Tag Archives: prisons

Dick Meyer Brings Fair Trade to Prisons

On October fifth in Gig Harbor, Washington, Olympia resident Dick Meyer walked through the security gates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) headed for the visit room. “When I worked here thirty years ago,” he said, “they didn’t have all this security.”

The reason for his visit? To bring fair trade education to prisons through the Sustainable Prisons Project’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, a program geared toward scientific education and sustainable practices.

A former counselor for WCCW in the early 1970’s, Meyer left social work to become a small business owner in the Puget Sound region. The founder of Traditions Café in Olympia and owner of The Antique Sandwich Shop in Tacoma, Meyer currently uses his storefronts and free time to promote fair trade partnerships and awareness.

Guest lecturer Dick Meyer demonstrates a Tibetan singing bowl inside his fair trade shop in Olympia, WA.

“I view talking about fair trade and doing outreach as something that’s motivating for me to do. Whatever opportunity to engage people in talking about values and relationships is important to me,” Meyer said.

Each month, the Sustainable Prisons Project hosts guest lecturers in three of Washington’s prisons to speak with offenders and DOC staff about topics related to science and sustainability. Speakers include scientists, engineers, environmentalists, farmers, business owners, and community activists, with topics ranging from bear ecology to sustainability in poetry.

Seated in a circle with DOC offenders and Sustainable Prisons Project staff, Meyer began his talk with a brief history of the fair trade movement. According to the Fair Trade Federation, of which Meyer is a member, fair trade is an economic partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. Fair Trade organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change.

Stories about various products, such as clothing and chocolate, stimulated an hour-and-a-half long discussion between Meyer and the offenders about the issues surrounding fair trade. Having brought sample items from his stores, Meyer demonstrated what fair trade products look like and how the average person can go about finding and supporting such partnerships. Nearly all the products were hand-made by women cooperatives in developing countries.

Through the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series, the Sustainable Prisons Project seeks to connect lecture participants to the larger world of scientific research and conservation while introducing offenders to educational and employment opportunities they may pursue upon release. A large part of this involves presenting on lecture topics that have relevancy and meaning to the offenders’ current situation as prison residents.

Meyer discussed the connection he saw between the women sitting with him in the prison and those working across the globe in conditions and economies that fair trade is trying to change. “The information is not readily available about how much the rest of the world has to work to survive,” he said. “And to a certain extent they can’t control their own destiny. The message is not exclusively, but predominately, about women, and to the extent women inmates can empathize and understand; I think that at least one part of it becomes a shared empathy.”

For more information about fair trade, visit www.traditionsfairtrade.com.

Building a Bridge

In our last entry we wrote to tell you that funding for the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) was cut as a result of significant budget cuts within the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) and throughout the state. Since we received the news, Sustainable Prisons Project students and staff have been working hard to identify alternative funding sources.

We are pleased to report our first major success. The Evergreen State College (TESC) has provided “bridge funding” from reserves of the Academic Division. This will serve as a temporary bridge to give us “breathing space” through June 2011. It will provide enough support to: maintain our basic operations; provide one science lecture per month (rotated among our current corrections centers); support one graduate student; and initiate a green collar training program in arboriculture. It will also allow us to: maintain our website; connect with the media; and write grant proposals to foundations and individuals to further support and extend our work.

Our Co-leader, Dan Pacholke (WDOC), has extended the reassurance that the WDOC will continue to support this work with available staff effort, access to inmates and facilities, and guidance in shaping our program for the future. We have also been working with our conservation partners — at The Nature Conservancy, the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Zoo Foundation, and the Department of Defense — to augment their current funding so that we can sustain our current commitments of raising endangered frogs, prairie plants, and rare butterflies to enhance regional biodiversity and provide training for inmates.

Despite this funding setback, awareness of our project expands. Just yesterday, we learned that our project has been featured on the website of the National Science Foundation – a piece produced by Science Nation, which was filmed at Stafford Creek Corrections Center this summer. It captures very well our vision of linking offenders with science and conservation directly, and the benefits that accrue to all involved. Here is the link: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/sciencebehindbars.jsp

During these difficult economic times, it has been warming to witness people stepping forward to help as much as they can. We have received hundreds of notes and responses to the WDOC termination announcement on our blog from people around the country and around the world, stating their support for the project, and their desire for it to continue. We will work hard to find ways to keep our program moving forward in the short and the long term.

Beekeeping at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Blog post by Project Manager Jeff Muse:

In the summer of 2009, more than a dozen offenders at the Cedar Creek and Stafford Creek corrections learned skills in beekeeping. Led by Evergreen scientist Sam Hapke and correctional staffers Vicki Briggs and Doug Raines, our part-time program involved both classroom study and outdoor work with hives in each prison.

While working in the prison garden, a Stafford Creek inmate cares for the prison's beehives. Photo: Doug Raines.

While working in the garden, a Stafford Creek inmate cares for the prison's beehives as part of a training program led by Evergreen scientist Sam Hapke. Photo: Doug Raines.

Offenders learned about bee biology and behavior, hive construction and maintenance, beekeeping equipment and commercial business practices — profitable skills for a post-prison career, be it in honey and beeswax production or pollinating fruits and vegetables in orchards and farms.

After collecting honey from the prison's beehives, Stafford Creek offenders learn how to create products such as lip balm and hand lotion. Photo: Doug Raines.

After collecting honey from the prison's beehives, Stafford Creek offenders learn how to create products such as lip balm and hand lotion. Photo: Doug Raines.

Under Hapke’s guidance, next year we hope to design and conduct inmate-led research projects with publishable results, not only advancing science, but also modeling this training program for other institutions. Often located in rural areas, prisons are uniquely positioned to support the pollination of wild and commercial plants while helping scientists study the alarming threat of bee colony collapse.

Under scientist Sam Hapke’s guidance, inmates hope to design and conduct research projects with publishable results. Often located in rural areas, prisons are uniquely positioned to support the pollination of wild and commercial plants while helping scientists study the alarming threat of bee colony collapse. Photo: Doug Raines.

A Stafford Creek inmate learns how to use a microscope for biological study. Photo: Doug Raines.

Beekeeping: More than honey

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

There are opportunities that come along only once in a lifetime, and I experienced one this week. Project Manager Jeff Muse and I visited the Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) to debrief offenders involved in our pilot beekeeping program with biologist Sam Hapke. When we arrived, I spotted five inmates preparing a multitude of hives for the coming autumn. Jeff suggested that I get in the middle of the action, and before I knew it I was in a veil and gloves, standing among honeybees.

Unexpected opportunities like this make my job that much more unique and special. What an experience to have thousands of bees buzzing about me, enveloping my hand as I touched their hives. There are times when you glimpse that there are much larger things at work in the world than you and your affairs. This was one of those awe-inspiring moments.

Later, while seated as a group on the prison’s lawn, Jeff and I assessed the beekeeping program through evaluative surveys and a taped discussion with the offenders and Sam Hapke. One of the most important reasons for our work is to introduce inmates to useful skills in science and sustainability while engaging their minds and inspiring positive attitudes and behaviors. Our intimate conversation revealed that beekeeping is hitting the mark. The offenders indicated that they are learning marketable skills for their lives after release, be it in commercial beekeeping or by starting their own hives at home. Plus, they regard the activity as a therapeutic tool, helping them grow through hands-on problem solving and a sense of responsibility for a world beyond the prison’s fences.

From standing among swarms of bees to hearing first-hand how lives can be changed through education, I can honestly say that there is never a dull day for me at the Sustainable Prisons Project. Indeed, it’s changing my own life.