By Brittany Gallagher, Graduate Research Assistant
SPP-Washington has grown at an unprecedented rate over the past year. We have been busier than ever and have doubled the number of graduate students working out of our Evergreen offices. We have started several new educational and job-training programs, have been the subject of national press attention, have presented at various conferences, and of course, have begun supporting new SPPs springing up across the United States.
There are many moving pieces involved in our operations: new and established partnerships evolve over time, funding sources change, and staff members join and leave the team for a variety of reasons. This theme of dynamism runs throughout our organization, and may be understood as akin to ecological disturbance. As in a dynamic and healthy ecosystem, changes in our organization make us stronger and more resilient (see our recent TEDx talk on this theme).
In this period of great growth and change, SPP wanted to pause and throw a little party. We wanted to take a snapshot and capture the ideas and dreams of the team as it stands in June 2013. As three SPP graduate research assistants recently finished their Master of Environmental Studies degrees at The Evergreen State College, they will be moving on from their positions with SPP at the end of the summer, making room for new MES students to work with the Project. And Vicki Briggs, a highly valued staff member at the Department of Corrections, is retiring from her position as the on-site lead for the Oregon spotted frog-rearing program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, welcoming Classification Counselor Anthony Pickard to take over. This “think tank” or “crazy idea party,” as it came to be called, was our chance to capture the ideas of these folks as they move into or out of formal employment with SPP, as well as for everyone to dream big and think about what we’d all like to see for SPP’s future.
Along with other innovative ideas, the party’s drawing group points out the benefits of sharks with laser beams for prison security.
We took over a room at Ramblin’ Jacks restaurant in downtown Olympia on a bright Friday evening and enjoyed some silly and serious thinking over hors d’oeuvres. A “Big Idea Basket” made its way around the room, and participants scribbled their hopes and dreams for SPP on index cards, folding them and placing them in the basket. Several times throughout the evening, three cards were drawn from the basket and the ideas were read aloud, with applause determining the winner. Here are a few of the crazy ideas (reworded for clarity and context):
· By 2020, there should be a prioritized and complete list of endangered species that can be raised in captivity by inmates. The top 5 to 10 of these should be priority conservation projects within corrections facilities.
· By 2020, prisons should be creating sustainability kits for schools, homes, jails, government offices, college campuses, homes and more!
· The next move of the SPP should be to provide an overview books to inmates, asking for their thoughts on sustainability programs. The inmates should have a say in what should happen next.
With the help of some SPP staff who moonlight as thespians, we took a page from theater improv and played the “Yes, and” game. Ideas generated through this positivity-only activity ranged from SPP expanding into youth rehabilitation centers, inmates finding the cure for colony collapse disorder, and SPP becoming its own degree-granting institution.
SPP co-director Carri LeRoy toasted graduating student Andrea Martin; interim Program Manager Joslyn Trivett toasted graduating student Dennis Aubrey; Program Manager Kelli Bush toasted graduating student Brittany Gallagher, and co-director Dan Pacholke toasted retiring staff member Vicki Briggs.
The final party game allowed folks to pick their own creative skills – theater, drawing, or writing – and join with others with similar talents to create an SPP-themed work of art within about 10 minutes. The writing group wrote a limerick that went a little like this:
There once was an inmate in prison
Who taught his frogs how to listen
He sucked at compliance
But then he found science
And now he’s no risk for recidivism
The drawing group made a plan of a prison where economic, social, and environmental sustainability could be seen in every element. One of the coolest parts of the plan was that inmates and their families could live together at a prison facility. A school was on the grounds for children, and this also allowed for meaningful activities like gardening to be completed with children and partners.
The group of actors created a skit about the prisons of the future where inmates are partners in groundbreaking scientific research. One of the major accomplishments of prisons was to bring back long extinct species, like dinosaurs.
While at times quite silly, it was a challenging exercise to think really big about the Project. Thinking creatively about how much potential inmates and correctional institutions have to make big changes to the environment and society was empowering and fun. Some of those ideas may seem crazy, but inmates raising frogs and butterflies definitely seemed crazy just five years ago. We can’t wait to see how SPP grows and expands in the next five years!
SPP thespians act out how prisons can contribute to amazing scientific achievements.