Beekeeping is Freedom

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager and Ellen Miller, President of the West Plains Beekeepers Association and Vice President of Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA).

This story also appears in WASBA’s April Newsletter.

Airways Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) beekeepers pose after passing their Journeyman level exams. Photo courtesy of AHCC.

In late February, beekeepers and associates gathered at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) for a celebration. It’s been an incredible year for AHCC beekeepers, with forming their own club and starting a queen rearing program – there was a lot to celebrate!

AHCC’s beekeeping program originated only a few years ago, when a local expert from Millers Homestead, Master Beekeeper Jim Miller made an unusually generous offer. For a fee of $0, Jim offered beginner beekeeping education for groups of prison staff, and to incarcerated students who had completed prerequisite programs Roots of Success and Redemption.

Jim Miller also donated program materials, including live honey bees. When delivering the hives to the prison, his show of generosity went ever further. An incarcerated beekeeper present for the bee’s arrival told us that Jim said: “They’re your hives. Do what you have to do with them. I’m just here for moral support.” They were understandably nervous about accepting responsibility of thousands of honeybees, but Jim’s faith in the new beekeepers meant they could learn by doing and build a program they could sustain.

Following the celebration’s speeches, beekeepers and visitors informally talked about ideas for the future of the program. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

Fast forward to 2018, and the results of Jim’s show of trust are clear. With the support of AHCC staff and members of the West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers formed their own beekeeping club—likely the only prison-hosted club in the nation. To date, 14 men have successfully completed the Journeyman test and are working on completing the requirements for the field test and service points that are part of the Washington State Beekeepers Association requirements for achieving Journeyman level certification.

The best part of the ceremony was hearing the testimonials from several AHCC bee club members. We heard about what they’ve learned and how the program has changed them for good. Despite growing up allergic to stings, Chuck Roark now finds that “everything I do in beekeeping translates” to other parts of his life. He told the assembled, “The thing is, I’m a beekeeper. I’ll be a beekeeper in the real world. I’ll be a beekeeper for the rest of my life.” He was also the one to tell us that “Beekeeping is freedom.” Given the positivity and creativity of all assembled for the celebration, those surprising words rang true.

AHCC’s Bee Club President described the profound, even spiritual experience of becoming a beekeeper. He said of the honey bees, “They not only change us, they transform us into the men and beekeepers we are meant to be.”

Thank you to all of the beekeepers who have given so much of themselves to this program. And thank you for inviting us to share in the pride of all that has been accomplished. 

Kevin Oldenburg, President of the Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA), encourages members of the AHCC Bee Club to write and submit articles for the WASBA Newsletter. Photo by Kay Heinrich.

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