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The Wonders of In-Vessel Composting at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In the short time that Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) has had their new in-vessel composter operational, I have heard many great things about it. In early November, I had the chance to see the composter in action and be further thrilled by its capabilities.

The new in-vessel composter at CCCC. This is the back end of the drum, and finished compost is falling onto the conveyor ramp that takes it to a holding pile.

The new in-vessel composter at CCCC. This is the back end of the drum, and finished compost is falling onto the conveyor ramp that takes it to a holding pile.

The morning I visited they had added 1000 lbs of food waste to the front end of the drum. The drum’s rotation is sufficient to move the material along, so that if you looked at the drum in cross-section you would see the progression from fresh waste to finished compost along its length. Eric Heinitz, Environmental Specialist for Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC), showed me the metal markers used to ensure that inputs of material have a residence time of at least the 14 days; the first marker was dated and put in the drum 2 ½ weeks ago, and has not yet showed up in the finished product—a promising sign that the composter is working as it should.

Eric Heinitz, Environmental Specialist for WDOC, showing a metal marker used to determine compost's residence-time in the composting drum.

Eric Heinitz, Environmental Specialist for WDOC, showing a metal marker used to determine compost’s residence-time in the composting drum.

One of the inmate technicians has become especially proficient at operating and servicing the drum composter; he has been able to fix operational problems as they arise. The system’s manufacturer has requested that he get in touch with the business post-release, because they want to put his talents to work as an employee.

An inmate technician for CCCC's large-scale composting program was pleased to pose with the new machine.

An inmate technician for CCCC’s large-scale composting program was pleased to pose with the new machine.

Vermicomposting continues at CCCC’s small-scale composting area, a longtime highlight of SPP tours. With the new large-scale composter, plus their intensive recycling program, CCCC is cancelling its regular contract with the solid waste collector, Lemay, Inc. The prison is processing more than 95% of their solid waste on site!

Internship with SPP

By Erica Turnbull, SPP Summer Intern

Spending 11 weeks working in prison might not sound appealing to everyone but as a Rehabilitation and Social Justice major at Western Washington University, I could not have been more excited to be accepted by the SPP team as their summer intern.

Starting my internship with an overview of SPP, I was invited to visit and participate in programs at four prisons (Stafford Creek, Cedar Creek, Mission Creek, and Washington Corrections Center for Women). In time, most of my volunteer work took place at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) and Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC).

Inmates participating in the educational lecture held at SCCC. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

SCCC holds educational lecture once a month with guest speakers. At the lectures, inmates can learn about sustainability and have time for Q&A with the presenter. I made educational handouts for the inmates to take with them and helped do data entry to track program success and inmates’ environmental interest. Also at SCCC, SPP Graduate Research Assistant, Drissia Ras, and I worked in the greenhouses where inmates are growing endangered native prairie plants. Once a week we spent a day counting germination successes, controlling pests, and maintaining the plants as they transition through their life cycle.

At CCCC I took over the gardening project from Sophie Hart, a former SPP volunteer. I enjoyed tremendous help from recent Evergreen Environmental Studies graduate Katie Wolt. Together we helped the inmates compile seasonal crop lists, talked about the importance of crop rotation to replenish soil nutrients, and planted flowers with natural healing properties that double as pest controls by attracting natural predators to control the overabundant aphid population. Our biggest project was collaborating with the inmates to start amending the soil in the newly established orchard.

Vegetable garden at CCCC. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

Also I was invited by staff to participate in the Roots of Success program with SPP Graduate Research Assistant Rachel Stendahl and Correctional Industries’ Lucienne Guyot. It was great to see the gardening crews in a classroom setting where we could talk about job skills development and planning for re-entry.

I was also cordially invited to attend the Redemption Program; a safe place for inmates to share their past, set goals for the future, and help each other develop and achieve positive change within them.

Two inmates on the gardening crew at CCCC, taking a break from amending the soil in the prison’s orchard. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

I have noticed that a number of inmates are very passionate about self-betterment and helping others succeed as well. Several inmates have spent the majority of their adult lives in prison. From what I have observed, punishment t

hrough incarceration does not appear to have as much positive and lasting impact on inmates as programs, opportunities, and the encouragement of others. A positive and safe context allows inmates to understand how past actions led them to where they are now and what changes they can make to grow and move forward. Personal growth allows them to create productive goals and foster hope in themselves and others.

Developing trust through consistency is also important. Inmates needed to know they could rely on me to come when I said I would, order project supplies, etc. Spending just a few hours with the inmates every week lets them know someone cares and is as dedicated to the projects as they are. The inmates I worked with value interactions with people from outside the gates. They also value working outdoors with nature; I heard several inmates express the hope and tranquility it brings.

Roots of Success class at CCCC. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

From what I have noticed, SPP programs bring out a number of strengths in the inmates. Programs require and encourage responsibility, reliability, timeliness, communication, teamwork, and help foster patience which leads to calmer dispositions.

This is an amazing project! I have learned and grown so much through this experience. I want to thank my WWU supervisor, Charles Sylvester, as well as my SPP supervisor, Brittany Gallagher, for having patience. The whole SPP team flooded me with unending support throughout and beyond my internship. I would like to give a special thanks to Charlie Washburn, CCCC Programs Manager, Kim Govreau, CCCC Volunteer Coordinator, and Katie Wolt, SPP volunteer, for their knowledge, encouragement, and guidance. Lastly, a thank you to all the officers who never failed to maintain safety and keep a positive attitude!

Inmate with his son sitting in a firetruck at the CCCC’s children’s back to school fair. Photo provided by Kim Govreau.

I look forward to working in this field now more than ever and am excited to see what new programs SPP has in store!


Kittens at Shotwell’s

by Jaal Mann, Conservation Nursery Coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant


A couple of weeks ago, a stray cat gave birth to six kittens at our Shotwell’s Landing nursery in the tool storage shed. The inmate crew that comes there to work from Cedar Creek Corrections Center immediately bonded with the kittens, and made sure they were socialized and healthy. We have found homes for all of the kittens and they will be in permanent homes at the end of the week. A happy ending for the kittens, and the inmates will be sad to see them go.

The experience with the kittens has served as a reminder of the positive impact that working with living things can have.

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2013’s Bumper Crop at Washington Corrections Center


By Scott Knapp, Grounds & Nursery Services Specialist 5, Washington Corrections Center; photos by Scott Knapp and Don Carlstad

It has been a busy and productive gardening season here at Washington Corrections Center (WCC). We harvested over 20,000 lbs. of fresh garden bounty this year. The 180 tomato plants that we grew in one of our greenhouses produced well over 1,000 pounds of deliciousness! Half the bounty has gone to Mason County food banks, and half has stayed here to help reduce the prison’s food costs.

We rotated crops so that we could harvest all season long—no booms or busts. Our main crops were the staple-type veggies that everyone enjoys and the folks at the food banks, some with limited resources, can enjoy without having to prepare in a kitchen; these were broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, potatoes, radishes, carrots, onions, and beets. The 19 offenders that work the garden really enjoyed being a part of a record-breaking year for WCC’s gardens, and planning for next year’s crops is already underway.


This year, all of our annual flowers grown from seed did exceptionally well. We added fresh compost from our new composting center (photo of the center in a recent blog) to all of our flower beds, and that made everything flourish. The color and size of some of them were incredible, and a lot of it is still looking extremely nice this late in the season. The color really brings life to an otherwise dreary venue. Preparing for planning next year’s annuals is already underway: we are sterilizing the greenhouses this week and starting to mix our secret recipe of potting soil. This is a very busy time of year for us here at WCC as we put the garden area to bed for the season and prepare for another great season next year.

Happy Gardening!!!

A New Composting Facility for Cedar Creek Corrections Center

By Julie Vanneste, Environmental Planner, Sustainability Coordinator for WDOC

In August, Cedar Creek Corrections Center started using its new composting facility, marking the latest addition to the Department’s lineup of five large onsite composting facilities that manage food and other organic wastes, including kitchen waste, tray scrapings from dining areas and landscaping wastes. In addition to these likely waste streams, Cedar Creek also plans to begin composting bio-solids from the facility’s waste water treatment plant, much like Olympic Corrections Center has for the past 20 years.

These composting centers are a source of pride for the Department for Corrections and just one example of how sustainable operations are not only environmentally correct but fiscally responsible.

The composting facility at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, which is similar in capacity and design to Cedar Creek’s new facility, has saved Stafford Creek a calculated $30,000 per year. Their entire waste management system, which includes the compost unit, allows the facility an average annual savings of $200,000. Incorporating bio-solids with other organic wastes at Olympic Corrections Center saves tens of thousands of dollars each year through the ability to manage this waste stream onsite. Food and landscaping wastes adds still more savings.


An offender technician works with the in-vessel composting system at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing the burden on our landfills and creating meaningful employment by providing  skills and educational opportunities for  offenders are additional bonuses of the composting and sustainability programs.

Cedar Creek’s new facility consists of a rotating drum, manufactured in Lynden, WA; four aerated static pile bays; and storage of the finished product. The rotating drum can receive an average of 3,000 pounds of organic waste daily. Compost removed from the drum is moved to an aerated static pile for three addition weeks, where it is closely monitored for pathogen reduction and curing. Once finished, the compost is safe for general use as a soil amendment.

Although Cedar Creek is a much smaller campus, managing approximately three tons per month of food waste as opposed to Stafford Creek’s average of 20 tons per month, the smaller forest camp has big plans for its new drum.

Although the equipment and its accompanying 7,000 sq. ft. building are new to Cedar Creek, composting is not. Home of the Department’s first food waste compost facility, Cedar Creek  has successfully managed all of its food waste  in a back-yard -style composting operation  for the past 10 years, cobbled together from salvaged material including ecology blocks and an old roof moved from another part of the campus. Costing virtually nothing to construct, staff and offenders, under the leadership of then-superintendent Dan Pacholke, began a project that almost immediately saved the Department $1.3 million in impending upgrades to the facility’s waste water treatment plant. Those upgrades were ultimately determined unnecessary after the facility demonstrated that the use of their new composting system eliminated such significant burden on the waste water treatment plant that additional capacity could be handled without improvements to the facility.

Now some 10 years later, composting again appears to be the more sustainable and cost-effective answer. Costly and increasingly scarce options to truck and manage the facility’s bio-solids off-site have been costing the Department $3,000 a month. The Department’s existing contract with LOTT, the local municipal waste water treatment facility, will expire in December 2013 with no favorable option to renew.

With this looming problem in mind, the compost facility was designed to receive these bio-solids and compost them in conjunction with other sources of organic waste from the facility and eventually with food waste from the Capital Campus in Olympia.

Although still awaiting regulatory approval of their of bio-solids permit from the Department of Ecology, there is goodwill and high hopes for this project from stakeholders, regulators, and potential partners alike. While there is no projected date for approval of the permit due to staff shortages at the Department of Ecology, DOC is working with Thurston County’s Solid Waste Program to secure approval for a solid waste permit with provision to accept bio-solids. If approved, Ecology may accept this county approval and thereby grant a provisional bio-solid permit while Ecology continues its permit review.  Meanwhile, Cedar Creek continues to process its food waste and plans the future use and partnerships of this badly needed regional resource.

Cedar Creek Corrections Center superintendent Doug Cole with the new compost barrel.

Superintendent Doug Cole and Project Manager Eric Heinitz with the rotating drum that begins the composting process at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.


Roots of Success’ Successful Kickoff in Washington State

By Rachel Stendahl, Graduate Research Assistant & Roots of Success Coordinator


In inmate instructor delivers Roots of Success in a classroom at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

Roots of Success is an empowering environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum developed by Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes of San Francisco State University. The program is currently active in 34 states, Puerto Rico, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Students can complete up to 10 modules on a variety of environmental subjects including energy, transportation, waste, financial literacy, and social entrepreneurship. The program fosters environmental appreciation, literacy, and career pathways into the green economy.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project initiated Roots of Success in Washington’s prisons after hearing positive reviews from SPP-Ohio. Roots provides a version of the curriculum catered to corrections and reentry programs. The program is already underway in four Washington state correctional facilities: Correctional Industries in Tumwater, Stafford Creek in Aberdeen, Cedar Creek in Littlerock, and Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. So far, approximately 75 inmates have been involved in the program. This number will increase as new classes begin over the next several months. There has also been talk of expanding the program to juvenile correctional facilities in a partnership with Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

The classes appear to be a great success. The offenders are engaging the material, asking important questions, and working to fully understand the concepts. Many of the participants even say that they want to pursue green jobs after their release.

Students in the Roots of Success class at Cedar Creek Corrections Center work in a small group to address a study question. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

Students in the Roots of Success class at Cedar Creek Corrections Center work in a small group to address a study question. Photo by Erica Turnbull.


Worm Farm Wisdom

By Chris Ramos, Inmate at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Hello my name is Christopher G. Ramos and I am currently one of the fortunate inmates who have been given the grand opportunity to participate in the Worm Farm Project. I can honestly say I don’t truly believe that the label “Worm Farm” expresses all the great things that we do. In this job there is composting, gardening, landscaping, and a host of different types of recycling.


The author with tomato plants in one of the hoop houses at Cedar Creek Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP staff.

This job has put me into a position to learn new and very exciting things. It allows me the privilege to see my hard work, which in turn results in a self-sense of accomplishment and helps build one’s self confidence. Growing up I never knew how hard and how much time, effort, and energy was spent in starting and maintaining a garden. I mean, I would watch my grandmother put in countless hours into building and maintain a healthy garden, but I never truly understood the art of gardening.


Inmates and SPP intern Erica Turnbull discuss crops growing at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by SPP staff.

By utilizing this opportunity to participate in this program I have gained so much knowledge and wisdom in these fields. I feel as though the information I’ve accumulated from this experience is one of my most cherished possessions. And this is why: gardening is all about rebirth. You see, you plant a seed in the proper soil with the correct amount of nutrients and in the correct timing of year and up grows this beautiful plant full of life. This same concept I believe applies to my life situation. I have been reborn into a better individual. By no means am I saying that my incarceration is rebirth. More so, my positive and productive choices that I have made have been my rebirth process.


Chris Ramos

2013 Regional Reentry Conference

By Erica Turnbull, SPP Summer Intern

This July 2013 marked the fourth annual Regional Reentry Conference, organized by the Community Partnership for Transition Services of Pierce, King, and Snohomish Counties in conjunction with New Connections, and Race and Pedagogy Initiative of the University of Puget Sound (UPS).

SPP’s summer intern, Erica Turnbull, from Western Washington University, and SPP’s Roots of Success Environmental Education Coordinator, Rachel Stendahl, from The Evergreen State College, attended the two day conference held on the UPS campus in Tacoma, WA.

SPP Summer Intern Erica Turnbull and SPP Roots of Success Environmental Education Coordinator Rachel Stendahl. Photo by Brittany Gallagher.

King County Superior Court Judge, Mary Yu, gave the opening speech highlighting the importance of reentry for ex-offenders, their families, and the community as a whole. Upon release, ex-offenders are often barred from financial aid, public housing, education, and employment; these barriers encourage reoffense and supports the cycle of incarceration. This conference brought awareness to these issues and helped people and organizations network to form a more comprehensive safety net for newly released ex-offenders.

Over the two day event Erica and Rachel dispersed along with the 300 attendees, sitting in on nine out of twenty-five sessions. Participation in this conference was a great opportunity to network with reentry centers, counselors, work releases, child support and human resource specialists, judges, and attorneys.

Lower incarceration rates mean lower cost for the state and tax payers
According to Honorable Yu, recent interest in reentry programs appears to be a side-effect of a diminishing budget. Money is tight and building new prisons is an expensive, quick fix to a deep rooted issue. More emphasis has been put on programs that develop skills, resilience, and positive and productive behavior in order to provide ex-offenders with the resources and life skills necessary to keep them from returning to prison.

Prevention over incapacitation
Concluding the conference was a discussion panel about the importance of integrating reentry programs into incarceration facilities and the community. Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, Mark Lindquist, believes that “tough on crime” should mean better crime prevention programs and better reentry services; prevention over incapacitation. Additionally, community involvement and acceptance of ex-offenders is necessary for success. Panelists stated that offenders have served their time, and should not have to serve an additional sentence through lack of opportunities or labeling. In order to start changing community perception, recent releases should not be called ex-offenders or felons but people in transition.

Reentry is about putting the “we” back into “welcome back”!
From the connections made, and information learned, SPP is compiling a list or reentry resources to offer people in transition as they prepare for community reentry. SPP is also preparing certificates of successful participation and completion of various SPP programs. These resources should provide personal and professional support. Reentry is a collaborative effort among policy makers, community, family, and people in transition.

2013: Another successful rearing season for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies at Mission Creek

By GRA Dennis Aubrey, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Program Coordinator

Our second season rearing Taylor’s checkerspots at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women has just concluded, and again the hard work has paid off. Over 2,800 caterpillars are dormant in their diapause period, waiting to be moved to the cold diapause area for winter, eventually to be woken up and released onto south Puget lowland prairies next March.

Caption: Adult Taylor’s checkerspots are fed honey water with Q-tips every day. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

Adult Taylor’s checkerspots are fed honey water with Q-tips every day. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

This season began with a similar release, when our 3,000 caterpillars from 2012 found new homes at Glacial Heritage Preserve, south of Littlerock, WA. The remaining 150 in our care were raised to adults and bred to produce this year’s cohort. Breeding introductions were made according to the genetic pairings designated for us by our partners at the Oregon Zoo, and additional wild females were captured to lay eggs in captivity by our partners at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Oviposition study
Additionally, inmates participated in an oviposition preference research project with an Evergreen graduate student, helping to determine which of two native host plants was more preferred for egg laying. Taylor’s checkerspot females choose the host plant for their offspring very carefully, and insight into which ones are most preferred can inform management decisions for restoration in the future.

Newly hatched caterpillars are fed fresh plantain leaves and are also given mashed leaf pulp that we call “plantain pesto”. This helps them gain nutrients more easily until their mouthparts become strong enough to slice through the leaves.

Newly hatched caterpillars are fed fresh plantain leaves and are also given mashed leaf pulp that we call “plantain pesto”. This helps them gain nutrients more easily until their mouthparts become strong enough to slice through the leaves. Video still by Rosemarie Padovano.

Surprising genetic anomaly
Interestingly, at the end of the rearing season, the Oregon Zoo had a small number of caterpillars that refused to go to sleep! Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars typically go into diapause in early July and don’t wake up until the end of February when they emerge to become adult butterflies. These eight individuals at the Oregon Zoo skipped diapause entirely and went directly into adulthood, a behavior more common in migratory butterflies. Because these few individuals may represent a beneficial genetic anomaly, they were moved to the facility at Mission Creek and given extra special care. Just four possible genetic pairings were identified for breeding, and the inmate technicians were able to successfully pair one of the sets, producing 150 eggs which have now hatched into healthy hungry caterpillars. These are currently being reared in the greenhouse and it will be interesting to learn in the next few weeks if they follow their parents and go directly into adulthood, or if they return to more typical patterns and go into diapause as quickly as they can.

Donate to support SPP
To support SPP’s work with endangered species, please donate funds or materials to our programs. Donation funds are used to recognize the excellent contributions made by inmates and to provide them with educational resources.

SPP Book Now Available at Evergreen Bookstore and Online!

SPP Book Now Available at Evergreen Bookstore and Online!

The Sustainability in Prisons Project Overview book is now available for sale at the Greener Store on Evergreen’s Olympia campus AND online!

Published in August 2012, the book is an overview of SPP, and gives readers an understanding of our organizational structure and the history of SPP-Washington.  New and potential SPP partners across the country and the world will have the chance to read in detail about our conservation and education programs, successful efforts to reduce waste, evaluation programs, and media coverage of the Project.  Essential reading for anyone interested in developing an SPP, increasing sustainable practices in prisons, and improving communities!


Click here to buy the book from the Greener Store.