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

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