Author Archives: Erica Benoit

Adapting During Challenging Times: a Check-In from SPP

By Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager and Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director

We at SPP are all deeply aware of how difficult this past year has been. It has been especially hard for the people living and working in prisons. We acknowledge the loss and suffering experienced by incarcerated people, their families, and corrections staff.  Our thoughts are with our fellow humans everywhere—may we all have better days ahead.

Like many organizations, SPP has also faced a slew of competing challenges. Over the past year we have shifted to working remotely, navigated major staffing changes resulting in a smaller team size, and supported multiple team members through health issues. We are continually processing the overall health and safety impacts of COVID-19 and loss of in-person interaction with students, partners, and our small team at Evergreen. Despite these challenges, we are hopeful for better horizons. We are reaching out to share how SPP is making the best use of these challenging times; we are simultaneously practicing patience and resilience every day.

Human health and safety are our top priority over program operation. As a result, the vast majority of SPP programs have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still supporting operation of a few programs, but only where interactions with SPP staff can be masked, socially distant, primarily outside, and with access to proper resources for hand washing and cleaning high touch surfaces. Programs which have continued under these circumstances and in accordance with approved COVID plans include the prairie conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), and a few peer-led education programs at various facilities.

Keegan Curry from SPP safely helps out with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW. Photo by Marisa Pushee. 

Despite major program suspensions, SPP staff have still been hard at work on projects in three main focus areas: remote education, proposal development, and policy/guidance work. We hope that the behind-the-scenes work done in these areas will have lasting benefits when programs are able to safely restart. Brief details on some specific projects (most still in progress) are provided below.

Remote Education

Beekeeping

  • Curation and delivery of monthly educational packets to all facilities
  • Development of higher-level beekeeping certification (in progress)

Peer-led Gardening Curriculum

Ecology Curriculum

Prairie Conservation Nursery

  • Standardizing education materials and adapting for remote access (i.e. remote presentations, limited contact education, and/or peer-led components)

Peer-led Composting Curriculum

  • Identifying funding and planning for development of curriculum for statewide use

Solar Energy Education

  • New partnership with Olympia Community Solar that allows donors to sponsor solar energy education packets to be sent to prison facilities

Proposal Development

Funding

  • Provided budget for potential new education and training program in partnership with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to complete the next phases of gardening and composting course and to pilot in another state
  • Developed and submitted a funding proposal to expand Evergreen education in prisons

Planning and Organization Improvements

  • Improving processes and guidance related to development of education materials
  • Developed new SPP program planning templates to improve operations and clarity among partners
  • Identifying more reliable mechanisms for delivering remote education
  • Developed general partnership resource document for guiding all types of successful prison programs among multiple partners (in progress)

Policy/Guidance Work

  • Tracking and testifying in support of HB1044 Pathways to Post-Secondary Education in Prisons
  • Working with Washington Department of Corrections and education organizations to develop policy and guidelines for successful peer-led programs in prison (in progress)
  • Working with The Evergreen State College to draft new policy to that will support granting college credit to currently incarcerated program participants successfully completing SPP certificated internship programs
  • Research to address barriers limiting access to fresh produce in prison and considering development of food handling education to improve ability for prison kitchens to utilize fresh produce from facility gardens (longer-term project)

Lastly, we are actively drafting our latest Annual Report, which is expected to be published sometime in spring. Be on the lookout for this report for full updates regarding SPP programs and initiatives from July 2019 through December 2020.

A New Innovative Partnership

Text by Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director, The Evergreen State College

Presentation team with WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar (from left to right, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Brian Bedilion, Roger Millar, and Kelli Bush)

Alvina Mao presenting at WSDOT Partnerships and Innovations conference

Over the past year, SPP Evergreen staff have been working with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) partners to develop new opportunities for education and employment pathways. The new partnership has tremendous support from WA Corrections Secretary, Stephen Sinclair, WSDOT Secretary, Roger Millar, and many staff at each agency. Building on successful prison program tours and executive leadership and committee meetings, WSDOT staff invited SPP-Evergreen staff and former SPP program participants to present at two recent conferences.

Each conference presentation included a panel with Carolina Landa and Brian Bedilion sharing their stories from pre-incarceration to post-release, Kelli Bush providing a brief overview of SPP, Alvina Mao and Eric Wolin discussing partnership alignment with WSDOT equity and inclusion goals, and Tony Bush describing education and employment pathway ideas in the environmental field.

The audience for the first conference was WSDOT environmental staff. Session participants enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to Carolina and Brian for sharing their experiences.

Carolina Landa presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

Following a successful session at the environmental conference, the panel received an invitation to present at the WSDOT Innovations and Partnership conference. The 4th Annual Innovations and Partnerships in Transportation conference included a welcome from Governor Inslee and an impressive variety of partner organizations. Our session titled “Forging a new partnership and building safe, strong communities through successful reentry” included productive discussion with attendees.

 

 

 

Brian Bedilion presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

The developing partnership among WSDOT, WA Corrections, SPP and others will provide exciting new education, training, and employment opportunities to incarcerated people in a variety of disciplines. Washington State Governor Inslee is a strong supporter of providing formerly incarcerated people employment as a way to build safer and stronger communities. The Governor signed executive order 16-05 directing state agencies to “implement further hiring policies intended to encourage full workforce participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories.” We are grateful to WSDOT and WA Corrections for providing such excellent support and enthusiasm for this growing partnership.

Conference presentation team (from left to right): Kelli Bush, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Alvina Mao, Brian Bedilion, and Molly Sullivan