Tag Archives: prison education programs

Adapting During Challenging Times: a Check-In from SPP

By Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager and Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director

We at SPP are all deeply aware of how difficult this past year has been. It has been especially hard for the people living and working in prisons. We acknowledge the loss and suffering experienced by incarcerated people, their families, and corrections staff.  Our thoughts are with our fellow humans everywhere—may we all have better days ahead.

Like many organizations, SPP has also faced a slew of competing challenges. Over the past year we have shifted to working remotely, navigated major staffing changes resulting in a smaller team size, and supported multiple team members through health issues. We are continually processing the overall health and safety impacts of COVID-19 and loss of in-person interaction with students, partners, and our small team at Evergreen. Despite these challenges, we are hopeful for better horizons. We are reaching out to share how SPP is making the best use of these challenging times; we are simultaneously practicing patience and resilience every day.

Human health and safety are our top priority over program operation. As a result, the vast majority of SPP programs have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still supporting operation of a few programs, but only where interactions with SPP staff can be masked, socially distant, primarily outside, and with access to proper resources for hand washing and cleaning high touch surfaces. Programs which have continued under these circumstances and in accordance with approved COVID plans include the prairie conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), and a few peer-led education programs at various facilities.

Keegan Curry from SPP safely helps out with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW. Photo by Marisa Pushee. 

Despite major program suspensions, SPP staff have still been hard at work on projects in three main focus areas: remote education, proposal development, and policy/guidance work. We hope that the behind-the-scenes work done in these areas will have lasting benefits when programs are able to safely restart. Brief details on some specific projects (most still in progress) are provided below.

Remote Education

Beekeeping

  • Curation and delivery of monthly educational packets to all facilities
  • Development of higher-level beekeeping certification (in progress)

Peer-led Gardening Curriculum

Ecology Curriculum

Prairie Conservation Nursery

  • Standardizing education materials and adapting for remote access (i.e. remote presentations, limited contact education, and/or peer-led components)

Peer-led Composting Curriculum

  • Identifying funding and planning for development of curriculum for statewide use

Solar Energy Education

  • New partnership with Olympia Community Solar that allows donors to sponsor solar energy education packets to be sent to prison facilities

Proposal Development

Funding

  • Provided budget for potential new education and training program in partnership with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to complete the next phases of gardening and composting course and to pilot in another state
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to expand Evergreen education in prisons

Planning and Organization Improvements

  • Improving processes and guidance related to development of education materials
  • Developed new SPP program planning templates to improve operations and clarity among partners
  • Identifying more reliable mechanisms for delivering remote education
  • Developed general partnership resource document for guiding all types of successful prison programs among multiple partners (in progress)

Policy/Guidance Work

  • Tracking and testifying in support of HB1044 Pathways to Post-Secondary Education in Prisons
  • Working with Washington Department of Corrections and education organizations to develop policy and guidelines for successful peer-led programs in prison (in progress)
  • Working with The Evergreen State College to draft new policy to that will support granting college credit to currently incarcerated program participants successfully completing SPP certificated internship programs
  • Research to address barriers limiting access to fresh produce in prison and considering development of food handling education to improve ability for prison kitchens to utilize fresh produce from facility gardens (longer-term project)

Lastly, we are actively drafting our latest Annual Report, which is expected to be published sometime in spring. Be on the lookout for this report for full updates regarding SPP programs and initiatives from July 2019 through December 2020.

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Garden expansion and delicious prison bananas: Olympic Corrections Center Horticulture Program

Text and photos by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

Planted and cared for by the horticulture students at Olympic Corrections Center, these roses, are ready to bloom.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) in June. I was excited to see all of the gardens’ growth and expansion since my visit last year. After my visit last year, I published a blog about the different sustainability programming at OCC. Though my visits were in different seasons, comparisons were still clear.
OCC is on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by the PNW’s famous temperate rainforest and gets rain most days of the year. OCC is referred to as a “camp”–meaning it houses people who have 4 years or less on their prison sentence–and currently houses about 380 incarcerated individuals. OCC offers some incredible sustainability programs including horticulture, a pre-apprenticeship trade skills program similar to TRAC, wastewater treatment, composting, wood shop, and dog training. OCC also partners with Peninsula College to offer educational opportunities. OCC’s horticulture program, sponsored by instructor Jamie Calley, allows students to take classes, plant and maintain gardens, design and implement projects, and earn certificates for their work.

This landscaping surrounds the greenhouses at OCC… the “H” is for horticulture!

When I first arrived, the facility looked pretty much the same: fences, buildings, lots of tan outfits. But, once I got inside and I was blown away by all of the plant growth and garden expansion in the horticulture area. The horticulture program’s hard work and innovation were well apparent: they’d added whole garden areas, flowerbeds encircling the greenhouses, and additional landscaping in the established garden area. In just over a year, the horticulture students and Ms. Calley have transformed OCC.

Below are pictures of the horticulture area from both my visit in March of 2018 and my most recent visit in June. They really illustrate how much the program participants have accomplished in a year.

This vegetable garden is a new addition since I visited last year. The horticulturists have been busy!
These bananas grow inside the greenhouse – I got to eat one and they are delicious!
Jamie Calley is the staff sponsor for the horticulture program at OCC. Here, Jamie is looking at some of the beautiful landscaping and gardens the horticulture cared for by students. Without a doubt, her enthusiastic support and advocacy for this program has enabled progress and expansions in the program.