Tag Archives: Stafford Creek Corrections Center

My First Few Months at SPP

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

When I first heard about a job opening at the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I couldn’t believe there was a group that combined two of my passions. I called my best friend and excitedly shouted at her all I had learned about SPP. Her response was simply “you’re applying for that, right? Cause it’s perfect for you.”

Well, I applied for the position of Green Track Program Coordinator and practiced for my interview over and over. I would like to think I projected an air of confidence during my interview, but I desperately wanted to make a good impression so I made myself quite nervous. A few days later, I received the call offering me the position! I don’t really remember the call, I just remember being so excited I could hardly breathe.

For the second time in my life, I knew I was on the right path.

Emily Passarelli and Bethany Shepler observe nursery technicians at WCC picking buds from violets that will be used for re-seeding later. Photo by SPP Staff.

Sitting at my desk a few months later, I still know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I still get excited to go to work, I love the challenges this job brings, and I can’t wait to find out what I learn throughout my time here.

Although I don’t get to go to prison as often as my colleagues do, when I do I find that I’m always surprised by how normal everything feels “inside.” I sometimes forget where I am until I see the barbed wire and guard towers.

Group photo of Climate Symposium at SCCC. This was an incredible event about climate change and the actions people can take to mitigate it. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The thing that surprises me the most is how inspiring the inmates are. They are full of hope. Out of all the inspirational speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in my lifetime, the most powerful voices are those of the incarcerated individuals I work with. I often leave prison feeling hopeful and positive about the state of the world. Regardless of the tweets or breaking news, it’s the people who we’ve locked away that are showing me the way forward.

Finding Elysium

Words and Color-Pencil Illustrations by Michael Gorski, Conservation Technician, Stafford Creek Corrections Center
Editor’s note: Seems like Mr. Gorski gives SPP too much credit, but his beautiful work needs to be shared!

I was introduced to my artistic life in 1959. I lived in a dysfunctional family that was without love. However, I was blessed to be in a small country-town of about 500 people in the woods of Central Washington. Mt. Adams was the view from the front yard. A beautiful mountain creek flowed serenely through our town. Our town was five blocks by seven blocks in diameter, so, within minutes, I could escape the prison of my childhood and wander into the realm of the country-stream that became my Elysium.

It was in the summer of 1959 that my grandfather came to stay with us for a summer visit. He came to the United States from Russia in 1912 where he had been an artist, musician, and woodcarver. He noticed that every morning I would wander off (sneak out) of the house long before the madness began. He asked one day if he could join me in my country, Elysium. That summer, my grandfather taught me how to draw nature using colored chalk, charcoal, and colored pencils. But this was not just an education on art. This was a lesson in recognizing the inherent quality and basic constitution of all things – all things that flowed the waters, flew in the air, and grew in the ground. He taught me that Mother Nature’s garden is God’s gift; and this countenance is what will protect me.

Once my father and older siblings found out what I was doing and saw my art work, they laughed at me and teased me mercilessly. I continued on through life for the next 51 years keeping my artwork and love for the outdoors private and personal. I was so self-conscious that I went on secret camping trips that I hid from my family. I even hid my love for flowers and gardening by acting as if the work was for my wife and daughters. I felt that I had to hide what brought me peace.

Then, serendipitously, a guest lecturer [Jeanne Dodds] from the Sustainability in Prisons Project held a workshop to teach how to draw butterflies, birds, and other nature imagery with colored pencils. I was at once transported to my childhood Elysium. Working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project erased the need to keep my artwork and devotion to nature a secret. Not only was I taught how to coax seeds to germinate, but my sense of self germinated in the process. Working to ensure the health and survival of plants became the focus of my life. Through tending vegetable and flower gardens, caring for honeybees, learning about greenhouses and aquaponics, and cultivating wild prairie seeds, it became okay to share my love for these things. It became okay to share my artwork for the first time in my life. I am now drawing pictures of birds for my daughters and my grandchildren. We as a family are now discussing nature – mountains, woods, rivers, camping, hiking, and gardening. An old man has the tools he needs to succeed in life and share all he is with those he loves.

I can now say that I am proud of my artwork. My hope is that anyone who looks upon one of my drawings can feel the sense of peace inside myself and the birds that I draw. Thank you for teaching an old man about life. Carpe diem!

Bright colors speak loudly for the hard work being done at Stafford Creek!

Photos and text by Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

In SCCC’s nursery, technicians sow wild seeds for prairie restoration; here, a technician works with Scouler’s campion (Silene scouleri) seeds.

For nursery technicians, much of the year is spent inside greenhouses where they can be found sowing prairie seeds and tending vegetable starts. Weeding, watering, and controlling insects are the main duties — duties that generally do not yield much glory. However, when summer arrives, the facility resembles a hive that buzzes with activity, color, and pride.

Prairie plants move from greenhouses to outdoors as they mature. Vegetables are unearthed, cleaned, weighed, and sent to local food banks. Flowers are blooming as they are sent to various gardens around the facility. And amidst all of that – cultural & education events.

In photos, here is a sampling of the summer’s activities and harvests.

(From left) Shabazz Malakk, Bui Hung, Aaron Bander, and Travis Newell just harvested beets from one of their vibrant vegetable gardens near the Conservation Nursery.

Shabazz Malakk looks for ripe strawberries in the lush garden of the Conservation Nursery.

Terrell Lewis carefully moves established prairie plants to meet the needs of the next stage of growth – to a greenhouse with different watering conditions.

(From left) Joshua Hieronyms, Toby Erhart, Travis Newell, Bien Nguyen, and Mark Sherwood share salad and sustainability and the SCCC cultural event.

SPP-model programs: Possibilities for Japan

Text and photos by Atsuko Otsuka, freelance journalist and author, consultant for the Guide Dog Puppy-Raising Program and the Horse Program at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Japan

Dog handlers of Freedom Tails at Stafford Creek Corrections Center pose for a photo.

I’ve been working with the Prison Pet Partnership at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) for years, and I’ve become fascinated with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). I’ve written several books about the benefits of animal programs in correctional facilities, and I’ve successfully worked with the Japanese Ministry of Justice to establish the first dog programs in Japanese correctional facilities. My goal is to find ways to create more programs in Japan similar to those of SPP. I strongly believe that they offer a way to improve our society, the lives of our incarcerated populations, and the planet.

Technicians at the Sustainable Practice Lab at Monroe Correctional Complex proudly point to the “Thank you” poster from the recipients.

A nursing mother cat and her kittens are all cared for in the handler’s cell at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting many correctional facilities in Washington where SPP is an important part of their programming and culture. My journey began with WCCW, Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers. This year, I added visits to Mission Creek, Stafford Creek, Airway Heights and Monroe Correctional Complex. During these visits, I saw many wonderful programs that are expanding the worlds of the people incarcerated there, by giving them both environmental education and the opportunity to become better stewards of the earth. I was particularly impressed that all of the SPP programs I saw were designed to help their participants gain self-esteem and redemption by creating a way for them to give back to society. The passion and pride expressed by the program participants that I met was not only inspiring, but infectious.

Learn more about Atsuko and the programs at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center.

Students stop at the garden after attending a Seeds to Supper class at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.

Topics

The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.

Surveys

To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.

 

 

Snakes in a prison

Text by Giovanni Galarza and Joslyn Rose Trivett
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Last week, SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center brought Giovanni Galarza and two snakes into the classroom. Giovanni is an Evergreen student and herpetology enthusiast, and he gave an exceptionally compelling presentation. Thank you to Ricky Osborne for his powers of photography—seeing these images is almost as good as being there!

Sierra, a Desert Kingsnake, investigates his enclosure before the lecture. Desert Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes native to the Southwestern United States, and are immune to the venom of Rattlesnakes which they prey on.

A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.

Giovanni passes around Brandy, a young Corn Snake, for students to touch.

Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.

Giovanni assists a student with proper handling of the Corn Snake.

For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with live snakes. Everybody seemed to gain a new appreciation for these beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.

 

Adding Salt to Popcorn: Gaining a taste for sustainability

by Grady Mitchell, Roots of Success Instructor and Master Trainer, Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

Grady-Mitchell-portrait

Grady Mitchell speaks to a graduating class. He has taught the Roots of Success curriculum twelve times, and was certified as a Master Instructor in 2015.

A few years ago, prior to Roots of Success (ROS) someone could have held a conversation on sustainability and I’m sure it would have been as interesting to me as popcorn without the salt. Today I am not only able to present the curriculum to students, but also have a variety of discussions with them on the subject. In a sense my own experience has given me even more material to share with students (myself and my colleagues like to refer to our classes as peer to peer education) because most of them had no idea the impact of their habits and choices have on the environment, any more than I.

Sustainability in simple terms means being able to meet our needs now without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. However, this term has been taken hostage so to speak because manufacturers use it for their own selfish gain. We as consumers have to take sustainability back and know that sustainability is survivability. By adding the word ‘Just’ before Sustainability, makes it fair and equal.

This is significant to me because in order for the future generations to be sustained, an interest on the matter needs to prevail now. Failure can’t be an option because to do so could literally mean the extinction of those we love dearly and plan on leaving our legacy to. Sustainability is a built in feature of all natural environmental systems provided that human interference is absent or minimized.

Roots-Class-Photo-2-Photo-by-DOC

Grady Mitchell sits with his fellow instructors a graduating class of Roots of Success. Photo by DOC staff.

To get to a more sustainable lifestyle is going to require, inevitably, some radical changes in attitudes, values and behavior. The answer to creating global values and actions is blurred for now. How we get to less pollutants and more sustainable reliances and reuse may depend on generations yet to come (if we make it that far), because as it stands, we haven’t been doing too good of a job. Changing our personal habits; reducing the carbon footprint; our practices being altered for the benefit of sustainability is ‘just.’ In the book “Last Child in the Woods,” a phrase was coined called Nature Deficit Disorder. All it takes to cure this disorder is to get outside and enjoy nature. With seven billion people in the world, imagine the impact from just being sustainable or creating nature. Imagine a society where our lives are as immersed in nature as they are technology.

turtle-release-techs-and-piliponis

Turtle technicians x and x hold healthy western pond turtles prior to releasing them. The turtle program staff sponsor, Shaun Piliponis, stands with them. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In order to make sustainability more inclusive takes education and a willingness to embrace lifestyle changes. The guerrilla gardener of South Central Los Angeles, Ron Finley stated, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale.” If the inspiration was focused on making sustainability hip, cool, the thing to do, then we have a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder. Allowing our generation to see with their own eyes and then pass it on to the next is “just.” César Chavez stated:

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

One of the videos available to our students in our Roots of Success class tells us, in 1915 a Canadian commission on conservation made an interesting proclamation, they said “each generation is entitled to the Interest on the Natural Capital, but the Principal should be handed on unimpaired.” We enjoy the fruit (the interest) from the tree (the principal), but if we cut the trees down both the principal and the interest will be gone forever. So in the end, Just Sustainability could really mean we all take responsibility not only for ourselves, but for community, the planet and most important, the ones who come after us.

Just Sustainability and Restorative Justice

By David Duhaime, Roots of Success Master Instructor, Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Duhaime-teaching-Roots-of-Success-SCCC-5-7-14-230

David Duhaime teaches the first module of Roots of Success at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

When I consider what’s sustainable I realize that I don’t believe anything is. I am new to environmental issues; teaching Roots of Success is what sparked my interest. Over the past three years my thought has developed into a belief that all systems will continue to evolve, sustaining only the dynamic process. Society continues to change as does the justice system. All things change, people, the planet, all systems considered by environmentalists. If change ends, wouldn’t that mean the end of existence?

There can be no Just Sustainability without a complete education, meaning that everyone has to understand all issues. This would be more than a political education. We would have to revamp how we raise our children to include cultivating their understanding of how they interact with the whole, what impacts they will have and what right to equal access we all have to everything, plus stewardship and responsibility for the inheritance we will pass to future generations. Most people in prison often miss any part of that. We generally don’t know about stewardship and responsibility and those charged with keeping us don’t set that type of example. Perhaps we were all brought up with similar ideals.

Before Roots I worked as a literacy tutor and within self-development groups. In both I came to the idea of interest. If one has no interest, fairness is forfeit. My literacy students could not make significant progress until their interest peaked. They had to want to learn. Only then had the learning become interesting. Getting someone else interested seems to me analogous to Stephen Covey’s “Circle of Influence”: How do I get another interested in learning about what to them is peripheral or non-existent? I need to find the way to expand my influence. One of the first techniques I learned was the “Life Experience” method where the tutor listens to the student’s personal story, writing it down verbatim, and then has the student read their own words back.

Environmental Justice, I believe, requires active involvement, which is predicated on interest. Roots, environmental issues, and one’s stock in the world around them are often outside students’ experience or interest. “Scotoma” is a word I once learned that refers to a blind spot in our psyche or attention, something we ignore unconsciously. If we want to have genuine environmental justice, we must find a way to get all parties interested, which means getting past our automatic process of ignoring, which has developed through nature, a process which may eventually lead to our extinction.

Everyone has scotoma. Leaders in politics, leaders in industry, educators, and prisoners all have interests and areas of personal blindness. If we can find a way to get a student involved in their own education, perhaps we can find the way to make sustaining the environment a way of life for people. We can find a way to believe in their ability to make a difference and have a fair share of bounty and security without taking from others. To help people make the leap to a sustaining life style we have to ask what they need and how their interest can be developed.

How do we get people in prison involved? Here, the facility has started some agricultural and recycling practices, as a result of the SPP lecture series and a realization that it can reduce expenses. Prisoners who could see a value to themselves have embraced similar practices and looked for ways to learn more. I am interested in those that still do not have the ability to see the value of learning how they are affected and in turn are part of the cause leading to the affect. Some believe that they should do anything to cost DOC more money, that imprisoning humans should not be cheap, not making the connection to their taxpaying families. Others have no idea about how they affect the world by their actions. There are as many variations as people, staff and prisoners. Lectures and Roots are steps to include more people, but have also, for me, highlighted the blind spot. We need to find something to make it personal, not about saving DOC money or getting a certificate to get some good-time back. How is taking care of the environment related to me and my life, the lives of my loved ones and the world I will live in when I leave this place? Though we focus on personal benefits in Roots, students often have already put on the blinders putting in only the minimum effort and thought. Part of that is due to personal habit and discipline. We may know something is right to do, but have been doing it this way for so long that we don’t have the motivation or discipline to change. Bad examples are drug, alcohol and tobacco use. We know what is harmful about them but we keep using them anyway. Can we learn methods to cure these issues while making it a broad enough cure to use in all aspects of our lives and behavior?

SCCC-Roots-instructor-team

David Duhaime sits with his teaching team and graduating students at a graduation ceremony. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

We talk about grassroots methods of making something happen. However, in prison, I see that prisoners emulate authority. Prisons behave so similar to prison staff that I often tell people that if you switched clothes, and roles, nothing would change. But take that thought further. Think of clothes as the Habit or uniform we wear to fit in. How we behave is also the habit we wear to fit in to our lives. If the people in authority were also encouraged and educated and involved in EJ issues and how to model (mentor) the behavior we are looking for, learning stewardship and treating everyone fairly, could we then make progress in developing habits that may lead us closer to the fantasy of Just Sustainability, and a realistic Justice System.

At SCCC I ran into groups with staff as sponsors and had to work with them, a new experience for me; making me uncomfortable, threatening my comfort zone. I worked through it and found value and personal growth in the experience. People everywhere experience something similar with anything that challenges us to think and act in ways not habitual to or supportive of our lifestyle. An idea that may terrify proponents of the status quo and us against them is to include DOC staff, prisoners, law makers, law enforcers, citizens, students, and educators in a popular education dialog about moving forward with environmental justice and how to evolve our communities so we are the dynamic force for change and sustainability. Some might call that a Restorative Justice approach.

Can we perceive our own blind spots and see beyond them?!

Princess Remington and Pele: Royalty in a prison classroom

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Vulture-and-students

June’s lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) welcomed royalty from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. I had met Pele, Fire Goddess and falcon (a kestrel), once before, and she was as impressive as ever. However, never before had I met a turkey vulture, and I was immediately smitten with Princess Remington.

Princess-Remington

Princess Remington was named for the gun that disabled her left wing during a flight over Shelton. Now she graces classrooms throughout the Puget Sound so that students can discover the magnificence of turkey vultures.

The Princess’ handler is Fawn Harris, our coordinator for the conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center. She also is staff at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and she answered nearly an hour of questions on turkey vultures. We learned that turkey vultures are social birds. They travel in groups and are monogamous. Fawn says that if she offers Princess Remington food she does not like, the vulture will still remember and express her dissatisfaction with Fawn a week later.

Fawn told us that Princess Remington was unusually at-ease in this classroom. She bowed to the assembled students!

Fawn-is-a-great-presenter

Fawn Harris clearly loves her work, and she shared a wealth of information about turkey vultures. Never again will I see them the same way.

While vultures are classified as raptors, they don’t have the typical talons or hooked beak. In fact, they are not capable of killing and they are rarely aggressive. Turkey vultures only eat animals that are already dead, finding them with an exceptional sense of smell. The acid in their stomach’s is comparable to battery acid, and diseases cannot pass through. By scavenging, they effectively remove maladies such as rabies, botulism, and cholera from the environment – without vultures, we would see far more of these nasty diseases.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels, North America's smallest falcon.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels.

Deb Wilbur told us about Pele. She is an American kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon. Deb fed Pele a baby mouse, and she tore it apart as the presentation went on. The crunching was audible to at least the first couple rows – gross and amazing! A special thanks to Deb who has volunteered her time at two or three other SPP lectures.

Lecture-students

kestrel-and-students

Deb took Pele for a tour of the classroom.

The lecture series students offered excellent questions to the presentation, and were fully attentive to the visiting royalty. At the lecture’s conclusion, one of them remarked to me “Another great lecture!” Holy cats, if they are all that good, I have got to start attending more of SPP lectures!

Prairie seeds close up

Photos by Jim Miles, Prairie Conservation Technician at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)
Text by Ricky Johnson, Prairie Conservation Technician Program Coordinator

Jim Miles is a conservation nursery technician at SCCC. We bought a new picture microscope for the program, and gave Jim the task of documenting more than 40 different species of prairie plant seeds. Miles had shown an interest in earlier detail-oriented tasks such as data collection and plant tracking. His ability to efficiently and systematically organize, document, and store critical data and information sold me that he was the right person for this particular task.

I delivered the seeds to Miles in a small box full of little manila folders. Being the meticulous worker he is, he immediately began to alphabetized the folders and outline a documentation sheet to correspond with the photos which were saved on an SD card. Tediously, he aligned each seed on a ruler to measure its length and width. Some species, like Micranthes integrifolia, are smaller than cracked pepper, so it takes patience to place them where you want them. Miles took the initiative to photograph seeds with various backgrounds—this proved useful for identifying characteristics of each seed, providing differing levels of contrast and illumination.  The effects were impressive and looked like they belonged in an art gallery.

Gaillardia-aristata-(3)

Gaillardia aristata, blanketflower, is a colorful daisy-like flower of the prairie, but the seeds look like wolf heads.

Erigeron-speciosus-(2)

Erigeron speciosus also has a daisy-like flower…

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…and here it is blooming on the prairie! Photo by Benj Drummond.

Microseris-laciniata-(3)

Microseris laciniata is a dandelion look-alike which is native to south Sound prairies.

Lomatium-utriculatum-(3)

Lomatium seeds are beautiful! They look a bit like dill seeds, because they are in the same family. This one is Lomatium utriculatum.

Lomatium-nudicaule-(3)

This one is Lomatium-nudicaule. Lomatium flowers are a powerful source of nectar for prairie butterflies.

Lomatium-triternatum-(3)

This one is Lomatium triternatum, also known as nine-leaf biscuitroot. (Such a great name!)

Festuca-romerii-(2)

Festuca romerii is one of only a couple grasses we grow in SPP’s prairie conservation nurseries—south Sound prairies are dominated by flowering plants.

Ranunculus-occidentalis

Under the microscope, western buttercup, or Ranunculus-occidentalis, looks like fat little birds without legs.

Solidago-simplex-(2)

Jim Miles spelled his name in Solidago simplex, also known as goldenrod.

Technician-Jim-Miles-Using-Picture-Microscope-(4)

Here is Technician Miles working with the picture microscope.