Tag Archives: WCC

Welcoming Emily Passarelli to the SPP Team

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager

Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

Emily Passarelli is a native of Rantoul, a small rural village in East Central Illinois. Growing up in Rantoul, Emily was very active in her local community. She joined just about every community group or school club she could, but her main passion was acting in theatre. Emily participated in every one of her high school’s plays and musicals, and even arranged for an additional play to get an extra opportunity on stage her senior year. 

After high school, Emily went on to pursue her interest in theatre at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, but life had other plans for her. To earn a required science credit, Emily took Environmental Studies 101 and quickly realized she was exactly where she needed to be. This led her to become interested in how environmental issues disproportionately and consistently affect underrepresented populations. Emily then decided to double major in both Theatre and Environmental Studies.

After graduating from Knox in 2015, Emily began to pursue her Master of Environmental Studies (MES) degree at The Evergreen State College. Before arriving in Olympia, Washington, Emily accepted a position as the Green Track Coordinator at The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). In this position, she coordinated the Roots of Success program and was the first coordinator to work on the Beekeeping program. One of her favorite moments was helping plan the first Beekeeping Summit at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in 2017. She also appreciated the opportunity to visit 11 of 12 Washington State prisons, as well as McNeil Island, and experience the distinctly different cultures of each facility. SPP helped Emily find her passion for developing and maintain partnerships with some of the most interesting and passionate people she’s ever met!

Emily Passarelli gazes at Oregon Spotted frogs before they are released back to the pond. Photo by SPP staff.

While in MES, Emily studied subjects such as Traditional Ecological Restoration and Environmental Education, and researched how a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest would affect different populations. Her time at SPP also inspired her to focus her graduate thesis on the lasting effects of environmental education on formerly incarcerated individuals. The results of this research showed even more evidence to support the transformative effect of environmental education in prisons.

Emily Passarelli and fellow MES Cohort members, Melanie Graeff and Liliana Caughman (also former SPP coordinator), at their graduation ceremony in 2017. Photo by Allison Diamond.

Once Emily completed her time at MES and SPP, she felt compelled to continue her work in corrections education however she could. Emily then took on the role of Education Program Coordinator at The Washington Corrections Center (WCC) through Centralia College. After two years working inside WCC in this role, Emily was promoted to Program Manager. She has loved the opportunity to work closely with DOC staff, custody, and leadership, support and expand all types of education for students, plan graduation events to celebrate student success, and work with the wonderful Education Department team at WCC. 

Emily Passarelli GED Testing at the Washington Corrections Center in 2020. Photo by Aundrea Lund.

After 3 years at WCC, Emily has now returned to the SPP team as the new Program and Outreach Manager. She’s still pinching herself to make sure she’s not dreaming! Emily is so grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to see what the future holds. In her free time, Emily loves spending time with her husband and sweet, shivery chihuahua.

Emily and her chihuahua Penny. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

Lecture Series expands to Shelton

by Liliana Caughman, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator; Photos by Liliana Caughman and Emily Passarelli

Following months of planning, on December 9th, SPP hosted its first ever Science and Sustainability lecture at Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, WA. The busy day included two separate lectures to introduce audiences to SPP statewide, and showcase the SPP programs already in place at WCC.

Lililana-2

SPP Lecture Series Program Coordinator Liliana Caughman discusses past Science and Sustainability lectures.

Lecture Number One: General Population

The first lecture occurred in the chapel room, which is covered in beautiful murals painted by the official inmate artist. It is a perfect open, yet intimate setting for learning.

A small group of the most avid inmates signed up to join us for this introductory lecture. They were all enthralled with SPP and excited to learn about science and sustainability. All asked questions and offered comments on how to make the lecture series a success at WCC. Everyone took a number of SPP flyers and handouts with them with the promise of distributing them throughout the living units and recruiting their peers to join future lectures.

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WCC inmates and staff look on and smile while learning about SPP at Washington Corrections Center.

This lecture was different than most in that a large number of staff joined the fun: roughly 15 staff members attended, including prison administrators, healthcare workers, correctional officers, and others. They told us that, in the past, it would have been unthinkable for staff and inmates to come together for a lecture. Now, they are hoping to make it a regular thing.

After the conclusion of the first lecture, we headed over to the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) for lecture number two.

Emily-in-IMU

SPP’s Green Track Program Coordinator Emily Passarelli during SPP’s first lecture in the WCC IMU.

Lecture Number Two: IMU

This was SPP’s second lecture in an Intensive Management Unit (IMU; the first occurred in summer 2015 at Monroe Correctional Complex). The IMU is like a prison inside a prison. There is a separate entrance to the unit and inmates inside are in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Due to the high security risk posed by these inmates, staff must bring them into the classroom one at a time, and chain each student to their desk. The desks are so bulky, and the process so time-consuming, that the lecture class is limited to 6 student-inmates.

Seeing people limited this way can be shocking. There is a dark side to our society, and it is in places like the IMU where it is most evident.

However, the vast majority of these men will someday be released to outside communities, and need access to programs that can assist with rehabilitation. Due to the restrictive nature of the IMU, these inmates have very little contact with other people, and social skills can become further and further depleted. Educational programming like the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series may offer a safe and engaging group experience, and allow them to set their sights on a more positive future.

IMU-student

A student in the IMU listens attentively to the presentation.

Despite the challenging setting, the lecture was fantastic. None of the inmates in attendance had ever heard of SPP before, and they were visibly interested in learning more. While the group started off quiet and reserved, all were attentive. By the end, a few had opened up to ask questions and contribute comments.

The students seemed to especially enjoy the pictures of WCC’s extensive gardens, and learning about what sustainable practices were happening at their prison. The more talkative of the bunch made it clear that they wanted more lectures in the future, and asked to be included on the list of attendees. We saw the IMU inmates’ desire to learn and grow. This group must not be forgotten.

Overall, December 9th was a special day. It marked a number of important firsts for WCC, and progress for the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series. The future looks bright for a lecture series to flourish in Shelton.

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Bringing nature inside the IMU, one step at a time.