Sustainability Seminars begin at Washington State Penitentiary

by Robert Branscum, Correctional Specialist 3, Washington State Penitentiary

Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), giving a presentation on native and invasive plants.

Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), giving a presentation on native and invasive plants.


Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has had its first Sustainability Seminar. It was a fantastic success. Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), gave a presentation on native and invasive plants. She also brought both native and invasive specimens for hands-on learning. Gretchen did a great job. Special thanks to Brent Caulk and the West Complex education staff for the use of the classroom and projector.

Participants were very involved in the class: very attentive, asking many pertinent questions, and showing much interest in the subject matter. The offenders strongly expressed their appreciation at the end of the seminar and were still asking questions on the way out the door.

The seminar series is the product of cooperation between WSP, WSU, and the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Our plan is have a seminar every month, and upcoming topics will include barn owls, wolverines, waste water processing, and much more.

I am really excited about this program. The seminar series acts as an incentive, as offenders must exhibit good behavior for a sufficient period of time to attend. It also gives them something to focus their energy on, and I feel that it just takes ‘planting the seed’ of thought to grow some brilliant ideas. Most of all, it was purely awesome watching the offenders through the lecture. They were very engaged, asked relative and pertinent questions, and shared personal insights related to the subject matter. Four days later, I have received multiple shows of appreciation and requests for more, more, more. In response to the question of how to improve the seminar, one offender said “I couldn’t. More time. Have more or longer times.”

Our biggest hang-up is the limitations of class size. The classrooms currently available are relatively small, allowing for no more that 25 attendees. With over 70 offenders interested in participating we need more space! I am working to see what I can do to make this happen in the future. I feel that once we provide several successful seminars, we will have better footing to find a larger classroom.


SPP National Workshop was a resounding success

Teams meet again to complete the launching of six new SPPs!

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, Interim Program Manager


Teams from the states of Oregon, Ohio, Maryland, California, and Washington as well as Multnomah, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles counties were hosted by the Utah team for a two and half day workshop. The workshop was the bookend to the conference held in Olympia back in September. Both meetings were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)–SPP Co-Director, Carri LeRoy and Senior Advisor, Nalini Nadkarni secured the funding to help new teams initiate programming based on the SPP model, and create an SPP Network. The same teams attended both meetings, and it was exciting and fun to be reunited.

Paul Sheldon, an expert in sustainable operations in prisons nation-wide, also attended both meetings, and at the second we gained Tommy Norris, Director of At the Utah workshop we were also blessed by the expertise of Sarah Galgano of the Vera Institute and Kathleen Gookin of Criminal Justice Planning Services, Inc. Conference evaluator Chuck Lennox of Cascade Interpretive Consulting LLC and facilitator Eric Mitchell of Fifth Ocean Consulting provided guidance on Network visioning, structure, and strategy. These experts’ diverse perspectives enriched the conversations and the outcomes of the workshop.

The agenda was action-packed, and communications ranged from tackling difficult questions to wide-ranging dreams for the future. Every team presented highlights of their progress and plans, and we were dazzled at how far they had come in six months. The group discussed tools created by our SPP-WA team that will support the Network and gave feedback and ideas for how the Network may best meet their future needs. I feel gratified at the efforts of our hosts and every team who attended. There was a great showing of optimism, creativity, and good humor. May we all meet again soon!

All photos are from the gala at the lovely Orangerie, an event that also included invites from local conservation, education, and restoration organizations. SPP Co-Director Dan Pacholke and Graduate Research Assistant Andrea Martin performed their TEDx talk and it was even better than the original. In addition, it was exciting to hear former inmate Craig Ulrich speak about his life-changing experiences with SPP-WA and current PhD research, and Tami Goetz (UT Legislative Science Advisor) discuss the need for expanded STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) education. Hats off to SPP-UT for a terrific workshop!



High diapause survival and a successful release for the butterfly program at MCCCW

by Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey

Over 3500 caterpillars were at Mission Creek, waiting to be released

Over 3500 caterpillars were at Mission Creek, waiting to be released


Diapause Survival

Congratulations and thanks are in order for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly technicians and staff at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), and everyone else who supports the program at Evergreen, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Oregon Zoo. To recap, last season we produced 3624 eggs, which was 180% of our target, then the caterpillars that hatched from those eggs reached summer diapause with 96.6% survivorship. For eight months they have been sleeping in small insect cups beneath overturned terra cotta pots, but now they are awake again and the numbers are in: 98.9% diapause survival.

Fifteen Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars waiting to be released

Fifteen Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars waiting to be released

After spending the summer being pampered by the inmate technicians at Mission Creek, the bulk of our caterpillars were transported to the established diapause facility at the Oregon Zoo. Five hundred were left behind as a trial group since it was our first season and we wanted to test the over-winter conditions at the greenhouse before risking a whole cohort. Of those five hundred, 100% survived! As always, our success is a credit to the meticulous, dedicated, and compassionate care provided by the inmate technicians. Every step of the way they have gone the extra mile, checking every detail twice as often as required, keeping records that no one ever asked them to take, and proving with every stage’s success that the faith placed in their abilities by our partners was well warranted.

Two teams releasing caterpillars at Glacial Heritage Preserve, near Littlerock, Wa

Two teams releasing caterpillars at Glacial Heritage Preserve, near Littlerock, Wa

Post-diapause release

About 3400 of our federally threatened caterpillars are now munching leaves on the prairies at Glacial Heritage Preserve and Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, raising the total number of animals released the butterfly program at MCCCW from 701 to over 4000! Our biggest release of the year is just a week after diapause wake-up, so we had a wild week at MCCCW trying to feed breakfast to so many animals. Our supply of food plants was dwindling rapidly, but relief was in sight: sunny weather was forecast for Monday, March 4. We filled up seven coolers with caterpillar cups and sent them out to the prairie. Once there, a team of about ten biologists, students, and volunteers spent the day crawling backwards from host plant to host plant depositing 2-5 caterpillars on each one. It’s a painstaking process, but it’s important to make sure that the animals have enough host plant material to give them a good chance of making it to pupation, sometime in April.

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey helping caterpillars find new homes

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey helping caterpillars find new homes

Just 185 caterpillars remain in the captive colony at MCCCW. These are considered our “backup breeders”. We will raise them to adulthood so that we can rely on them for eggs if anomalous weather or some other unforeseen event causes wild populations to crash. Every year we aim to produce a new generation from wild-caught females, but the colony of backup breeders is arranged to maintain maximum possible genetic diversity for as long as possible just in case. The butterfly technicians at MCCCW are out there every day taking care of those 185 special recruits, giving them fresh leaves and raising them up like athletes in case they have to pitch in to help save their species.

 Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars enjoying some tasty leaves after being released

Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars enjoying some tasty leaves after being released

Gardening with Sophie Hart at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

by Sophie Hart, SPP volunteer

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

About a month ago, I began volunteering in the gardening programs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) through the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). My experiences at CCCC have been very positive. I find myself really looking forward to my time spent there each week. It has been great working with the staff, from superintendant Douglas Cole, programs manager Charlie Washburn and volunteer coordinator Kim Govreau, to the officers I encounter each week. All have been welcoming of my efforts and presence, and I am especially thankful for their support and dedication to the gardening programs. I think they have truly tough jobs, and I am impressed by the positive attitudes and spirit they bring to their work. I see them show respect to inmates, and get respect in return.

I am grateful, too, to be working with a group of hard-working inmates. They seem to enjoy their work, and have responded kindly and welcomingly to my input. When I first began volunteering, I was worried about establishing my role with them. Recently, though, we have been so busy measuring garden plots, discussing what seeds to order and preparing the beds for Spring planting that I haven’t had much time to dwell on the fact that I’m in a prison working with inmates. They don’t do much to remind me of that either.

Of course, I am reminded whenever an inmate opens up about what led them to CCCC. And every time I hear myself called “Ms. Hart.” And when I am buzzed-through the control office to get to the gardens outside the fence. But when the inmates discuss their experiences working on the gardens, they remind me of any other gardener. Some talk about their time in the greenhouses as a reprieve from their daily lives, and the gardens as their own space to take care of. This month, everyone is itching to get growing.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

In the brief time I have spent at CCCC, I can tell that SPP doesn’t only impact the inmates by providing interesting and engaging jobs, but the programs also affect the way the facility is perceived, by staff and prisoners alike. On my first visit to the prison, Mr. Cole led our group on a tour of the prison grounds, stopping at their many different gardening plots. We discussed the history of each plot: what was planted there before, how the soil behaved, how it was watered. When I asked about pests, I was told about their deer problem: the gardening spaces that are situated outside of the fence are frequently munched on by deer coming out of the (seriously beautiful) surrounding state park. Mr. Cole then laughed and jested that the fence wasn’t actually there to keep the men inside, but really to keep the deer out. An inmate challenged that it still wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping out the raccoons who love to rummage in the open compost heaps. Suddenly, the tall, chain-linked, razor-wire fence lost some of its edge. I remember this story and smile when I see it, imagining stealthy raccoons successfully navigating corrections’ security system to sneak in to the prison to steal from the gardens.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

My First Two Months Working at SPP

By Graduate Research Assistant Drissia Ras

Working for the SPP is a great experience at all levels. It all started a couple of months ago. I am in fact no expert when it comes to prairie plant identification nor working with inmates, but I work under the direction of very experienced people and I’m learning to polish my experience in environmental restoration.

Inmate filling trays with soil for sowing Indian Paintbrush.

I spend my time between three nurseries: Shotwell’s Landing, WCCW (Washington Corrections Center for Woman) and SCCC (Stafford Creek Corrections Center). My focus is on the SCCC nursery where I go once a week to help a crew of inmates with sowing and making sure they have enough soil, seeds, space for trays and any other materials that they might need.

I can say with confidence that working with inmates is not what it sounds like at all. Inmates are just people like you and me, people that have been down on their luck for one reason or another, people that are paying their dues to society and trying to make the best out of their situation. The majority of the inmates we work with are there because they want to get involved in something meaningful, or because they have a previous experience in nursery work, or are just trying to make some money and escape the routine of prison. But whatever brought them to us, I try to make it a good experience for them, get them involved in our work and help them understand the big picture of what we do and why we do it. It is easy to lose focus and interest in what they are doing when they spend a long time just sowing and not thinking about how helpful and meaningful their job is. Lectures about science, ecology, and restoration techniques are a good way to keep them excited and engaged. The last lecture they had was about science and religion, and believe me, it was amazing hearing what they already knew of the subject and the discussion that followed. We had the same lecture as part of my Master’s program, yet the discussion they had was far more captivating than the one in my class. Most of the offenders truly appreciate when we describe the ecological context of what they are doing because it helps them understand the impact of their labor and see how it fits into the bigger picture of conservation.

Many of these offenders are already highly knowledgeable about horticulture, pesticide application, landscape management and many diverse disciplines. Most of them are able to offer valuable input on nursery methods and are often pleased to contribute ideas, take initiative, keep record of the sowing schedule and make the nursery run smoothly. A crew of inmates can sow up to 140 trays a day which is very impressive, efficient and usually quality oriented.

I honestly look forward to spending time with inmates because I am able to learn so much and I appreciate what everyone has to say.

Staging area at SCCC from Thursday morning, Feb. 7, 2013.

Rainbow over Staging Area at SCCC

Working With Offenders at Shotwell’s Landing Nursery

Working With Offenders at Shotwell’s Landing Nursery

By Graduate Research Assistant Jaal Mann

When most people imagine offenders in a prison work crew, they probably see surly, unmotivated folks who don’t want to be there and may even be frightening. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Prison work crews make a large part of our conservation nursery work possible. They assist with  everything, from cleaning and sanitizing used cells to sowing seeds and weeding germinating plants. Most offenders participating at Shotwell’s Landing nursery are highly motivated and want to learn. They are excited when they hear how their work is going to help conserve endangered prairie species, and it really seems to make them feel more connected to the world outside of prison. “I’d come out here every day if I could,” said one inmate as he prepared the lower hoop house for new seedlings that they would sow a few weeks later.

Many of these offenders are already highly knowledgeable about biology and horticulture. They are able to offer valuable input on nursery methods and are often pleased to contribute ideas to make the nursery run more smoothly. They take pride in their work, and most of the offenders truly appreciate when we describe its ecological context; they want to understand the impacts of their labor and see how it fits in to the bigger picture of conservation. In general, they are much more open-minded than many non-incarcerated people.

After a couple of hours working with offenders, people realize that while certain rules must be observed, working with prisoners isn’t such a frightening experience.  The inmates are excited to work hard to help make a difference.


All photos by Jaal Mann.

Conservation Nursery Crew Begins Work at WCCW

Conservation Nursery Crew Begins Work at WCCW

By Graduate Research Assistant Brianna Morningred

With the completion of two hoop houses, work with the inmate crew at Washington State Correction Center for Women (WCCW) has begun. We have three inmates working with us and it is so wonderful that they all are genuinely excited to be a part of the project. The very first day Carl Elliott and I introduced ourselves and began teaching the women about the work they will be doing. One of them had horticulture experience, but regardless, conservation nursery work is a lot different than your average gardening.  All three women picked up the technique quickly and were excited to get started.

WCCW conservation nursery technicians and their supervisor work in a new hoop house. Photo by B. Morningred.


We began sowing work with CAHI, also known as Castilleja hispida or Indian Paintbrush. This rare native plant species is crucial for the preservation of Puget Sound Prairies.  As it is difficult to germinate successfully, we at SPP put a lot of care into sowing CAHI.  In order to help the inmate technicians really understand what they are a part of, I brought them visual aids to show them where their plants would go and why what they are doing matters so much. They seemed to really appreciate knowing that their work is a part of something bigger—which is one of most important points I wanted to get across.

As of January 9, 2013, our great crew at WCCW has sown approximately 300 trays—30,000 cells—of CAHI and they are still going strong.  The increasingly colder weather is making work a little more difficult but we are fortunate to have such a dedicated crew—being productive no matter what the fickle Washington weather may bring. In the next couple of weeks we’ll begin sowing WYAN or Wyethia angustifolia, the Narrowleaf Wyethia. WYAN is an essential daisy-like perennial that supports the endangered Fender’s Blue Butterfly species that are native to Washington and Oregon prairies.

An inmate technician at WCCW sows seed using a dial seed sower. Photo by B. Morningred.


In addition to learning a lot about sowing techniques, we have also organized a Lending Library so each inmate can check out one book each week for additional learning.  The women have really enjoyed this opportunity as their prison library is currently closed for renovation.  They have taken particular advantage of the copies of our Conservation Nursery Manual, which we have supplied for them to learn in more detail about the processes they are completing each day.

It has been a wonderful start at WCCW. We are looking forward to spring, warmer weather, and hopefully high germination rates!

Conservation nursery technicians arrange trays in a hoop house at WCCW. Photo by B. Morningred.


Butterfly Techs at Mission Creek Helping with the Evergreen Environmental Observation Network

Butterfly Techs at Mission Creek Helping with the Evergreen Environmental Observation Network

By Dennis Aubrey, SPP Graduate Research Assistant & Taylor’s checkerspot program coordinator

While the Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women are sleeping under terra cotta pots for the winter, the inmate butterfly techs on the project have not been idle. They’ve helped to write season ending reports, compile data, produce rearing protocols, and last week they started helping with an ongoing ecological study through The Evergreen State College and the Evergreen Environmental Observation Network (EEON).

Evergreen sits on 1,000 acres of second growth lowland temperate rainforest, and EEON is a series of 44 fixed long-term study plots within this forest. Students and faculty conduct a wide range of research projects using the network, and the latest involves bigleaf maple leaves and the tar spot fungus (Rhytisma punctatum).

Tar spot fungus is not well studied in Pacific Northwest forests, but it has a fascinating life history. It infects the new maples leaves each year, and creates a small dark spot where it is somehow able to hijack the photosynthetic machinery of the leaf. As the trees try to reabsorb precious chlorophyll with the onset of autumn (the reason leaves change color) to store over the winter, the tar spots are able to hold on to a last bit of green. Dr. Carri LeRoy, co-director of the SPP, is interested in understanding how the higher nutrients remaining in the infected areas interact with the fungal tissue to influence rates of leaf litter decomposition.

Research at The Evergreen State College is examining this question (LeRoy et al. 2011, Freshwater Biology), and in the meantime there is also much to learn about the fungus’ population structure and spatial distribution. The inmates at Mission Creek are examining leaf litter from the EEON plots to try to gain a better understanding of how it varies across the forest landscape. They are sorting the leaves, removing tar spots and weighing both the tar spots and the remaining leaf material. This will provide a measurement of relative biomass in 44 locations. Meanwhile, Evergreen students are working on quantifying forest stand structure in the plots so that tar spot density can be compared to the percentage of maple trees in each location.

This collaborative work provides real involvement in science to the inmates and also much-needed lab support to EEON. As usual, the butterfly technicians at Mission Creek have been meticulous and dedicated research partners.

Inmate butterfly technicians examine maple leaves and tar spot fungus through a dissection microscope. Photo by D. Aubrey.

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs

Please note>> the best way to contact this program is to call the prison’s main number and ask for Floral Design: (253) 858-4200 – Main

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs
By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

WCCW and Tacoma Community College (TCC) joined together to implement an Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program for offenders.  GEDs or high school diplomas are now no longer a prerequisite to enroll in the Horticulture vocational training program (administered by TCC) at WCCW.

Students now have the opportunity to earn college level credits while earning their GED at the same time.  Throughout the I-BEST program, students learn skills through real-world scenarios.  The I-BEST/Horticulture curriculum provides opportunities for women to learn job skills and gain important experience in the horticulture field.  In 2012, offenders harvested more than 11,000 pounds of vegetables at WCCW and more than 147,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables at Mother Earth Farm.

WCCW’s floral department students have the opportunity to use the knowledge they have gained by designing floral arrangements for the community.  They design flowers for weddings, funerals, special occasions, proms, banquets, conventions and other holidays. This year alone they have designed flowers for 37 different weddings!

Most of us know that the Puyallup Fair is one of the biggest fairs in the world, but did you know that for the past six years WCCW’s floral designers have entered the Puyallup Fair under the professional design division?   They have consistently placed first, second, third and best of show!  Prizes are awarded based on arrangement, quality, condition, variety and finish.

WCCW staff is very proud of the accomplishments their programs provide the offenders.  Having programs like these in prisons improves morale and staff and offender safety.


A WCCW offender-designed floral arrangement awaits judging the Puyallup Fair.



Bountiful gardens at Washington Corrections Center for Women

By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

Program director Ed Tharp in the garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women.Gig Harbor, Wash.—Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the horticulture program at Washington Corrections Center for Women provides an opportunity for offenders to enroll as Tacoma Community College students in order to learn job skills and gain important experience in nursery operations and floral design. So far this year, the gardens have produced 9,365 pounds of vegetables that were harvested and then prepared and served in the offender kitchen—and it’s still growing.

“This is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had,” said program director Ed Tharp. “One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the ladies succeed when they get out.”

The facility’s horticulture department employs 10 students as teacher assistants who are responsible for the planting and harvesting of the gardens. Currently 51 students are enrolled in horticulture and 14 are enrolled in organic farming. Horticulture students learn about sustainable gardening, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, commercial greenhouses, floral design, floral shop operation and integrated pest management, just to name a few.  Organic farming students have the opportunity to work on an outside crew at Mother Earth Farm, an organic farm in Puyallup.

Canyon Little, Mother Earth Farm manager, said her farm has been able to produce about 148,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables on nearly eight acres of land in the Puyallup Valley. She told Tharp she was “impressed with how hard each of the offenders worked on every visit, and how they were eager to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through their education.”

The garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women“Because each offender demonstrated a high capacity of responsibility for day-to-day farm activities, I decided to assign special projects for each lady,” Little said. “The project idea was a way for the offenders to take ownership of the farm, learn something new and educate each other on their respective projects. Being a part of the learning process was an enriching experience as a manager, and I look forward to working with Washington Corrections Center for Women to explore new boundaries, build knowledge and experiences and work together to fight hunger.”

Mother Earth Farm works with the Emergency Food Network by supplying fresh produce to 74 local food banks, hot-meal sites and shelters in Pierce County. Other produce was sent to the Cannery Project in Kent, which converted the donations into more than 1000,000 cans of fruits and vegetables.

Washington Corrections Center for Women is excited to see what next year will hold. Next year’s garden is already planned and the seeds are ordered.