Author Archives: galbri23

CNN Visits Stafford Creek Corrections Center

CNN Visits Stafford Creek Corrections Center

By SPP Conservation and Restoration Coordinator Carl Elliot

The conservation nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center received unique visitors in mid-July this year.  A film production crew from CNN’s The Next List came out to the nursery with SPP Senior Advisor Dr. Nalini Nadkarni.  The crew was documenting the influence of Dr. Nadkarni and how her creative ideas have impacted society and individuals.  Dr. Nadkarni founded the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 2006 while she was a faculty member at The Evergreen State College. Since she had not been out the Stafford Creek for a couple of years, the growth and changes in the project were a real inspiration to her.

The CNN crew wanted to cover all angles of the conservation nursery. They asked SCCC Superintendent Pat Glebe why the administration would want to get involved in conservation projects. The interview allowed the Superintendent to explain how the work at the nursery fits into the philosophy and practice of corrections.  CNN also had the opportunity to see such corrections policies in action when they filmed the inmate nursery crew in action. Additionally, they had the opportunity to interview a few of the inmate crew members to get their perspective on the value of the program. The inmates were wary to participate at first.  The CNN crew expressed a genuine interest in the inmates’ perspectives and made each person comfortable in front of the camera.

Providing positive perspectives on the active role incarcerated people can take while they serve their sentences is one of the goals of the SPP. We aim to bring science and conservation to an underserved community, to find ways that conservation science can benefit them as they in turn benefit the conservation community.  The Next List airs on CNN this Sunday, October 28 at 2pm Eastern.   Check out The Next List Blog for more information.

SCCC Superintendent Pat Glebe is interviewed by CNN’s The Next List crew.

          A visitor from CNN films a Conservation Nursery Crew member preparing seed trays.





Composting and the Prison Experience

Composting and the Prison Experience

By Steve Mahoney

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by an inmate who has worked with several SPP programs during his incarceration.

I should preface this piece by saying that not all prison experience results in positive outcomes.  Unfortunately the statistics regarding recidivism bear that out again and again.  I can only relate my personal experiences and the healing process I have been through.

I started my prison experience in the suicide section of the county jail nearly ten years ago.  I was placed in this unit with delirium tremens and severe suicidal ideations.  I was charged with First Degree Assault which resulted in a one hundred eighty-four month prison sentence.   I had absolutely no hope.  I was at the bottom.  I cared not for life and death would have been most welcome.

The yellow bucket is full.  Waste from breakfast, lunch and dinner combined to make a soup of organic material that seems fit only for maggots, flies and vermin of that particular ilk.  The bucket is weighed and thrown into the dank stall with waste from former meals.  The odor is unbearable to the uninitiated.  Bark chips are added to create heat; the process begins.

After trial I was sent to a maximum security prison in Forks, Washington to begin my sentence.  Stench of wasted lives and human failure personified assaulted me in my every waking moment.  The walking dead were mixed with the hopeless to create an environment that was volatile on good days.  It is only in hindsight that I realize my healing began at the very place I thought my life might end.

The organic pile has been building for a month.  The temperature has reached nearly one hundred sixty degrees.  Close to two thousand pounds of rotting material have been combined to make a mound that is ready to be moved.  The process continues.

I spent nearly two years with recurrent thoughts of suicide and other plans for my own demise.  I hadn’t seen my children the entire time I had been incarcerated.  One day while contemplating my very bleak future I was given a reprieve.  I was called into the counselor’s office and informed that my three youngest children would be coming to see me.  Hope!  Dare I?  My mother would bring them in about a week.  I couldn’t let these innocents see the mess I had become.  My children certainly deserved better than what I was serving myself on a regular basis.  I had to do something; the process begins.

Wheelbarrows loaded one after the other as the decomposing waste is transferred from the stall to the next stage of the process.  The temperature is still around one hundred and sixty degrees.  Evidence that the material is breaking down can be seen throughout.  Cabbage is now a wet, mushy substance that is putrefying moment by moment.  The smell seems more powerful than when the pile was in the safe confines of the stall.  Much work is yet to be done.

The visit with my children was bittersweet.  Children deserve to have their father home with them.  Children need their parents not only present but actively involved in their growth.  How could I provide my kids anything from the place I found myself in?  Long Distance Dads was the first program offered that I partook of.  I was out of the stall, I was still extremely hot and my life was odiferous to say the least, yet I was changing.

(continued below)

    The author works with compost at Cedar Creek Corrections Center during a recent facility tour for the SPP National Network Conference. Photo by Shauna Bittle.


Twice a week for the next six to twelve weeks the decomposing pile of organic waste is turned inside out.  The center of the pile becomes the outer and this is repeated over and over again until the temperature starts to drop.  While the temperature of the pile remains in the 120-150-degree range, change is becoming more visible.  The pile no longer looks like food waste.  The material is breaking down and begins to resemble bark mixed with dirt.  The odor remains strong.

Over the next several years I began working a program of healing and transformation.  I attended an anonymous meeting where I was given tools with which to conduct my life in a more harmonious union with myself and others.  I worked with mental health for over four years on anger and violence issues.  I spent three years with a substance abuse counselor learning a way to live my life sans alcohol.  Still a little warm on the inside but there was certainly a change my family recognized long before I did.

The pile of compost is dark brown, almost black, and has the smell of rich, luxuriant topsoil.  The temperature is almost down to the ambient temperature.  If the outside temperature is seventy degrees then the pile will be the same.  The last stage of the process is to sift the larger bark chips out.  Shovelful by shovelful the compost is put on a metal grate and hand-sifted.  The finished product will be used in the very garden that produced the vegetables that produced the waste in the yellow bucket so long ago.

I am not out of prison as of this writing; however, my thought processes resemble little the mess that lay on the suicide floor ten years ago.  I could say anything about who I have become yet I will let the actions I take each day speak for themselves.  I have had much healing and restoration that I can only credit to a mind that has been transformed in much the same way as the composting process.  I am actively involved in my own recovery.  I freely share the precious gems of mental health and stability that have been given to me.

My hope is that when I am released I will be like the compost and be used by society to produce a harvest that will benefit others.


246 Oregon spotted frogs released on September 24th!

246 Oregon spotted frogs released on September 24th!

By Graduate Research Assistant Andrea Martin

The Sustainability in Prisons Project has been busy this month hosting various media crews, conference attendees, and other visitors. One of our conservation projects, the Oregon spotted frog rearing project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, has been the focus of lots of attention as the inmates and all of our rearing partners have approached this year’s release.

On Monday, September 24th, seven months of hard work and care culminated in the release of 246 adult frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Unfortunately, the inmates were not able to attend the release at the military base, but they did get the chance to talk with reporters from the Associated Press and the New York Times who visited the prison to learn about the project. Additionally, the frog rearing program at CCCC is the subject of a forthcoming photography project by well-known French wildlife photographer Cyril Ruoso. Ruoso’s work, including photos of the OSF project, will be on exhibit this summer at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Unlike previous releases where cloudy skies and rain jackets are seen in every photo, this year the sun was shining as SPP Co-Director Carri LeRoy and SPP Graduate Research Assistants Andrea Martin and Brittany Gallagher joined JBLM and WDFW biologists, DOC staff, and two media crews to help release this year’s frogs.

The frogs raised at CCCC will be joined in early October by frogs from the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. That release will officially end the 2012 rearing season.

But the work of caring for the endangered species doesn’t end there for the inmate frog technicians at CCCC. Soon they will receive any undersize or underweight frogs from other institutions. The inmates will get the chance to fatten up and improve the health of any tiny frogs so they’ll be ready for release in the spring, before new eggs come in.

Thank you to all of our partners for another successful frog rearing season!

Editor’s Note: Make sure to check out the recent piece on SPP’s rearing program in the New York Times!

     Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Doug Cole holds two bins of frogs awaiting release at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     SPP co-director Carri LeRoy watches two Oregon spotted frogs leap to their freedom during the frog release on Monday, September 24. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     Cedar Creek Classification Counselor Vicki Briggs releases a bin full of Oregon Spotted Frogs as photographers Matthew Ryan Williams (left) and Cyril Ruoso document the event. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     SPP Graduate Research Assistants Andrea Martin (left) and Brittany Gallagher hold Oregon spotted frogs for a moment before release at JBLM. Photo by C.LeRoy.


SPP National Conference and SPP In the News

SPP National Conference

By Joslyn Trivett and Brittany Gallagher

The Washington state segment of a national SPP network conference was a resounding success. Nearly fifty participants from Washington, Oregon, California, Ohio, Utah, Maryland, and national organizations brought their expertise in corrections, education, and sustainability to the Evergreen State College for the two-day conference, funded by a National Science Foundation grant. Forty SPP staff and partners supported and contributed to the event as well, hosting tours at three prisons and presenting SPP history and tips for success. Everyone learned from each other, benefiting from the diversity of experience and knowledge. All took away new connections with partners and allies, and a bolstered sense of how to implement or improve SPP-style programs.

One conference participant wrote to say: “I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed the conference and [we] brought back some really good ideas we can work on out here in [our state].  I attended the State Sheriff’s Conference this week for jails and no one has sustainability on their radar.  So I brought it up. Maybe [we] can be the leaders out here…we’ll give it a try.”

Central to the conference was exploring approaches for creating a national network as a means for sharing resources, strategies, and successes. The conversation continues post-conference, and will grow further when we meet again for the Utah segment in March 2013.


       Sandy Mullins (far right), Director of the Office of Executive Policy at the Washington Department of Corrections, makes a comment during the panel discussion held at the Phoenix Inn on the first night of the national network conference. Secretary of Prisons Dan Pacholke (center) and SPP Conservation and Restoration Coordinator Carl Elliot (far left) look on. Photo by B.Gallagher.



Visitors to Stafford Creek Corrections Center explore “the bike shop,” where old bicycles and wheelchairs are repaired and refurbished for donation to community organizations. Tours were given at SCCC, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by B. Gallagher.


SPP In the News

The Associated Press wire service wrote an article about the SPP and our national conference that has been published by USA Today, the Washington Post, the Seattle Times, Huffington Post,, and ABC News.  Photos from The Evergreen State College’s staff photographer, Shauna Bittle, are included in each story.

Shauna also visited Stafford Creek Corrections Center for a recent lecture with SPP Education and Evaluations Coordinator Brittany Gallagher.  Shauna produced a segment on the SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series that can be found at One Minute Evergreen.


       Chris Idso, Plant Manager and Sustainability Coordinator for Stafford Creek Corrections Center, tells visiting lecturer Anna Thurston about SCCC’s tilapia operation during a tour of the facility’s greenhouse. Photo by Shauna Bittle. For more photos from this tour, see Shauna’s One Minute Evergreen piece (link above).

SPP National Conference – Washington segment set for September 12th and 13th

SPP National Conference  – Washington segment set for September 12th and 13th

Developing the SPP National Network

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP  Conference Coordinator

The SPP is excited to host the Washington state segment of a national conference on September 12th and 13th. The National Science Foundation has awarded us a grant to explore expanding our model for scientific education, sustainable operations, and research to other regions of Washington and across the nation. We have invited select scientists, corrections administrators, sustainability experts, and community organizations to participate in the conference. Our primary goal is to create a SPP National Network, a means for new and existing programs to share resources, strategies, and successes.

Conference activities will include tours of scientific projects and sustainable operations at three prisons in Western Washington. At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, all participants will engage in sharing their goals, plans, and successes. Benefits and challenges of the SPP approach and tips for success will be presented by existing project partners. The conference will also include an evening panel event at the Phoenix Inn in downtown Olympia.  Panel members representing conservation organizations, natural resource agencies,   graduate students, and the Department of Corrections will discuss their experiences with the SPP from 7:30-9:00 pm on Wednesday, September 12.  The panel discussion is open to the public and we invite you to join us.

The national conference will continue with a Utah segment in January or February, 2013. This will give us that chance to re-connect and further the action plans drafted in September. These promise to be innovative, productive meetings, and we look forward to sharing the results.

For more information about the SPP National Conference, contact Conference Coordinator Joslyn Trivett at 360-867-6735 or

SPP Conservation Nursery Internship Experience

SPP Conservation Nursery Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Candace Penn

Editor’s note: Candace, SPP’s undergraduate intern this summer, has been working with our Conservation Nursery project, growing endangered prairie plants.  Her post below was written in late July.

After just five weeks with the Sustainability in Prisons Project as a conservation nursery intern, I find myself at home at Shotwell’s Landing when I smell the fresh pile of soil being turned in the morning air. I really enjoy working with the volunteers and the Washington Department of Corrections (D.O.C.) community crews. But most of all, I love the ability to watch a seed grow into gorgeous plant. I feel such accomplishment, a kind of accomplishment you can’t get from working in a lab or classroom.

I have gained a different appreciation for the plants at Shotwell’s from my program at The Evergreen State College this summer, Creating Community and Health Through Gardens. For example, the Plantain we grow that serves as a vital habitat for the female Checkerspot butterflies to lay their eggs is also a healing herb that is also referred to as Indian band aid. The leaves can be used to heal open wounds or just cuts and scrapes. A tincture can be made with olive oil: a simplified instruction for this would be 1 part dried plantain leaves to 2 parts olive oil.

Aside from the beauty at the nursery there is a lot of behind the scenes work that gets done. Interns from the Center for Natural Lands Management collected strawberry runners and a group of interns, volunteers, [SPP Graduate Research Associate] Evan Hayduk and I cut growing nodes for propagation. The vines were stored in the fridge for a week, then DOC crews helped plant them and today I watered them in the greenhouse. I have been moving a lot of trays around trying to make sure the strawberries are out of direct sunlight since this could shock the young plants just starting to root. I really enjoy the collaborative working environment.

A DOC Community Crew member sows seed at Shotwell's Landing Nursery. SPP staff photo.


SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Carl Elliot trains interns at Shotwell's Landing. AmeriCorps photo.


DOC Community Crew members work on weeding Castilleja species at Shotwell's Landing. Photo by E.Hayduk.

To donate to the SPP and support unique learning and service opportunities for undergraduates like Candace, click here.

SPP Lecture Series Update

SPP Lecture Series Update

by Graduate Research Associate Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

The SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has been up and running at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women since 2009.  Every month, inmates at each facility have the option to attend a lecture given by a community-based scientist, university researcher, organic farmer, or other teacher well-versed in one or more topics related to science, the outdoors, and environmental sustainability.

Thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of staff at Stafford Creek and WCCW, up to 50 inmates are able to attend each presentation, which may take the form of lecture, multimedia presentation, or workshop.  Recent lecturers and topics have included:

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston shares plant samples with her audience during a plant identification workshop.

Inmates who attend lectures are asked to complete surveys designed to measure changes in environmental knowledge and attitudes, as Lecture & Evaluations Intern Jaal Mann discussed in his blog post this spring.  Many inmates make it a priority to attend the lecture series, with one writing recently “Thank you for providing these lectures.  I look forward to them every month.”  Lectures often pique the interest of several inmates each month, who use the surveys to ask for more information on the day’s topic.  Others take more general lessons away, with one inmate noting “I learned that I should look outside at more things, and that things I’ve never thought about are interesting.”

Surveys also give inmates an opportunity to request lecture topics.  Recently requested topics include green building, aquaponics, urban farming, Mt. Rainier, geothermal systems, mammals, restoring biodiversity and a host of others.

SPP is always recruiting lecturers willing to visit a prison and share their time and knowledge with an inmate audience.  If you or someone you know would like to lecture as part of SPP’s Science and Sustainability Series, please contact Brittany Gallagher at or 360-867-6765 for more information.

SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program Transitions

SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program Transitions

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

The SPP Oregon spotted frog program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) has recently undergone a few changes. The continued success of this and other SPP programs is owed to a collaborative effort. Department of Corrections (DOC) staff members are an essential part of the team working to rear frogs at the prison. Since 2009, Classification Counselor Marko Anderson has been the staff person supervising the daily work of the inmate technicians, communicating project needs, and coordinating access for SPP staff, project biologists, and other visitors. Marko has been dedicated and hard-working. He took on the duties of the program in addition to his work load as a Classification Counselor. It is with mixed emotions that we bid Marko farewell. He has accepted a promotion at Washington Correction Center in Shelton. We are very happy he has been promoted, but he will be missed. We are grateful to have had such a devoted person working to ensure success of the program.

On the bright side, we are pleased to announce that Classification Counselor Vicki Briggs has volunteered to take on the OSF program duties at CCCC. Over the past several years Vicki has been regularly serving as the back-up supervisor for the program during times when Marko was on leave. She has always been a tremendous help, including when we were dealing with mortalities this season. Vicki also leads the beekeeping program at CCCC. We are so pleased to continue the program with her help.

A few months ago we also welcomed a new inmate frog technician to the program. Mr. Hensen has been hardworking and very eager to learn all things Oregon spotted frog. He plans to study marine biology when he is released. The program’s other frog technician, Mr. Davis, remains on the team. He has done an excellent job using his experience to help train Mr. Hensen. It is shaping up to be another successful season!

Thank you Marko!

Celebrating a Successful Inaugural Season for the Butterfly Program at Mission Creek

Celebrating a Successful Inaugural Season for the Butterfly Program at Mission Creek

by Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The Sustainability in Prisons Project’s newest program, the rearing of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, has just concluded its first season. A second generation of more than 3500 caterpillars has now safely gone into diapause, and the effort can officially be considered a complete success. Some of the season’s highlights include:

More than 700 Taylor’s checkerspots were released onto South Puget Sound prairies. Six hundred of these were released as post-diapause caterpillars in early March, placed one at a time on available host plants. Another 101 were released as adults, following breeding and oviposition. These were placed carefully on nectar flowers or, if they chose to, simply allowed to flutter off across the prairie.

Breeding activities were also highly successful. Males and females were crossed according to specific lineage pairings designated by staff at the Oregon Zoo to preserve genetic diversity. Seventy-two mating introductions were made, with 32 of these resulting in a successful pairing. From these, 3,515 eggs were laid. 3,395 of these successfully developed into healthy caterpillars and entered diapause, a survivorship of 96.6%.

A novel research project was carried out at the facility, examining host plant choice by female checkerspots. This work is showing that they prefer to lay eggs on two native plants, harsh paintbrush and Washington-endangered golden paintbrush, over the exotic but well-documented host English plantain. This finding has the potential to alter restoration practices for the butterfly and possibly unite the recovery efforts for both it and the golden paintbrush.

Currently, in addition to caring for the 3,624 caterpillars in diapause at the facility, inmate technicians are working on end-of-season reporting, putting in host plant gardens around the greenhouse and tending the plants, and creating a butterfly coloring book for children visitors to the prison. Their work with the butterflies this season has been exemplary in every way, and the overwhelming success of the project’s first year is thanks to their tireless and meticulous work.

Undergraduate intern Caitlin Fate releases a Taylor's checkerspot on Scatter Creek Prairie, Spring 2012. Photo by D.Aubrey.

A Taylor's checkerspot lays eggs on a Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), a state-endangered plant.

To support the Taylor’s checkerspot program and others like it, click here to donate to SPP.

Workshops address needs to help advance SPP goals

Workshops address needs to help advance SPP goals

By Julie Vanneste, Sustainability Coordinator, Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC)

For two days last week Department of Corrections staff, consultants, representatives from fellow state agencies and the National Institute of Corrections met to work on the sustainability goals of the Washington DOC. From these meetings the Department is better equipped to implement sustainable purchasing policies and training for staff and offenders.

Washington DOC was one of three states to be awarded a Technical Assistance Grant by the National Institute of Corrections toward Greening Corrections.  The award provided funds to recruit subject matter experts to convene for two days of workshops to address an area where the stated identified a need for assistance.

Washington was the first state to hold its workshops.  We chose to focus on greening our procurement process and creating a sustainability curriculum to be delivered to both staff and offenders.

In our first meeting we quickly concluded we need to take ourselves back to foundations and write a sustainable procurement plan that will augment the broader sustainability plan.  We left the workshop with some ideas for drafting a sustainable purchasing plan.

We were able to move on to some critical points of discussion including reframing our approach to sustainable purchasing. We re-confirmed the Department’s commitment to “Sustainable Purchasing” over “Green Purchasing.” We view sustainable purchasing as a more holistic approach to include regard for social and economic well-being as well as environmental concerns. Pursuing a sustainable purchasing program is the more challenging option, but this path will satisfy the Department’s economic and social responsibilities as well. To achieve this we have begun to produce a new sustainable purchasing policy and companion purchasing guide to nest in our broader Sustainability Plan and began work to identify and prioritize opportunities to apply this strategy.

In the second workshop we were joined by both the Deputy Secretary and Chief of Maintenance of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services.  Maryland, too, expressed a need for a sustainability training tool – a means or curriculum to introduce, educate and market sustainability to both staff and offenders.

With the help of our Maryland colleagues, our partners in the Sustainability in Prisons Project from The Evergreen State College, and staff from the U.S. Department of Energy, we developed a draft curriculum that will further strengthen the culture of environmental, economic and social responsibility already present at our facilities.  This curriculum, “Living Sustainably in a Correctional Environment: Why we do it”, was designed to be flexible and adaptable between audiences and facilities across the nation.

All credit for the successful outcomes of these two workshops are due to the support received by NIC, the consultants from FHI360 and the facilitators, technical experts and fellow stakeholders who came to the table to help us forward our sustainability goals.  The collaboration around the table was invaluable.