Author Archives: Brittany Gallagher

SPP visits the United Nations

By Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

In July, I had the honor of spending two weeks at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, for the UN’s annual Graduate Study Programme (GSP).  I was excited to represent SPP and Evergreen in an international group of graduate students and to learn all I could about international civil service.

Brittany Gallagher, center, at the UN Graduate Study Programme.

This year’s GSP theme was “Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.”  My classmates were students from every continent; representatives came from China, Rwanda, Germany, Mali, Morocco, Australia, Italy, Slovenia, France, Russia, Bolivia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the US, to name only a sample.  Many were studying international relations, law, human rights, or similar topics.  There were a few psychology and public health students, but I was one of only a few studying the environment.  However, thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of Evergreen’s Graduate Program on the Environment and my background in international development, I didn’t feel out of place in education or experience.

We each introduced ourselves to the large group and described our work, studies, and interests.  I was impressed by the level of engagement and the diversity of experience in the room.  After my brief presentation, I entertained a slew of questions about SPP.  These questions continued between classes at the UN office, over lunch, on the tram on the way home, and at the lake on the weekends.  In addition to talking frog conservation with my peers, the speaker from the United Nations Environment Programme was especially interested in what SPP does!  I was reminded of how innovative our project is – people were fascinated by the concept and the practice.  After two years with SPP, I have become accustomed to our mission and daily activities, but I forget that many folks have never heard of conservation programs involving prison inmates.

Representatives from UN agencies visited to present their organizations’ work on gender equality. I went through two notebooks taking copious notes. UNOG photo.
BG at UN Nations gate July 2013

During the two-week program, our class heard from representatives from a variety of UN agencies about their work on gender equality.  We also split up into five working groups and tackled case studies related to the theme.   Each working group was mentored by a UN staff member from the relevant agency; they advised our work and challenged us to create high-quality “work plans” addressing current real-world issues related to gender.  I chose to work in the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) group, and we were given the freedom to select a topic.  We designed a country program for addressing sexual and gender-based violence in camps for internally displaced people in Haiti.  Our report is nearly finished and will be presented to the ‘real’ UNFPA in September.

I am enormously grateful to SPP and Evergreen for supporting my attendance at the GSP, and to the UN for providing students like me with this extraordinary opportunity.  Check out the links in this post and the UN-GSP Facebook page if you want to learn more about it!

As in Olympia, newcomers to Geneva complained about the weather (but, as in Olympia, the weather in July was gorgeous). They also have a Mountain that, like ours, hides on cloudy days. The view from the UN office is great even on an overcast day.

As in Olympia, newcomers to Geneva complained about the weather (but, as in Olympia, the weather in July was gorgeous). They also have a Mountain that, like ours, hides on cloudy days. The view from the UN office is great even on an overcast day.

Planète Grenouille

By Education & Evaluations Coordinator Brittany Gallagher

01 - PG MNH Entry

Planète Grenouille (“Planet Frog”) is an exhibition running this summer at the National Natural History Museum in Paris. To create the exhibit, photographer Cyril Ruoso visited frogs living in extreme conditions around the world, including SPP’s Oregon spotted frogs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.  Now his work – and SPP’s frogs – are on display for all to see in Paris!

02 - tree-lined path with posters along fence

A tree-lined walkway leads up to the main museum building, with a fence separating the walkway from the extensive Jardin des Plants, an impressive teaching garden with plants from all over the Francophone world.  It is along this fence that Cyril’s photos are found, larger than life.

07 - metamorphose

Metamorphosis:  “As a tadpole becomes a frog, the prisoners, ostracized from society, transform themselves through a project called “Sustainability in Prisons”.  Little by little, they learn to become useful again, and accompanied by these frogs, reconstruct themselves.”

08 - SPP business card and photos along fence 03 - OSF photos along fence 04 - more OSF photos along fence 05 - people passing by OSF photos

Many people pass by these photos each day – admission to the Jardin des Plants is free to the public!

06 - the frog and the prisoner

“This is a slightly crazy project that grew from the head of a biologist: entrust the breeding of an endangered species to prisoners with the double objective of participating in the conservation of local biodiversity, but also helping to reduce violence in the prison environment.“The candidate for this uncommon rescue is a frog. Native to the northwest of the United States, this frog has seen its numbers fall by more than 70% with the disappearance of many swamps, the arrival of invasive plants and of a redoubtable exotic predator: the bullfrog.

“The eggs entrusted to Matt and Taylor have today become frogs and the time has come to release them to their natural environment in order to enhance wild populations. The long process creates a precious pride in the two prisoners, and has opened up new opportunities for the future. The double gamble has succeeded.”

WCCW’s Science & Sustainability Lecture Series: An Inmate’s Perspective

Editor’s note:  Today’s post was written by an inmate and SPP lecture series attendee at Washington Corrections Center for Women.  On May 7, Lynne Weber from West Sound Wildlife Shelter visited WCCW with Yukon, a red-tailed hawk, and Remington, a turkey vulture, to talk to the inmates about wildlife rehabilitation.

WCCW’s Science & Sustainability Lecture Series: An Inmate’s Perspective

By Jain Cannard,* WCCW

I have attended several Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) lectures here at WCCW and always come away having learned some amazing facts. The lecture today on raptors was an experience of a lifetime! Seeing those incredible birds up close allows us to better understand how our ecosystem works, and that each part of the chain is important and vital.

long shot audience lynne remington

Lynne Weber and Remington, a turkey vulture, visited WCCW on May 7 and presented to a record crowd of 73 inmates.


Your work here at WCCW helps to make these women better stewards of their community resources, better parents, and better citizens. That’s important work!

Each lecture is so different – I look forward to learning and researching the subject so I can imagine what the lecture will be like.  I am always surprised!

The surveys are also interesting. Who knew that opossums love slugs?! It’s good that SOMEONE loves them. The survey is a concrete way to ascertain how much we learn.

Thanks – please keep coming!

Wildlife rehabilitation specialist Lynne Weber and red-tailed hawk Yukon answered inmate questions about West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Photo by Rachel Stendahl.

Wildlife rehabilitation specialist Lynne Weber and red-tailed hawk Yukon answered inmate questions about West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

Inmates had the opportunity to examine some red-tailed hawk feathers during the presentation. Photo by Rachel Stendahl.

Inmates had the opportunity to examine red-tailed hawk feathers during the presentation.

Lynne, Yukon, and Remington were a huge hit at WCCW!  Photo by Rachel Stendahl.

Lynne, Yukon, and Remington were a huge hit at WCCW! Photos by R. Stendahl.

*name used with permission

“Root View”: My Experience as a new Roots of Success Instructor

Editor’s note: Today’s blog post was written by an instructor in the Roots of Success program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla. Roots of Success is an environmental literacy curriculum used nationwide that has just been implemented at four Washington DOC facilities, including WSP. Interested inmates are trained as instructors in the curriculum. With staff supervision, they teach classes of their peers about a variety of environmental topics. 

“Root View”: My Experience as a new Roots of Success Instructor
by Michael Oakes, Roots of Success Instructor

What the heck is “Environmental Literacy” anyway? That’s an expression used a lot in the descriptions of the Roots of Success program. My assumption, as I signed up to become an instructor, was that it was like being “computer literate,” and that turned out to be pretty much on mark. The rest of my assumptions about the program were pretty quickly demolished when I stepped into the day-long instructor course, taught by Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes. I assumed this was likely to be a feel-good icing of basic information dumbed-down to be accessible. In reality, it turned out to be a re-packaged post-graduate curriculum. I assumed we would have a harried mid-level instructor basically providing an official stamp on a diploma-mill, and instead I found a professional, exacting teaching methodology taught to us by Dr. Pinderhughes herself.

Though I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, a question remained: Would inmate students connect with the material? Would this represent nothing more than yet another time sink for people trying to burn time any way they could?

My first indication that I was not alone in seeing the value of Roots of Success was in speaking with my fellow instructors, who came from a variety of backgrounds and had a broad range of views about world politics. Every one of them found some area of the curriculum where they connected and developed genuine passion. That provided some reassurance.

The next milepost came with my preliminary introduction to our students. As we spoke about the curriculum and how it would mesh with the greater sustainability program here at WSP SPL (Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practices Lab), I heard one guy say, “I never thought I would get jazzed about what earthworms can do.”


The author instructs fellow inmates on the first day of Roots of Success classes at Washington State Penitentiary.  Photo by R. Branscum.

The author instructs fellow inmates on the first day of Roots of Success classes at Washington State Penitentiary. Photo by R. Branscum.

In speaking with them about seeking “green” jobs when their sentences are served, more than half of the students were immediately enthusiastic about the idea of work where they might be earning the same wages they are used to, but wherein they go to work every day knowing that they are working toward a cleaner, greener, more sustainable world.

Most of the students come from backgrounds flavored with despair and hopelessness, and the challenges to the environment can sometimes feel pretty desperate indeed. ​Roots of Success​ brings that key second component that has been missing in the worldview for most of us. It lights a path toward hope. It paints a picture of a conflict that, for once, is not only winnable, but a conflict that will have no losers at all. In that sense, the first “Root” of success is seeing the difference that even a pretty simple guy can make in a world where earthworms and honeybees are our fellow troops.

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.



Inmate perspective on a prison garden project

Editor’s note: The following is a short but illustrative contribution from an inmate gardener at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

I was offered the job of turning a disregarded field of weeds, rocks, and clay into a garden.  I had no prior knowledge of horticulture, but I accepted.  Between starting and now it has become more than a job.  It is almost an avocation.  I realized that sustainability is integral to a healthy society, so I began researching and applying this knowledge to my soon-to-be oasis.  I am grateful to the universe for the opportunity.

Inmate gardeners tend to Cedar Creek’s garden. Photo by Shauna Bittle.


Food from the garden at Cedar Creek Corrections Center is used to supplement the diets of the facility’s 480 inmates. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Perspectives from an Inmate Service Dog Trainer at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Perspectives from an Inmate Service Dog Trainer at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

by Thurman Sherrill, Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Today’s post was written in early October 2012 by an inmate at CCCC who has been involved with the dog-training program there.  All SPP prisons in Washington have similar programs.  Benefits of these programs include the therapeutic value and increased responsibility that comes with working with animals and a connection to the community at large through service.

Hello readers. My name is Thurman Sherrill. I am a primary dog handler for the Brigadoon Service Dog Program here at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Along with the secondary dog handlers we are all responsible for the training, nurturing, and well-being of each service dog. Our training consists of basic commands such as “sit”, “down”,  “stay,” “go in,” “kennel,” “loose leash walking,” and “come” just to name a few.

Recently, I trained my dog Donner to read basic commands of “sit” “down” and “stand” without verbal communication. Before Donner, my secondary trainer Don Glaude and I had a dog named Duke. He was a wiry little fella, but easy to train with the proper treats.

The behavior I was most impressed with in Duke is that we taught him to turn on a light switch, a trick he aced 9 out of 10 times.

From a personal standpoint, this program is not only a chance for me to give back to my community, but it has also given me a sense of pride and self-accomplishment. When I arrived here at Cedar Creek 7 months ago, being a primary dog handler was the furthest thing from my mind, until CO (Correctional Officer) Alberton asked me if I wanted to be in the dog program. There was not a long list of applicants putting in for this position, so at that very moment, I knew this was the task I wanted to take on because I welcome challenges. Since I entered this program along with my secondary, Mr. Glaude, we have helped graduate two service dogs, Boadie and Duke.

All of the primary dog handlers, along with the secondary trainers, work together as a unit and share all responsibilities equally when it comes to training and caring for these dogs. There is nothing better than the unity we share amongst one another, all coming from different backgrounds with different beliefs but with one common goal, which is to train these dogs and graduate them to the next level for more advanced training.

Our CUS (Correctional Unit Supervisor) Cheryl Jorban and our boss CO Alberton oversee the program to make sure that we  do our job properly, and also that the dogs receive proper medical treatment if necessary. We meet twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays to receive instructions from two professional Brigadoon Dog Trainers, Elizabeth and Denise, and they also evaluate the dogs’ progress along with ours.

The dogs we train will eventually be placed with veterans who may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). I am blessed and very fortunate to learn the skills that I have learned, and at the end of the day I am proud to say that I will always keep this experience with me, and continue to give back, because it feels good, and it is the right thing to do.

Thank you for this opportunity.


     Cedar Creek Corrections Center Inmate Dog Handlers talk about their experiences in the program for a tour group in September 2012. Photo by Shauna Bittle.


          A Dog Handler and his trainee demonstrate the light-switch skill for a tour group at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.