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Many Reasons to Celebrate

The Sustainable Prisons Project has a lot to celebrate these days.  Our contract – between The Evergreen State College and Washington Department of Corrections – was recently renewed, providing two more years of funding.  We’ve hired two more graduate students, rounding out a strong team.  We’ve hired our new Project Manager, Kelli Bush, who will make sure we keep all the pieces of the project flowing and growing smoothly.  And we’re preparing to launch several new (or revived) pieces of the project.  In sum, we have a lot to celebrate.

Even as we hire more staff, we know that this small team represents only a fraction of the work being done.  The Sustainable Prisons Project could not succeed without all of the support we receive. A few examples include:

  • Classification Counselors, Officers, Environmental Planners, and others at the prisons that spend time coaching offenders in gardening, horticulture, and frog rearing projects.
  • Officers and others that take time out of their duties to escort our staff and speakers through the prisons.
  • Department of Corrections administrative staff that schedule and coordinate our events at the prisons.
  • Evergreen State College staff that interpret our budget documents, process grant documents, and make sure that our students get paid.
  • A diverse group of presenters, including scientists, academics, and state agency and non-profit employees who have presented intriguing subjects to offenders.

On last Monday night (July 19) we brought just a few of those partners, participants, and others together at Mercato Ristorante in downtown Olympia – not for a meeting, but to celebrate. Although we’ve created this web of scientists, Department of Corrections staff, Evergreen State College staff, and others through the years, we rarely gather in the same room.  It was great to see biologists from Fort Lewis talking with secretaries from the college, and students chatting with prison superintendents.  We were also very fortunate to have Governor Gregoire stop by to acknowledge the work we’ve been doing, and remark on how relatively small efforts such as ours have big echoes in the halls of government.

Energized by recent events, and this gathering, our team is in the trenches, eagerly charting new paths for the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Who knows what successes we may be celebrating at our next gathering!

Thanks again to Mercato Ristorante in Olympia for graciously donating the space, hors d’oevers, and staff time to help us create wonderful celebration.

Offenders take college credit at Evergreen

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Liesl Plomski

Cedar Creek Correction Center inmate, Charles Butts, recently completed a 2 credit research paper on photovoltaic cells with The Evergreen State College. Charles is our first incarcerated student to construct an independent learning contract through The Evergreen State College. Under the guidance of faculty sponsor, Peter Impara, Charles was able to author a paper on the history and current technology of photovoltaic cells. Charles has a background as an electrician and hopes to continue to study solar energy and to open his own business installing energy saving products upon his release. This accomplishment could not have been achieved without the support of Correctional Counselor, Marko Anderson.

Liesl Plomski (SPP staff), Charles Butts (offender and student), Peter Impara (Evergeren State College faculty) and Marko Anderson (Cedar Creek Correctional Center staff) celebrate as Charles completes requirements to receive college credits

Liesl Plomski (SPP Student & Staff), Charles Butts (offender and student), Peter Impara (Evergreen State College faculty) and Marko Anderson (Cedar Creek Corrections Center staff) celebrate as Marko finishes his coursework and receives college credits


Charles has opened to door for more incarcerated students to follow. An incarcerated student from the Washington Corrections Center for Women will begin an independent learning contract on recycling this summer, under the guidance of faculty sponsor, Karen Gaul. The Sustainable Prisons Project hopes to support more incarcerated students in the pursuit of sustainable knowledge in the future.

Earth Day, Sustainable Prisons Project Style

Posted by undergraduate research associate Sarelle Caicedo.

Earth Day is here! People are often very creative in the ways they celebrate, and there seems to be no exception with Washington Corrections Centers. The Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)  held their Earth Day celebration event on April 14, 2010, and the Sustainable Prisons Project was there.

About 10 different environmental organizations and businesses set up information tables in a large visiting room in the Corrections Center.  This was the 3rd annual Earth Day at SCCC, and it was a great success. The inmates and the staff had very positive responses to the various information tables.

Greg Falxa explains a "bat condo," one of many constructed at Stafford Creek

Greg Falxa explains a "bat condo," one of many constructed at Stafford Creek

Greg Falxa, a bat biologist at Cascadia Research, came to the event with Sarah Clarke and Sarelle Caicedo, Sustainable Prisons Project student Research Associates. Greg will be giving the May scientific lecture on bat biology and conservation on May 12 at SCCC, so this visit enabled him to promote his upcoming talk with inmates and staff and build enthusiasm. Inspired by the growing success of the bird box project, inmates are now constructing bat boxes (known by the inmates as “bat condos”), and Greg was able to display a recently built bat box.  

Project Research Associates Sarelle Caicedo and Sarah Clarke with SCCC Superintendent Pat Glebe

Project Research Associates Sarelle Caicedo and Sarah Clarke with SCCC Superintendent Pat Glebe

Pat Glebe, Stafford Creek superintendent, was present, continuing to motivate and steer Stafford Creek’s efforts to be a leading practitioner of sustainability. 

Next week, on April 28th, Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott and undergraduate assistant, Sarelle Caicedo will be giving a joint lecture at SCCC, and they are very excited! The topic of the talk will be prairie plant conservation and conservation of the Purple Martin and Western Bluebird. This talk has been of keen interest to he inmates because they have been involved in hands on projects concerning both prairie plants and these two species of birds. Carl and Sarelle have worked together in the past, propagating plants with The Nature Conservancy, and feel that their joint talk will go well. Stay tuned for details next week on how it goes, and happy Earth week!

New Frogs Have Arrived!

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Liesl Plomski

Cedar Creek Correction Center kicked off their 2010 Oregon spotted frog rearing season in late March. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife delivered around 80 larvae from the Black River in Thurston County to the Prison. Since then the frogs have been moved from 6-quart containers indoors to a 300-gallon tank outside. Many of the tadpoles have begun metamorphoses and are developing front legs. They are developing much faster than last year.  The inmates prepare a “Popeye” food mash of romaine lettuce, kale, and spirulina to feed to the tadpoles four times a day.  We’re impressed by how quickly the frogs are growing and maturing; so far things are on track to match the success of the 2009 season.