Category Archives: Uncategorized

“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.

SPP National Workshop was a resounding success

Teams meet again to complete the launching of six new SPPs!

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, Interim Program Manager


Teams from the states of Oregon, Ohio, Maryland, California, and Washington as well as Multnomah, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles counties were hosted by the Utah team for a two and half day workshop. The workshop was the bookend to the conference held in Olympia back in September. Both meetings were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)–SPP Co-Director, Carri LeRoy and Senior Advisor, Nalini Nadkarni secured the funding to help new teams initiate programming based on the SPP model, and create an SPP Network. The same teams attended both meetings, and it was exciting and fun to be reunited.

Paul Sheldon, an expert in sustainable operations in prisons nation-wide, also attended both meetings, and at the second we gained Tommy Norris, Director of At the Utah workshop we were also blessed by the expertise of Sarah Galgano of the Vera Institute and Kathleen Gookin of Criminal Justice Planning Services, Inc. Conference evaluator Chuck Lennox of Cascade Interpretive Consulting LLC and facilitator Eric Mitchell of Fifth Ocean Consulting provided guidance on Network visioning, structure, and strategy. These experts’ diverse perspectives enriched the conversations and the outcomes of the workshop.

The agenda was action-packed, and communications ranged from tackling difficult questions to wide-ranging dreams for the future. Every team presented highlights of their progress and plans, and we were dazzled at how far they had come in six months. The group discussed tools created by our SPP-WA team that will support the Network and gave feedback and ideas for how the Network may best meet their future needs. I feel gratified at the efforts of our hosts and every team who attended. There was a great showing of optimism, creativity, and good humor. May we all meet again soon!

All photos are from the gala at the lovely Orangerie, an event that also included invites from local conservation, education, and restoration organizations. SPP Co-Director Dan Pacholke and Graduate Research Assistant Andrea Martin performed their TEDx talk and it was even better than the original. In addition, it was exciting to hear former inmate Craig Ulrich speak about his life-changing experiences with SPP-WA and current PhD research, and Tami Goetz (UT Legislative Science Advisor) discuss the need for expanded STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) education. Hats off to SPP-UT for a terrific workshop!



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.

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.


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 Plant Profile: Philadelphia or Common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)

SPP Plant Profile: Philadelphia or Common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Last week, SPP and CNLM staff, along with volunteers from the community, sowed more than 130 flats (about 12,748 individual cones and roughly 131,200 seeds) of Erigeron philadelphicus. What a perfect time for a SPP plant profile highlighting this species!

Basic Information

A fairly common species, Philadelphia fleabane is found across the United States as well as in most of Canada. This low-growing perennial has alternate leaves that clasp the stem, with the lowest leaves found in a basal rosette. The flowers of this species are small, pink to white with more than 100 ray flowers per head with a bright yellow center.

Ecological Importance

The pollen and nectar of this species attract many insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, and beetles.

Fun Facts

The genus, erigeron, comes from the Greek eri (early) and geron (old man). This may refer to the early flowering of the species, as well as the hoary down that is found on the plant, reminiscent of an old man’s beard.

This species is also a widely used medicinal species. A tea made from the plant is astringent, diaphoretic, and diuretic. It has been used in the treatment of diarrhea, gout, and epilepsy. A poultice (soft, moist mass of plant material) is used to treat headaches and is applied to sores. However, treatment can induce miscarriage in pregnant women, and some people experience minor dermatitis when handling this species.

Erigeron philadelphicus is considered invasive in suburban Shanghai, China. In these areas it has been found to accumulate heavy metals including Cu, Cd, Cr, Pb and Zn in the root, leaf and stems. It has also been shown to exhibit allelopathic effects on the growth of seedlings of four crop species in the area. Aqueous extracts from the species inhibited growth of Brassica chinensis, Brassica campestris, Cucumis sativus, and Lycopersicum esculetum.

Close-up of Philadelphia fleabane. This species has more than 100 ray flowers per head. Photo by R.Gilbert.

Erigeron philadelphicus on a prairie. Photo by R.Gilbert.











New Frog Rearing Practices at Cedar Creek

New Frog Rearing Practices at Cedar Creek
By Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

Frog season has arrived in Western Washington! Cedar Creek Corrections Center is now home to 315 tadpoles.  Oregon spotted frog eggs were brought into the prison from Black River and Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.  There was a significant die-off initially of the Black River eggs; we lost 54 of the initial 158.  Happily, the organisms from Conboy have had a much higher success rate; only four of the original eggs never hatched.

Cedar Creek is undergoing several significant changes in rearing protocol this season.  These changes are designed to provide consistency amongst all of the institutions raising Oregon Spotted Frogs, of which SPP and Cedar Creek are only one of four.

The most significant change is the implementation of net pens to raise the eggs and tadpoles.  In the last 3 years, the eggs have been raised in shoebox-sized plastic bins until they were big enough to be moved to tubs large enough to hold up to 200 growing frogs.

The net pens are a square foot in area, and provide floating habitats for the growing tadpoles.  SPP staff made 20 of the pens using PVC piping to create the enclosure.  The nets were clipped onto the pipes so that they would hang through the middle, and floating mats were cut into strips and secured with zip ties to give the pens extra buoyancy.  Between 15 and 20 tadpoles live in each net pen.

The shoeboxes required much more attention to water quality than the nets.  In the net pens, fecal matter and most extra uneaten food falls through the nets and into the larger tubs, making water changing a less demanding and less frequent chore.  The shoeboxes require multiple water changes every day.  Our rearing partners switched to the net pens last year.

While frequent water changing wasn’t a problem for Cedar Creek, water temperature was problematic.  The shoeboxes were kept inside the shed where the inmates raise crickets.  Because of the small space and the multiple heat lamps, the room is usually at least 70 degrees, and sometimes would get much hotter.  It was nearly impossible to get the water temperature below 70 for the tadpoles, when 65 would be a more preferable.

In the net pens submersible water heaters can keep the large outdoor tubs regulated at 65 degrees, which provides a more realistic environment, and also has a higher oxygen concentration for the growing tadpoles.

So far the transition has been a success, with no tadpole mortalities.  It has been a fun learning process for all parties to record the successes and drawbacks of this new rearing protocol.  We all hope this is the beginning to another successful frog season!

A Cedar Creek frog technician inmate cleans out the net pens with a turkey baster. Photo by A. Martin.

The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent..JPG The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent.

The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent..JPG The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent. Photo by A. Martin.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of Oregon spotted frogs in Washington state, click here.

59 Frogs released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March!

59 Frogs released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March!

By: Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

In November, Oregon spotted frogs raised at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park were released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Sixty-three frogs that were too small to survive in the wild were brought to Cedar Creek to live the good life for the winter.

Four of the original frogs died, but the majority grew fat and healthy throughout the coldest time of the year.  The frogs weathered the January snowstorm very well, as generators kept their tanks near 70 degrees even as more than 15 inches of snow covered the prison grounds.

This group of frogs was the first at Cedar Creek to vary their diet with the Jamaican Black crickets the inmates have blogged about in the past. Unfortunately, the heavy snowfall insulated the hot cricket shack in January, raising the temperature to 113 degrees and killing a large portion of the crickets.  Luckily, the frogs didn’t starve.

On March 14th, SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush, Graduate Interns Dennis Aubrey and Andrea Martin, DOC Classification Counselor Marko Anderson, and JBLM Field Biologists Jim Lynch, John Richardson and Nick Miller released the 59 frogs that had survived the winter onto the military base.

Hopefully they are continuing to thrive through this very cold and wet spring!

SPP Frog Intern Andrea Martin releases an Oregon spotted frog.

DOC staff Marko Anderson tries to pick just one OSF at a time to release at JBLM.

Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey and several frogs about to be released.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of Oregon spotted frogs in Washington state, click here.