Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 1

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In late November, I had the pleasure of touring the Sustainable Practices Lab, or SPL, in Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The SPL started up only two years ago—a large empty space save for 15 sewing machines. Today it is a hive of activity and productivity. The lab houses numerous sustainability programs fixing and repurposing all kinds of donated and reclaimed materials. The SPL employs 139 inmates and has donated to more than 88 community organizations in the area. Astounding!

I will share a photo gallery of the first half of my tour in this blog, and the second half in a week or so; there is too much to cover in one posting.


The exterior of the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) provides little hint of the bustle and color it contains.


This is the SPL Learning Center. All the prison’s televisions are repaired here (saving about 12 TVs a month from the landfill), and the resident TV shows TED talks. Mr. Thang is the self-taught electronics technician; Rob Branscum, the corrections specialist who oversees the SPL, says Mr. Thang can fix anything!

The front office of the SPL

An inmate started an aquaponics program in spring, 2014. Now they are in the “proof of concept” stage, aiming to raise 700 heads of romaine lettuce each week. Waste water from the fish tank filters through a bed of tomatoes and pumpkins where ammonia turns into usable nitrogen…

These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.

…then the nutrient rich solution passes through the roots of hundreds of lettuce plants. These romaine are only a few weeks old; by 6-8 weeks they will be ready for the prison kitchen.


This is the bike and furniture repair area of the SPL. Technicians repair and customize chairs for hundreds of corrections staff, saving thousands of tax payer dollars every year–technicians throughout the SPL told me with pride that they are motivated to save tax payers as much money as possible.


A collection of wheels will be put to use to refurbish reclaimed bicycles; once the bikes are fixed up they will go to children and adults in the outside community.


An inmate technician who goes by the name Turtle renovates signs for state agencies. He said, “We are much like this wood. We have our issues…the SPL is going to take the time to bring the good out, invest the time. Return us back to society in better shape than we came in.”


Another quote from Turtle: “The Sustainable Practices Lab is an avenue; it gives us the psychological tools to choose to do the positive.”


The SPL vermicomposting program hosts 9 million worms. They compost one-fifth of the prison’s food waste: 2,500 lbs every week is transformed from garbage to the highest quality soil amendment.


An inmate technician in the vermicomposting program hand sifts worm castings.

Thank you to Rob Branscum for starting the SPL, and for hosting the tour. I suspect that the lab’s success can be credited to Mr. Branscum’s belief in inmates’ abilities and creativity (and, of course, that he has the support of many others in WA corrections). Incarcerated men have been given a workplace in which they can thrive!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.



  1. Sustainable Practices Lab at WA State Penitentiary – Part 2 | Sustainability in Prisons Project

    […] This blog is the second photo gallery from my visit to the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla (see part one here). […]

    Reply to this comment ↓
  2. B Pascua

    We would be very interested in working with your reclaimed wood department in the making of a sign for our rescue. We are located in Yakima, WA and opened our doors in June of this year. In that time, we have rescued 40 stray or abandoned dogs (we do not take in owner surrendered dogs) gotten them the medical and social help they needed and have found homes for 32. I more wait in foster for their turn and the door just keeps revolving.

    We are a registered 501(3)(3) non profit and we have several projects we would love to collaborate with you on. I look forward to hearing back from you and hope we can help each other out. I can be reached at 509-469-2754 or through our website a

    Reply to this comment ↓
  3. John Knight

    My name is John Knight. DOC#865698. I worked at SPL for about 2 years. In fact I was in the very first group of people hired in SPL in august of 2012. I had never done any sewing before. Nothing was ready for us when we were hired. They said there’s some sewing machines, there’s some scrap material and here is some magazines on quilt making.
    I made a few quilts and quickly realized that quilts suck. So I started making custom seat covers for office chairs. That’s how the upholstery section in SPL was started.
    I now work in a high end upholstery shop. Doing interiors in high end aircraft, cars, and boats. I never would have had the knowledge or experience to get into the trade had I not worked SPL.
    After 10 years in prison I was able to walk out of prison with my head held high. Right into a shop and say. Hey I can sew.

    Reply to this comment ↓
  4. trivettj

    Hi John, bless you for reaching out and sharing your story! I would love to share it as an example success story, and can do that as an anonymous quote unless you *want* your name included.
    I think so highly of the SPL. Total bonus to hear how well the experience served your life post release.
    Please be in touch further with any further feedback and thoughts. We are always looking to improve things, expand the effort, etc, and current and former program participants give exceptionally valuable insights.

    Reply to this comment ↓
  5. Focusing on supportive reentry services – Sen. Claire Wilson

    […] to resources on the outside. Men who have longer stays at the prison showed us their work in the Sustainable Practices Lab — a facility where inmates can learn to sew, weld, woodwork, paint and gain job skills for when […]

    Reply to this comment ↓
  6. Michael Bounds

    I was in SPL from 2018 to 2019! It was the best knowledge gaining experience in my 5 year incarceration! My hats off to DOC for allowing this to happen and Branscum for helping get it going and keeping it real!!!

    Reply to this comment ↓

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.