TED talks. Mr. Thang is the self-taught electronics technician; Rob Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, says Mr. Thang can fix anything!

The front office of the SPL

An inmate started an aquaponics program in spring, 2014. Now they are in the “proof of concept” stage, aiming to raise 700 heads of romaine lettuce each week. Waste water from the fish tank filters through a bed of tomatoes and pumpkins where ammonia turns into usable nitrogen…

These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

…then the nutrient rich solution passes through the roots of hundreds of lettuce plants. These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

bike-and-chair-repair

This is the bike and furniture repair area of the SPL. Technicians repair and customize chairs for hundreds of corrections staff, saving thousands of tax payer dollars every year–technicians throughout the SPL told me with pride that they are motivated to save tax payers as much money as possible.

bike-wheels

A collection of wheels will be put to use to refurbish reclaimed bicycles; once the bikes are fixed up they will go to children and adults in the outside community.

Sign-renovation

An inmate technician who goes by the name Turtle renovates signs for state agencies. He said, “We are much like this wood. We have our issues…the SPL is going to take the time to bring the good out, invest the time. Return us back to society in better shape than we came in.”

wood-reuse

Another quote from Turtle: “The Sustainable Practices Lab is an avenue; it gives us the psychological tools to choose to do the positive.”

vermicomposting2

The SPL vermicomposting program hosts 9 million worms. They compost one-fifth of the prison’s food waste: 2,500 lbs every week is transformed from garbage to the highest quality soil amendment.

vermicomposting-sifting

An inmate technician in the vermicomposting program hand sifts worm castings.

Thank you to Rob Branscum for starting the SPL, and for hosting the tour. I suspect that the lab’s success can be credited to Mr. Branscum’s belief in inmates’ abilities and creativity (and, of course, that he has the support of many others in WA corrections). Incarcerated men have been given a workplace in which they can thrive!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.

 

House plants: A new way to bring nature inside at Larch Corrections Center

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Photos by Danette Gadberry, AA4 at Larch Corrections Center

House-plant-pilot-at-Larch-2-cropped

An inmate at Larch Corrections Center (LCC) shows off spider plant babies from his collection of house plants.

This past spring, I received a letter from an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center asking for support of program to bring house plants into inmates’ living units. While we were unable to make the program work at that prison, I have kept his proposal in mind: it seems an elegant and relatively simple way to “bring nature inside.” I have hoped that we would find a facility willing to pilot a house plant program, and now I discover that a pilot is already underway: Larch has house plants!

Larch Corrections Center (LCC) is a minimum security prison northeast of Vancouver, Washington, and the 40 acre campus is surrounded by National Forest land. I toured the facility for the first time last month and was impressed to see a wide array of sustainability programming, including large-scale composting and recycling (operational for ten years), staff-led waste reduction in the kitchen, and off-campus food production for a local food bank. When we visited a living unit, I was focused on seeing the cat program and missed the house plants. So glad to know about them now!

LCC was the first prison in Washington state to eliminate trash can liners, now standard practice in our prisons and saving the state thousands of dollars and resources. Once again, they are leading the way.

House-plant-pilot-at-Larch-3

An inmate displays a variety of house plants next to his window; a cat toy is also visible.

House-plant-pilot-at-Larch-1

An inmate displays a house plant in his room at LCC. The shelves behind him are for the feline resident of the room.

Cat-program-at-Larch
A cat in LCC’s feline program enjoys a high perch.

Washington Corrections Center for Women Celebrates its SPP programs

by Bri Morningred, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and SPP Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) conservation nursery
photos by Shauna Bittle

Heading out for a tour of SPP programs, passing the gorgeous gardens at WCCW

Heading out for a tour of SPP programs, passing the gorgeous gardens at WCCW

It was a beautiful day in Gig Harbor, WA, perfect for the celebration of the amazing sustainability programs at Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW). We had prepared for the celebration for months, and it was gratifying to share with partners and the public the many contributions offenders have made to a sustainable prison community.

Restoration and Conservation Coordinator Carl Elliott describes the SPP conservation nursery program at WCCW

Restoration and Conservation Coordinator Carl Elliott describes the SPP conservation nursery program at WCCW

The tour began with introductions from the superintendent of WCCW, Jane Parnell, and from Carri LeRoy and Carl Elliott of SPP. The tour’s first stop was the Conservation Nursery hoop houses at the minimum security campus. Attendees had a chance to watch the conservation nursery crew at work, walk through the carpet of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) that was beautifully in bloom, and speak with the SPP staff and offender technicians about the conservation nursery program.

Outside and inside of one of the hoop houses in the conservation nursery

Outside and inside of one of the hoop houses in the conservation nursery

Scott Skaggs, Construction and Maintenance Project Supervisor and WCCW manager of the conservation nursery crew, examines a plant showing signs of insect damage

Scott Skaggs, Construction and Maintenance Project Supervisor and WCCW manager of the conservation nursery crew, demonstrates monitoring for insect damage on Indian paintbrush

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Bri Morningred enjoys a moment of success with an inmate technician in the conservation nursery

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Bri Morningred enjoys a high five with an offender technician in the conservation nursery

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja species) thriving in the conservation nursery

Indian paintbrush thriving in the conservation nursery

Next up was the community gardens on the way to medium security campus. This leg of the tour was led by Ed Tharp, who runs the Horticulture Program at WCCW. These gardens are in the courtyard area of the minimum security campus and grow a variety of foods that are harvested for the prison’s kitchen.

Ed Tharp, x Community College, runs the horticultural program at WCCW

Ed Tharp, Tacoma Community College, runs the horticultural program at WCCW

The final tour stop was in the concrete courtyard of the medium security campus. Located next to the education building—which houses the horticulture classroom, the floral program, and many other wonderful educational programs—there are various garden beds  growing onions, garlic, and strawberries.

Enjoying the strawberry beds at WCCW

Enjoying the strawberry beds at WCCW

Assistant Superintendent for WCCW David Flynn, the champion of many SPP programs for the facility, talks to the group about recent activities

Assistant Superintendent for WCCW David Flynn, the champion of many SPP programs for the facility, talks to the group about recent activities

Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant at the Center for Natural Lands Management, regards gardens in the close custody area of WCCW

The tour visits gardens in the close custody area of WCCW; Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant at the Center for Natural Lands Management, in the foreground

We ended with a poster session and awards ceremony in the gymnasium.  We ate prison-grown salad and strawberries and cupcakes decorated with prairie flowers. Attendees toured  informational tables for many of the sustainable programs at WCCW, including the Prison Pet Partnership Program, Mother Earth Farms, the Horticulture Program, Food Services, the Recycling Program, Sustainability in Prisons Project, and Center for Natural Lands Management.

SPP's Carl Elliott receives prison-grown salad at the poster session

SPP’s Carl Elliott receives fresh garden salad at the poster session

Melissa Johnson (?), publicity and outreach for WCCW, admires the horticultural program display at the poster session

Melissa Johnson, publicity and outreach for WCCW, admires the horticultural program display at the poster session

Best cupcakes ever! Bri Morningred and x bakery collaborated to produce native plant-decorated cupcakes for the celebration. They also tasted great!

Best cupcakes ever! SPP’s Bri Morningred collaborated with a local bakery to produce native plant-decorated cupcakes for the celebration. They also tasted great!

Jane Parnell, Superintendent of WCCW, presents an inmate technician with a certificate of appreciation at an awards ceremony

Jane Parnell, Superintendent of WCCW, presents an offender technician with a certificate of appreciation at an awards ceremony

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An offender technician on the conservation nursery crew shows a certificate of appreciation recognizing her dedication to the program

It was wonderful to get to recognize the amazing things happening at WCCW. The prisons community is  taking great strides toward sustainable living and it is inspiring to work with them towards that goal.