Tag Archives: incarcerated beekeepers

Another Stellar Year for the Legendary Penitentiary Bee Program

Text by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator
Photos by Jonathan Fischer, Beekeeping Liaison and Classification Counselor at Washington State Penitentiary

Ryder Chronic, a Journeyman beekeeper, inspects a frame.

The Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) hosts one of the oldest and best-established beekeeping programs in Washington State Department of Corrections. They have built a professional-size apiary, certified 44 incarcerated men as beekeepers, participated in a National Honey Bee Pest Survey by the USDA, hosted a professional beekeeper (Mona Chambers, founder of See the Bees), and—in general— have established themselves as a leader in prison beekeeping.

They are about to finish a Journeyman Beekeeper course, putting them on the path to classes led by incarcerated beekeepers!

Below are some photos from the last day of a recent Beginner class, when students and staff sponsors left the classroom to inspect some of the many hives that WSP keeps.

A beekeeper is inspecting this hive frame to see what the bees are doing – are they making honey, storing pollen, or caring for baby bees? Can you tell?
A beekeeper holds a frame full of bees. A healthy hive at the peak of the season can have 60,000 – 80,000 bees in it!
Hives are inspected a few times a month to make sure that the queen and hive are healthy. During this inspection, beekeepers added honey supers to catch honey the bees produce.

Jonathan Fischer, the beekeeping liaison, had this to say about the program “we had a stellar year, with 8 honey supers ready for harvest. These 8 boxes will produce about 270-300 pounds of honey.”

Learning about gentleness from honeybees

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Journeyman Beekeepers at AHCC pose in front of their hives. Photo courtesy of AHCC staff.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending a celebration for the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)  beekeeping club. At the ceremony, Travis—a Journeyman Beekeeper—shared an analogy about bees we all found rather striking. He told us, “Before I took the class, I always looked at them as the enemy.” Like everyone, he saw bees as pests. He reminded us: “Think about barbeques or picnics— you’re there with your family and friends and everyone is having a good time and sharing food and fun. Then, bees show up and start buzzing around your food. Maybe someone gets stung. Pretty soon these tiny creatures have ruined the picnic.”

A bee collects pollen from a flower growing by a housing unit at AHCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Then Travis described learning about honeybees, and how his perspective started to shift. When AHCC’s hives were delivered, he was part of the team that kept those bees alive and even thriving. He came to see this responsibility as a force for “good” in his life. He needed to change to care for those bees, and he noticed how that change lined up with the “theme of change” throughout the facility. He told us: “In my change, the hive is my focus. The center of my change.” Then, he went back to the earlier metaphor and brought it full circle:

He realized that society thinks he is going to ruin the picnic, too; criminals and incarcerated people are regarded as the pests of society. He wanted us to understand that, like the bees they care for, incarcerated individuals aren’t trying to ruin things for everyone else. Just like anyone, they’re there to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the day. “We’re not here to ruin the picnic or barbeque, and through programs like this one we learn positive change.”

The bee hives at AHCC have their own yard, called the “honeybee yard.” Photo courtesy of SPP staff.