Tag Archives: Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

When crisis inspires greater teamwork

Text by Marisa Pushee, Joslyn Rose Trivett, and Kelli Bush
Photos by Marisa Pushee

In these unprecedented times, we are adapting to meet the new needs of the community we serve. This has meant suspending the majority of in-person programs in favor of remote education.

Early in the pandemic, following the general pattern, the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program partners suspended the program. But then, partners asked Could it be possible to restart? Everyone agreed that human health and safety had to be the top priority. Also, we heard from the Washington Department of Fish & WildlifeMission Creek Corrections Center staff, and incarcerated technicians that the program was very important to them. They asked that we problem-solve together, to collaborate on figuring out if there was any combination of rules and protocols that would allow for a re-start.

Technician Erin Hart works in one of the greenhouses, following best practices by wearing a face mask, social distancing, and implementing extensive cleaning protocols.

Following all COVID-19 safety protocols, we met several times and discussed a potential restart. Prison staff demonstrated that they were eager to prioritize the health and safety of the incarcerated technicians, willing to adapt program practices, and could support increased remote communication as SPP-Evergreen limited our prison visits. Technicians requested the program be restarted and expressed that, in the program space, they felt a reduced risk of contracting the disease. The lead wildlife biologist agreed that operations must be contingent on new protocols to reduce human health risks.

An adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly rests in an oviposition pot where she will lay her eggs.

Ultimately, all partners agreed that the program could re-start with new safety protocols in place. A key element of the re-start plan was to continuously reevaluate program safety, to ask each other regularly and often what could be done to make it safer and, most importantly, was it really safe enough.

The butterflies came back to Mission Creek. Social distancing, masking, and disinfection protocols were meticulously followed. Commitment to safety and open communications were fulfilled. The rearing season was successful for the butterflies and for the people involved.

Butterfly program coordinator Keegan Curry holds a rearing enclosure called an oviposition pot (a Plantago plant with a net over it) near the back door of a greenhouse.

Workshops in the COVID-19 Era

Text and photos by Erica Benoit, SPP Workshop Series Coordinator

Unfortunately, the Environmental Workshop Series may be facing the greatest impact of all SPP programs due to COVID-19. While we are proud of the programs’ large crowds, we know that the coronavirus thrives in such environments. In an effort to protect our incarcerated and staff partners, the workshop series has been temporarily paused at all facilities. It is our goal to resume the regular workshop schedule and reschedule canceled workshops once it is safe to do so again.

Just before the shut-down, Fawn Harris brought Princess Remington back to prison.

As a part of our efforts to adapt and evolve, we are also test-driving a remote workshop learning plan at Stafford Creek Corrections Center so workshop students can continue to earn credit towards their workshop certificates. Beginning this month (May 2020), in lieu of in-person workshops, students will be able to watch videos on a specific environmental topic through an in-facility TV channel. In addition to viewing the selected videos, students will be required to reflect on what they learned in writing. Submitting this assignment will earn the equivalent of 1 regular workshop credit. Depending on the success of the remote learning plan, it may be expanded to additional facilities.

Still, we miss the workshops and the in-person interaction and knowledge gained from them. So, please enjoy these images of the last few in-person workshops we had in late February and early May.

Raptors of the Pacific Northwest, Workshop on March 6 at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

Fawn Harris and Michael William Etgen are from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Fawn used to coordinate one of SPP’s conservation nurseries and she facilitates wonderful workshops! (A photo of her and Princess Remington is at the top of this story.)

An Introduction to Permaculture, Workshop on February 20 at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

Sheilia Canada led a workshop on a sustainable living system that supplies all the needs of humanity while it benefits all creatures on Earth.

Hard to imagine when a class this size will feel safe again.
Following an in-class brainstorm session, a student shares with the class how he applied the zonal model of permaculture to an everyday life scenario.

Climate Crisis Solutions: Healthy Soils & Food Forests, Workshop on February 26 at Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

Julianne Gale, Zephyr Elise, and James Landreth from Mason County Climate Justice led a session on healthy soils and food forests as a potential solution to the climate crisis.

(Before COVID19): Octopus Kicks off the Workshop Series at MCCCW

By Joslyn Rose Trivett and Erica Benoit, SPP at Evergreen
Photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

A Pacific red octopus uncurls its tentacles as it swims back in forth in front of the class at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW).

One of the best things that we have been a part of in 2020 was the launch of our workshop series at Mission Creek Corrections Center (MCCCW). Hard to believe it was only a month ago — life is so different today than it was then. Our main focus has to be responding and adapting to the COVID 19 crisis, and still it’s important to let ourselves focus on the good and the positive. For the sake of our partners in prison, we want to continue share some of the magic of nature and environmental education inside of prisons and the partners who make it possible. These programs are so valuable and important to us; we can’t wait to continue to support them inside prison as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Here are some of our favorite images from the first SPP Environmental Workshop at MCCCW, Octopus Intelligence. Rus Higley and Joanne Park of the Marine Science and Technology (MaST) Center at Highline College facilitated an excellent session. Of course the real star of the show was the juvenile Pacific red octopus (the same species but a different individual than the one who visited a 2016 workshop at Stafford Creek…the MaST Center releases an octopus back to the wild when its behavior suggests that it is ready to go.)

Christina Flesner studies the octopus…while it studies her back! Can’t know for sure, but Rus Higley made a compelling case for high levels of octopus awareness and smarts.
MCCCW’s Lieutenant visits with the octopus. She has been a solid supporter of other SPP programs at MCCCW as well.
Meg Ward studies a preserved specimen.
Jasmine Sabourin visits with the octopus. Several viewers showed similar happiness in the octopus’ presence.
Two officers stayed for the workshop and appeared to enjoy and appreciate the session as much as the incarcerated students.
Students’ questions were one of the best parts of the workshop. Some of the topics they asked about were how octopuses are affected by pollution (a lot), whether it’s possible to tag and track them (possible and really tricky), whether females can opt-out of reproduction, which is a mortal act (probably not), and the quality of life for octopuses in captivity at the lab.

The second workshop in the series took place only a week later and featured some local predator birds (an owl and a turkey vulture). Although the workshop series is currently on hold at all 3 facilities, we’re looking forward to continuing the series as soon as we can. Once it’s safe to do so, partners plan for the MCCCW series to reoccur on the first Friday of every month.

Hope all of our partners are staying well and safe. We are thinking of you more than ever.

Amazing GRACE: Garden Grows Vegetables, Hope

By Rachel FriederichDOC Communications
Originally published July 31, 2019, in DOC Communications newsroom; reposted here with permission

A member of the offsite crew tends the GRACE project garden, located near Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.
Violet Rose Garcia (left) and Maria Jones (right) harvest some green onions. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

POULSBO – Violet Garcia crouches among rows of lush, green kale and lettuce. Her tan work shoes are caked with dirt, evidence of her hard work.

Between her gloved fingers is a robust bundle of green onions. She smiles as she trims back their long roots with a pair of garden shears.

“I’m giving them a haircut,” Garcia, 37, says. “I didn’t know green onions could get this big!”

Kaela Glover (left) and Jamie Hugdahl (right) hold some purple cauliflower they grew and harvested from the GRACE garden in Poulsbo. The women are part of an incarcerated work crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women who maintain the garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

The project is called the GRACE garden. The acronym GRACE stands for Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education. Besides the food bank, the garden is used as an educational demonstration garden for community groups.

Garcia is one of five incarcerated women who have traveled from the Belfair, Washington prison, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women to a garden in Kitsap County. The work crew does all the planting, weeding and harvesting of produce, which is given to the Central Kitsap Food Bank.

Solving a Problem

It’s all part of a partnership the Department of Corrections has with the Kitsap Conservation District.

Last year, the district opened the garden, a project made possible by a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts. The grant focuses on projects that reduce food insecurity and address food deserts.

A crewmember harvests cabbage. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Approximately 11.6% of Kitsap County’s population, or 30,000 people, experienced food insecurity in 2017, according to data collected by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. Statewide, nearly 849,000 people, or 11.5% of the population, experienced food insecurity during the same period. Food insecurity can be especially rampant in areas defined as “food deserts,” or areas that lack fresh foods due to a lack of grocery stores, farmer’s markets or healthy food providers. They often occur in impoverished and/or rural communities.

That’s where organizations like food banks and the Kitsap Conservation District can assist.

Boxes of kale and green lettuce sit at the Central Kitsap Food Bank. Women from Mission Creek Corrections Center in Mason county grew the produce in a garden in Poulsbo. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Besides running the GRACE garden project, the Kitsap Conservation District holds workshops that teach people how to grow their own food. As a partner with Kitsap County’s Clean Water Kitsap program, it also performs work with farmers and livestock owners to protect the health and wellbeing of their animals, increase crop productivity, and protect water quality and soil erosion. Members of the garden work crew also work with the conservation district on stream restoration projects. Crews remove noxious weeds from salmon habitat and replace them with native plants, which helps improve and restore salmon habitats.

Opening Doors

The work the incarcerated women perform doesn’t just impact the community. It also goes a long way toward their rehabilitation, according to Diane Fish, resource planner for the district’s agricultural assistance program.

“When you see how their attitude changes and their understanding changes, their desires change over the time that they are able to be on crew,” Fish said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”

For example, the garden helped one of the crew members pursue higher education. Fish said one of the incarcerated women shared that many of the topics she was learning through her work on the crew—biology and the environment—were many of the same things she was learning in the science class she was taking to earn her GED. Through some encouragement from her correctional counselor and Fish, the woman decided to get her diploma. A few months later, the woman was part of a graduation ceremony at Mission Creek. She’s now enrolled in college courses at the correctional facility. The incarcerated crew member recently told Fish she’s working on a degree in environmental studies so she can one day work with the Squaxin Island Native American tribal community on salmon habitat restoration.

Gardeners harvest greens from the GRACE garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Fish says the work crews do more than just pull weeds – they learn to describe their skills and credentials to potential employers. Things they learn about on the crew– habitat restoration and knowledge of native plants and noxious weeds, for example– can lead to jobs in agriculture, commercial greenhouses, farming, and horticulture industries.

Garcia is scheduled to release from incarceration in two years. She’s still exploring her career options. She is a Native American and wants to use her newfound knowledge about the environment to find a job within her tribe, the Squaxin Island Tribe.

“That’s where my heart stands,” Garcia says. “It’s changed my outlook on a lot of different things. I’ve got to plant things and watch them grow and, at the end of the day, when we (work crew) look and see our work and say ‘Oh my gosh. We did that. We did that.’”

Safety and Eligibility

The Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District makes sure everyone at the worksite as well as surrounding communities are safe.

A correctional officer supervises the work crews at all times. Crew members must meet a strict set of requirements, including being classified as a minimum-security custody level. They can’t have any serious infractions for six months, nor any drug-related infractions for at least a year. Crew members can’t have ties to family members, victims or gangs in the community in which they’ll be working.

At the GRACE garden, there are no public tours when the incarcerated gardeners are present.

The crew also receives occupational safety training on working outdoors and how to properly use garden tools. Conservation district staff inventory tools after each shift and secure them when not in use.

Additionally, correctional staff provide conservation staff who will be working with the crew orientation and continuous safety training.

Susan Keeler, a correctional officer who supervises the work crew, says getting to leave prison for a few hours a day might seem like a special privilege to outsiders. “But what people may not realize is that in addition to this being hard work, all these women are getting out of prison at some point. They need to learn how to fit back into society and be a part of it again. It makes them feel good and they’re doing something positive and contributing to society.”

Impact

A gardener cleans up a small cabbage before adding it to the transport container. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communictions.

Peggy Knott, 39, says she’s an example of that. She has just under two years left on her prison sentence. She says while she’s been on the work crew, she’s learned many jobs she could qualify for after prison, many of which she might not have considered otherwise, like wastewater management or working on a farm.

“I’ve taken so much from my community in the past and giving back gives me a more positive aspect on the type of person I can be,” Knott said. “For us to come out and do this, it makes us better people. You really push yourself and you feel really proud of yourself at the end of the day.”

First Graduates in 4 Years!

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Graduates from the Roots of Success class proudly display their certificates; from the top left, you see graduates Jill Robinson, Dara Alvarez, Shannon Marie Xiap, Nikkea Marin, Katlynn Draughon, and instructor Chelsey Johnson.

We’re so excited to announce that Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) just graduated their first Roots of Success (Roots) course since 2015! Five students completed the 10-module course, and they are excited to put their education to work, and continue learning more.

These graduates are about to lose their instructor to release, leaving a potential void. The SPP team at Evergreen sees this as a worthy challenge, one that we are happy to address. We have put together a package of supplemental education materials that don’t require a certified instructor: movies, books, and articles that relate to the material presented in the Roots curriculum.

Roots instructor Chelsey Johnson presents
Nikkea Marin with her certificate.

Graduates have the support of MCCCW staff who also want to implement some of the things students learned about in the Roots course. For example, they hope to start working with the folks from TerraCycle to recycle the “non-recyclable” waste the facility generates. We can’t wait to hear about their continued successes – keep up the good work!

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

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.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Washington

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

In April, I was fortunate to spend days and days immersed in the topic of astrobiology. What is astrobiology? It is the study of how stars and planets form, how that relates to life here on Earth, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. Alongside hundreds of incarcerated students and dozens of corrections staff in both Washington and Ohio, I got to learn about what is known, what is still unknown, and ponder immense questions. I had stars in my eyes, for sure!

Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program, describes element creation in the core of a star to students at Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington, responds to a question from a student at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Washington State’s lecture series started at Mission Creek Corrections Center where they packed the gym; 150 students’ attention and curiosity gave us a great sense of success. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated is a new program, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Astrobiology Program, and in partnership with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Utah’s Initiative to bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated (INSPIRE). The program was brought to us by Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program; she is a master of describing exquisite concepts and making them relevant to our lives.

Here I will share details from the Washington State programs; I will share Ohio’s in part 2. In Washington, Daniella was joined by Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington. Our small team visited five prisons in four days, reaching 450 incarcerated students and 52 corrections staff. At each venue, Drew and Daniella told us a three-part story.

Part One: Creation

Daniella introduced us to the life cycle of stars—who knew that stars had life cycles!—and how their birth, maturity, and death creates and distributes most of the elements that makes up the Universe as we know it. She told us: Every atom in our bodies, the water we drink, the food we eat, our buildings, our roads, the things we buy and make, all were built in the heart of a star. It’s a dizzying concept, one that connects everyone and everything.

She outlined how these elements may have come together in the nutrient and energy rich environments of hydrothermal vents—hot water vents at the ocean floor—to create the first microbes, the first life on Earth.

Part Two: Adaptation

Part two came from Drew. He told us about his research with microbes, single-celled organisms, that live in extreme environments on earth. His personal and professional favorites live in near-boiling pools of acid—really! He emphasized that there are microbes living and thriving in nearly every environment on Earth. Those inhabitants also influence their environments; their life processes take up, transform, and leave behind new elements and structures. The microbes can quickly adapt to take advantage of new conditions, and so back and forth, life and the Earth interact and influence each other. His research investigates how much energy microbes use to live in extreme environments, and in this way sheds a bit of light on where and how we might find microbes beyond our Earth.

Students respond to a question from Daniella. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Part Three: Exploration

Daniella’s part three dove into this search for life, focusing on the most promising worlds within our solar system. I was amazed to learn that there are some excellent contenders! I was particularly taken by moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Europa  and Enceladus, that have global oceans: hidden beneath icy crusts, their worlds are covered with liquid water. On Enceladus, there is also evidence of geothermal vents. Given that one of the theories for the origin of life places it in Earth vents, this news of similar environments on a moon of Saturn gave me the chills (the good kind).

At every venue, the students dazzled us with ideas and questions. I think that’s the best part for me—hearing how others are making sense of the concepts, the collective insights and exploration. I learned as much from them as from the scientists…as usual!

Our second stop was Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Students and staff had to walk through the rain to attend, and still brought their best selves. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

To the class at Twin Rivers Unit, Monroe Correctional Complex, Daniella emphasized that astrobiology is not possible without collaboration, and she invited the students present to bring their diversity of knowledge and insight to the topic. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Students had trouble signing up for the session at Washington State Reformatory, also in Monroe Correctional Complex, and that seemed to mean that only the most avidly interested were present. Their questions and comments were advanced, for sure. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Our last stop in Washington was at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

 

All attendees left with a gorgeous, ten page summary of the presentation. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Checking in with the Checkerspots

by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator

Each year, the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program rears thousands of endangered caterpillars for reintroduction to the wild. Incarcerated technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) shepherd these rare butterflies through each of their four life stages—eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. The transition from winter to spring is an exciting time for the program because that’s when all the action happens: the larvae wake up and begin to eat, followed shortly by pupation, adult emergence, and captive breeding.

Taylor’s checkerspots are adult butterflies for only about 5 weeks during the spring, so things happen fast; now that we’re nearing the end of “flight” season, it all feels like a white and orange blur! And yet, a lot has happened in the past few months. Two new butterfly technicians joined our team, ~2,800 post-diapause larvae were sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for release, 225 adult butterflies eclosed in the lab, and technicians hosted site visits for some of our most valued partners (including one very special guest). To top it all off, the MCCCW butterfly crew celebrated their most productive breeding season to date!

I am pleased to share with you some images from the 2018 rearing season. These photos highlight the tremendous efforts and accomplishments of everyone involved, including staff from Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and many more.

(Left to right) Technician Susan Christopher, WDFW Biologist Mary Linders, and Technicians Nichole Alexander, and Alexis Coleman work together to decide which caterpillars should be released this year and which ones should remain at MCCCW for captive breeding.

Technician Nichole Alexander labels individual deli cups full of caterpillars that have just been woken up from winter diapause. Over 3,000 hungry caterpillars now line these shelves waiting to be released!

WDFW Biologist Mary Linders directs volunteers at a Taylor’s checkerspot release site. We transport caterpillars from the prison to the field and very carefully introduce them to their new environment.

A volunteer transplants Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars to Plantago lanceolata host plants. It is early spring, so much of the prairie vegetation has yet to flower.

A few caterpillars remain in the MCCCW lab where they will mature to produce some of the program’s next batch of eggs. Here, a few caterpillars get fat and happy as they prepare for pupation. A group of fifteen caterpillars can eat up to eight Plantago leaves per day! Technicians have to feed them constantly to keep up with their appetites.

Once they have reached the appropriate size, caterpillars crawl to the top of their mesh enclosure and hang in a ‘J’ shape before transforming into a chrysalis. Pupation is such a strange and beautiful process to behold, and MCCCW technicians get to watch it happen right before their eyes.

Midway through the season, Carolina Landa (far right) and Dennis Buckingham (second from the left) paid a special visit to the butterfly program. Dennis was the first SPP coordinator and Carolina was one of the original incarcerated technicians, and the part she played in shaping the program is legendary. Carolina returned to MCCCW and share valuable words of encouragement with the current technicians. It was a great opportunity to present Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Susan Christopher with their Butterfly Rearing and Research Specialist certificates.

About three weeks after pupation, butterflies begin to emerge from their chrysalises. This is a rewarding moment for the butterfly technicians, but it also means more work! Each butterfly needs to be fed honey from a Q-tip, weighed on a scale, photographed, identified as male or female, and placed in the appropriate enclosure.

Technicians pair male and female checkerspots based on their genetic lineage. Males and females are introduced to each other in these mesh tents. The butterflies were very cooperative this year, wasting no time in consummating the match.

Mated pairs are removed from the breeding tents. Technicians then place the female butterflies on Plantago plant for egg-laying. The male gets to go hang out with his buddies until they are released into the field.

A mated female lays eggs near the base of Plantago lanceolata. In the wild, this is a great place to keep the eggs safe from harm, but in the lab, eggs laid this way pose a challenge for technicians. They will have to use a tiny paintbrush to remove these fragile eggs and transfer them to a 5.5oz cup where they will eventually hatch.

(Left to right) MCCCW Superintendent Devon Schrum, SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush, USFWS Biologist Karen Reagan, Alexis Coleman, Susan Christopher, Tracy Hatch, USFWS Division Manager Tom McDowell, Nichole Alexander, and SPP Coordinator Keegan Curry take a group photo in front of the butterfly lab. Karen and Tom from USFWS oversee Taylor’s checkerspot recovery on a regional level; they took time out of their busy schedules to visit the MCCCW captive rearing program and see firsthand the work that incarcerated technicians are doing to support endangered species conservation.

Technician Alexis Coleman shares her observations about Taylor’s checkerspot egg-laying behavior with Tom McDowell and Karen Reagan from USFWS.

This year was the most productive breeding season to date for MCCCW: our captive-bred butterflies laid over 7,000 eggs! This is great news for the program and for species recovery in the field, and the technicians at MCCCW should be proud. Their contributions are vital to restoring Taylor’s checkerspot populations in Washington State.