Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fall Flowers

Text and photos by Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) shows off in the nursery yard. Photo by Graham Klag. 

Stafford Creek Corrections Center has hosted a prairie conservation nursery since 2009 — that’s ten years. Considering how many partners are involved and the challenges of growing rare and endangered species, a decade of success is impressive, to say the least!

In 2019, the team grew 35 different species of plants to restore and enhance precious prairie ecosystems in Washington and Oregon. Here are some of the flowers of fall, blooming inside the prison nursery. 

Could there be a better dark orange than the flowers of harsh Indian paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)?!
This is bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia). 
This is a wider view of the nursery yard.

What’s in a thesis

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

I presented this copy of my thesis to the advisor team at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, represented here by Kelly Peterson and David Duhaime. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This past June Dr. Tyrus Smith signed my thesis. He was my thesis advisor and his signature validated all of my hard work over the last year-and-a-half. Suffice it to say, I was ecstatic! My thesis process was more difficult than I imagined it would be, took longer than I expected, and I am truly proud of the end product.

Following completion of my thesis, I returned to SCCC to present on the process and findings. Photo by Erica Benoit.

Before we move on, I could not have gotten to that moment of completion without the support of Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies faculty (Dr. Tyrus Smith, Dr. Kevin Francis, and Dr. Shawn Hazboun), my friends and family, my classmates, the people who participated in my study, the loggers that answered all of my questions, and the constant support from incarcerated and staff advisors at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Thank you all!!

Thank you to everyone who supported me and made this research possible! That’s me presenting my thesis to the community at The Evergreen State College. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Thesis advisors in prison

From the very beginning of my thesis process, I knew I wanted to work with incarcerated individuals and SPP supported me in making this possible. So, I invited environmental studies experts housed at SCCC to work with me as advisors. I worked with the Roots of Success instructors and the Roots liaison at the facility, Kelly Peterson. A photo of me and the advisors is shown below.

These advisors helped me formulate the roots from which my thesis grew and greatly contributed to the process, too. From left to right: Cyril Walrond, Steven Allgoewer, David Duhaime (top), Anthony Powers, Kelly Peterson, and myself. Photo credit: SPP Staff.

Over the past two years, we met on multiple occasions. To develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, the incarcerated advisors studied the articles and references I provided; they read peer-reviewed academic articles, research planning guides, newspaper articles, and other publications. They offered feedback and ideas on several aspects of the research including topic selection, philosophical framework, research design, study population, survey design, and presentation of the topic.

Seminar

This past February, Kelly Peterson helped me set up a seminar with a larger group, and included Dr. Smith. We asked all participants to read four pieces beforehand, to prepare for the discussion. Two were data-heavy, very dense, dry academic articles describing the theoretical framework I used for my thesis. Another was a piece President Roosevelt wrote after visiting the Pacific Northwest, in which he proposed a forest plan. And the last was an academic article about common predictors of environmental attitudes.

Here’s a group photo of the people who participated in the thesis seminar. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

I remember being nervous that no one would want to talk and I could not have been more wrong! They had all clearly done deep dives into the reading and made interesting connections I had missed in my own review of the literature. Everyone had thoughtful input and suggestions for things to explore and add to my thesis. The seminar was lively and thoughtful and there was never a quiet moment.

What is my thesis about?

My completed thesis is titled: A critique of the New Ecological Paradigm: Stewardship and a case study of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. It explores the concept of stewardship and how it fits into the New Ecological Paradigm. The study population was people actively working in the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.

I presented my thesis as part of the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at SCCC. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This research project was an exploratory study designed to document the ecological attitudes of loggers in the Pacific Northwest. As an exploratory study, I sought to contribute to a gap in the empirical literature: how loggers view the environment. I gathered their responses to the New Ecological Paradigm questionnaire, a measure of their ecological attitudes. Also, I collected information about each participant’s experiences in nature and their socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

Hanging out with loggers

Over the summer Pulley Corporation, an FSC®-Certified logging company agreed to let me shadow them for a day. This was an incredible opportunity for me and I am so grateful to everyone for answering all of my questions. Being able to speak with loggers who work in the field expanded my background knowledge on logging in the Pacific Northwest, and helped inform the survey I used to gather data. From these interactions, and many others, I noticed two attributes shared by all: a stewardship mindset and pro-ecological attitudes.

Regardless of their obvious pro-ecological attitudes, the sample population scored lower on the New Environmental Paradigm than most Washington State residents. This suggested to me that the New Environmental Paradigm measures attitudes using a socially-exclusionary lens.

When I shadowed the crew for the day, Pulley Corporation was working at Mt. St. Helens repairing and restoring an elk migration path for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

So, what’s in a thesis? Well, in my case, a thesis is a collaboration of very diverse groups of people, all environmentally inspired and dedicated, and all willing to support me as a graduate student. I am lucky to have all their brilliance and input in those pages.

Showcasing “Art is Freedom”

Text and photos by Erica Benoit, SPP Environmental Workshop Series Coordinator

SPP artwork presented at the Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington

Incarcerated artists at Stafford Creek Corrections Center recently showcased their art in two venues. First, organizers of the Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington asked if they could display a selection of workshop series screen-prints at the conference exhibit on October 30. Soon after, Stafford Creek hosted an art show that allowed several talented artists to promote their art to the local community.

Nature & Health Symposium Exhibit

The Nature & Health Symposium is organized by University of Washington’s EarthLab. Their Nature and Health Director reached out after seeing the SPP blog about screen-printed art created in the SPP Workshop Series.

In addition to art and images from the workshops, the exhibit included writing and artwork from artist and former Sagebrush technician Lawrence Jenkins.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center Exhibit

SPP table at the Stafford Creek art show.

Soon after, SPP-related artwork was featured at the Stafford Creek art show. In addition to a few of the screen-prints, colored pencil portraits of North American perching songbirds (passerines) and an Anna’s hummingbird by artist Michael Gorski were included.

Artist Edmund Ball crocheted a beautiful piece that featured flowers, a butterfly, and a bee against a backdrop of prison bars.
Marvin Faircloth’s artwork

One particular artist, Marvin Faircloth, who has contributed his time and artistic ability to SPP previously, painted a colorful piece that he cut into business card sized squares to distribute to visitors to illustrate our interconnectedness. On the back of these cards, he included his name along with short quotes. I chose a card that said “Art is freedom,” which I think beautifully sums up the ability of art to reach beyond the walls of prison.

In addition to SPP art, the show included many more talented artists, some of which featured nature prominently in their work. Please enjoy the selection included below:

This artist finger painted his pieces!

Rolling out wetland plants for the Samish Indian Nation

By Anna Duron and Carl Elliott, Coordinator and Manager for the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program

EVM technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center loaded up jelly-rolled mats for delivery to the Samish Indian Nation. Photo by Anna Duron.

This year, the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program grew fifty mats for the Samish Indian Nation. Each mats was 15-feet-long and embedded with native wetland species Carex exsiccata, Glyceria elata, and Juncus supiniformis. Program technicians were instrumental in improving germination protocols, resulting in early spring plant growth. These young plants were ready for transplanting into the coconut mats by early summer. Again thanks to improved cultivation techniques, the plants grew vigorously; by September, the lush growth covered 80% of the mats’ surface. 

In mid-July, Josh Hieronymus, Graham Klag, Joseph Oddo, and Anna Duron check on wetland plants growing in the EVM nursery. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

We rolled up the mats in October, put them in a 24-foot truck without good shocks, and drove them to the Samish Indian Nation–a bit of a loud and  bouncy ride. Access to the planting site was by water, so we unloaded the mats into a warehouse and drove back south.

The mats were loaded onto boats to reach their destination across the Samish River. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.
The Samish Indian Nation team shuttled the mats by boat. Photo by Charles Biles.

The restoration site is along the Samish River in an area recently confirmed as inhabited by the state-endangered Oregon spotted frog. Employees and volunteers from the Samish Indian Nation boated the mats to the site. They unrolled each mat and staked it in place. With the help of our prison-grown mats, they hope to improve the site’s native plant communities and create a better home for Oregon spotted frogs.

They placed the mats in a habitat recovery area. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.
The mats were successfully put into place by these hard workers. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation
Oregon spotted frog seen checking out the newly placed mats. Photo provided by the Samish Indian Nation.

See Go Skagit’s news coverage of the project here.

Fly Like An Eagle to the Sea, No More I See

By Daniel Keen, writer incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, written for submission to Humans and Nature‘s Minding Nature

Photo of Mt Tahoma from flickr.
Photo of an adolescent bald eagle from flickr.

From the day as a chick,
I have always been free.
From glacier cap mountains,
To sea to coral sea.

Brother species who play and breed below,
Across fields and up rivers Migrating they flow.
For thousand years Mother Earth grows,
For thousand years climate change is slow.

For today my chick hasn’t a tree,
Clear-cuts and mudslides left only for me.
Snow cap mountains glaciers retreat,
Dead baron seas with dried up reefs.

Polar bears, salmon, star fish, little honey bees,
Man-kind harvest only greed selfish to you and me.
In one hundred years Mother Earth slowly dies,
In one hundred years climate change super sizes.

Bald eagle preparing to fly. Photo from wikipedia.

Happy Halloween from Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Text and photos by Graham Klag, Conservation Nursery Coordinator

This year’s pumpkin and squash harvest

Halloween pumpkins in prison! In addition to growing important prairie plants, technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center also grow a cornucopia of produce for Grays Harbor County’s Coastal Harvest Program. Their hard work and harvest provides food for hungry families and Halloween pumpkins for people in prison to enjoy. Happy Halloween!

Conservation nursery technician Dale King and the crew tilling new rows for the new season
From hoop house to table
A week’s worth of produce harvested and headed out to the community

Growing food on a greater scale: WSP’s Institutional Sustainability Garden

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Beautiful heads of cabbage grow in Washington State Penitentiary’s main garden. Photo collage courtesy of Jim Atteberry, Facilities Manager.

Outside of the prison fences, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) tends 10.5 acres of crops. This is the prison’s Institutional Sustainability Garden, and it’s the largest and most productive of all the prison gardens statewide.

This is a view from the garden looking back up the hill at the prison facilities. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

In 2017, the crew harvested 151,470 lbs of vegetables — that’s more than 75 tons. They donated 9,655 lbs to local non-profits. The rest went the prison kitchen, improving the taste and nutritional value of the meals. Producing the food on site also saved $122,677 worth of purchasing. 2018 was somewhat less productive year, the weather wasn’t as good, but still the garden produced ~110,000 lbs. Both years, WSP’s vegetable harvest was about half of the total harvest statewide…pretty amazing if you consider that eleven of the twelve prisons grow food!

This September, the crew harvested cabbage, squash, bell peppers, banana peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, and radishes from the fields. They also tended to the plants and pulled out weeds.

In mid-September, the crew attends to weeds in the Institutional Sustainability Garden. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
Earlier in the growing season, the fields are full of vibrant greens. Photos courtesy of Jim Atteberry.
A crew member talks with Garden Supervisor
Daniel Randolph; from Jim Atteberry: “Daniel and Shawn Treib supervised this year’s Institutional Garden, they both did an outstanding job during a tough period of time.” Photo by Bethany Shepler.

Persistence pays off: beekeeping in Massachusetts jails

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager, and Susan Goldwitz, Beekeeper and Program Coordinator

Susan Goldwitz stands with one of her hives. Photo by David H. Deininger.

Two-and-a-half years ago, beekeeper Susan Goldwitz traveled from Massachusetts to Washington State and attended the first-ever beekeeping summit in a prison. More than a few beekeeping programs were born that day. Delightfully, Susan Goldwitz took some of that inspiration beyond Washington!

Beekeeping association partners, staff from every prison, incarcerated beekeepers, and the SPP team from Evergreen came together for an inspirational and productive day-long beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

For three years previous, Susan had been trying to create bee program in Massachusetts prisons and jails. She had been teaching literature and other classes in prison for nearly six years, but hadn’t yet found traction on adding beekeeping. After the summit, she returned home reenergized and with an improved, inspired pitch. She made her proposal more than a dozen times, to any facility willing to hear it.

As the “no”s and “maybe”s stacked up, she kept in touch with SPP. Susan is unusually good at asking for and receiving help — a strategy I admire — and I was happy to provide the advice and encouragement she requested. She also had the support of another ardent beekeeper, former Governor Deval Patrick; he encouraged her to “Keep pushing!” So she kept pushing. She knew how to take our optimism and translate it into programming success.

On her 12th or 13th try, at last, she found a willing host: Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office in Dedham, MA. They were willing to take a risk on this unusual program, to think outside of the normal menu of activities and educational programs for the incarcerated.  The jail had an abundance of outdoor, open space and — bonus! — a member of the staff was already an enthusiastic beekeeper.

This summer, I received a welcome update, which you may read below. It is so pleasing to share Susan’s story of success!

“It’s been far too long since we connected and I’m taking this opportunity to send you a little note to let you know that persistence can pay off!

I was able to start a pilot beekeeping program at a jail in Dedham two years ago. It took the usual meetings and waiting, but finally (after three years of trying!) I found a jail willing to take a chance on this “out of the box” program.

I set up two little hives at the jail, paid for everything myself, and worked with a wonderful company here called Best Bees because they have an overarching insurance policy — helpful for assuaging the security concerns of the administration.

We had a great year; the bees might have known there was a great deal on their little shoulders. We had two thriving hives, a honey harvest, and only two little stings: one on an officer and one on a prisoner. That turned out to be a little blessing in a painful disguise: the men recovered, no one was in danger, and some institutional fears were allayed.

Both hives overwintered successfully (!) and the jail decided to take on the program themselves — to pay for and support it. Now I’m focused on getting a beekeeping school together to start (I hope) this winter. Small steps, as ever.

I’ve just set up a meeting with the Suffolk County House of Correction (Boston) to discuss starting a similar program there.  Fingers crossed! I think I needed a sufficient track record at one facility before attempting to convince another.

I did talk to the head of a wonderful program here called the Urban Farming Institute about having a place for newly released prisoners to practice their beekeeping. We have just opened our discussion, but the President/CEO Patricia Spence was enthusiastic about the eventual opportunity and hopes they will be setting up hives at one of their gardens soon.

I wrote once more to our mutual friend, Governor Patrick, to let him know of the jail successes, and yet again he was encouraging and supportive.  

That’s the brief news from here.  Hope you are well and that you and your programs are thriving.

Let me thank you and SPP once again for your unflagging support, expertise, and gentle cheerleading.  It definitely made all the difference!” 

Re-reading Susan’s news now, it’s no surprise me that she’s found success. Building programs in prison is really challenging. The best way to meet those challenges is large quantities of persistence, creativity, and positivity. Susan clearly has all three!

End Note

Susan’s other great love is poetry, especially Emily Dickinson’s.  The poet wrote about 100 poems concerning bees in her collection of about 1789 poems. Here are a few delicious examples:

Identifying numbers are from Thomas H. Johnson, ed. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

A bee on flowers at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

#1627
Version II

The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee –
A Clover, any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy –

#1755

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

#676
Least bee that brew –
A Honey’s Weight
The Summer multiply –
Content her smallest fraction help
The Amber Quantity –

#1220

Of Nature I shall have enough
When I have enter these
Entitled to a Bumble bee’s
Familiarities.

Connecting to science

By Situe Fuiava, SPP Conservation Technician at Washington Corrections Center. Mr. Fuiava wrote this piece in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

My name is Situe Fuiava and I have been incarcerated since the age of 16. When I first came into prison I only knew about street knowledge. I didn’t really know much about anything academically let alone science.

Situe Faiva receives seeds picked by a program visitor; program technicians collect seeds from violets and other prairie plants for Salish lowland restoration efforts. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

What led me to this path of learning is when my nephew asked me to help him with something in school. I couldn’t even answer him. I glamourized and answered everything he asked me about the streets, but could not give him anything academically. That was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. That was when the light finally turned on for me. I knew that I had to change something before I was going to have a family reunion in prison instead of the community.

During my time of incarceration, one of the programs that dramatically changed my life is the Sustainability in Prisons Projects (SPP). The SPP program is responsible for involving incarcerated individuals in multiple sustainable programs in the United States. In Washington State, in conjunction with Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), this program is working towards the restoration of prairies in the greater Northwest. To assist with the program, at Washington Correction Center (WCC) incarcerated individuals work with the largest violet nursery in the world. We also have created the very first demonstration prairie in Department of Corrections (DOC).

The Prairie Conservation Nursery Crew: pictured from left to right are technician Fred Burr, TAs John Thompson and Situe Fuiava, and technicians Michael Johnson and Dustin Sutherland.
Situe Fuiava collects violet seeds in the nursery. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I love that we have our own demonstration prairie garden here at this facility because it shows everyone the relationship between the violets and other species that are also found in the prairies of the South Puget Sound area. For me, the best ways of learning and teaching about prairies is by providing hands-on experiences and allowing people to see what happens in a natural prairie. This teaches us what species grow best around the violets and what species are not as beneficial for them. This is one of the few times being incarcerated has been a benefit to me. Having the ability to care for the violets around the clock (besides weekends) is pleasant as well as challenging. We have the ability to sustain life. We built the demonstration garden in 2018 and have seen it flourish in the first season. This is our way of teaching and learning; science in its finest form. 

I have worked in many places in the prison system.  Some of my jobs have been gym porter, barber, kitchen worker, unit porter, dayroom porter, and plumber. Only now do I have a job that challenges me mentally.

A good brother of mine was already working in the program introduced me to the SPP program and horticulture program. I decided to go into it without expectations and have an open mind. I was eager to learn something new and further my academic education, but I did not want to expect to get something from it and end up disappointed.

This job has been the best I have had.  It gives me the opportunity to work and to gain knowledge I would have never taken the time to learn otherwise. Since starting my job with the SPP program, I’ve taken classes on bee handling, record keeping, seed germination, stratification process, transplanting, watering techniques planting depth, how to check the soil, water P.H levels, and when the first and last frost are so that we know when to sow.

I have also learned that everything is connected in one way or another. Everything has the same needs. These are things that we might not understand because we did not grow up learning them. All matter on earth is made up of one or more of the 118 chemical elements that are found on earth. The chemical element carbon is essential to everything because it is the building block for all living organisms. Just as carbon is vital to the foundation of an organism, water is also needed to sustain life on earth. We need soil because the soil is the building block for the evolution of vascular plants. Vascular plants played a big role in a plant’s ability to live further away from water. Without one of the three elements, life on earth as we know it would be nonexistent. Without carbon or water, life on earth would be stuck at the Bryophyte stage.

We need “Nature”. Nature is a great teacher of science. It has a way of creating great relationships within its own ecosystem. I find it interesting that this planet has been here for billions of years. Humans take up a small fraction of that timeline. With minimal time we inhabited the earth, we caused more harm than good to our planet. I believe that if we start paying attention to the relationships that happen organically and naturally in nature, that knowledge can give us the answer of how to prolong our time on earth.

Viola adunca blooms in the beds at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Alexandra James.

Like I said, the more I learn, the more I believe that everything is connected.

When I first started talking about nature, I thought of nature as a place that hasn’t been touched or bothered by humans. I have learned that nature is everything. Nature is everything that the earth produces naturally. So if everything provided by the earth is considered nature, would we consider a manmade environment nature? If everything on earth is created on earth, why would we say that everything that is manmade isn’t nature when the things that we use to make these structures are from earth. In the wild, animals use everything within their means to survive. When we humans take from nature we take more than what we need. I believe that when we build man-made structures it’s still nature as long as it has a way to give back to nature, instead of just leeching off the eco-system.

When I think of sustainability I think of the ability to keep life going. What we are doing here at Washington Corrections Center is helping with sustaining the life of the silverspot butterfly by growing Viola adunca and Viola praemorsa. With growing these species we are naturally creating an environment for the pollinators.  

Someone’s in-prison experience with science can positively affect his or her choices by simply using the scientific method. Most men incarcerated are here because we tend to make claims without even having any evidence to back up what we claim to have been real or true. If we are never taught to research or question what we learn, it can have a negative effect on our behanviors. What we display on a day-to-day basis are learned behaviors. If we are raised up and we see everyone doing the same thing, whether right or wrong, we automatically think it’s the norm.    

Amazing GRACE: Garden Grows Vegetables, Hope

By Rachel FriederichDOC Communications
Originally published July 31, 2019, in DOC Communications newsroom; reposted here with permission

A member of the offsite crew tends the GRACE project garden, located near Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.
Violet Rose Garcia (left) and Maria Jones (right) harvest some green onions. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

POULSBO – Violet Garcia crouches among rows of lush, green kale and lettuce. Her tan work shoes are caked with dirt, evidence of her hard work.

Between her gloved fingers is a robust bundle of green onions. She smiles as she trims back their long roots with a pair of garden shears.

“I’m giving them a haircut,” Garcia, 37, says. “I didn’t know green onions could get this big!”

Kaela Glover (left) and Jamie Hugdahl (right) hold some purple cauliflower they grew and harvested from the GRACE garden in Poulsbo. The women are part of an incarcerated work crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women who maintain the garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

The project is called the GRACE garden. The acronym GRACE stands for Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education. Besides the food bank, the garden is used as an educational demonstration garden for community groups.

Garcia is one of five incarcerated women who have traveled from the Belfair, Washington prison, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women to a garden in Kitsap County. The work crew does all the planting, weeding and harvesting of produce, which is given to the Central Kitsap Food Bank.

Solving a Problem

It’s all part of a partnership the Department of Corrections has with the Kitsap Conservation District.

Last year, the district opened the garden, a project made possible by a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts. The grant focuses on projects that reduce food insecurity and address food deserts.

A crewmember harvests cabbage. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Approximately 11.6% of Kitsap County’s population, or 30,000 people, experienced food insecurity in 2017, according to data collected by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. Statewide, nearly 849,000 people, or 11.5% of the population, experienced food insecurity during the same period. Food insecurity can be especially rampant in areas defined as “food deserts,” or areas that lack fresh foods due to a lack of grocery stores, farmer’s markets or healthy food providers. They often occur in impoverished and/or rural communities.

That’s where organizations like food banks and the Kitsap Conservation District can assist.

Boxes of kale and green lettuce sit at the Central Kitsap Food Bank. Women from Mission Creek Corrections Center in Mason county grew the produce in a garden in Poulsbo. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Besides running the GRACE garden project, the Kitsap Conservation District holds workshops that teach people how to grow their own food. As a partner with Kitsap County’s Clean Water Kitsap program, it also performs work with farmers and livestock owners to protect the health and wellbeing of their animals, increase crop productivity, and protect water quality and soil erosion. Members of the garden work crew also work with the conservation district on stream restoration projects. Crews remove noxious weeds from salmon habitat and replace them with native plants, which helps improve and restore salmon habitats.

Opening Doors

The work the incarcerated women perform doesn’t just impact the community. It also goes a long way toward their rehabilitation, according to Diane Fish, resource planner for the district’s agricultural assistance program.

“When you see how their attitude changes and their understanding changes, their desires change over the time that they are able to be on crew,” Fish said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”

For example, the garden helped one of the crew members pursue higher education. Fish said one of the incarcerated women shared that many of the topics she was learning through her work on the crew—biology and the environment—were many of the same things she was learning in the science class she was taking to earn her GED. Through some encouragement from her correctional counselor and Fish, the woman decided to get her diploma. A few months later, the woman was part of a graduation ceremony at Mission Creek. She’s now enrolled in college courses at the correctional facility. The incarcerated crew member recently told Fish she’s working on a degree in environmental studies so she can one day work with the Squaxin Island Native American tribal community on salmon habitat restoration.

Gardeners harvest greens from the GRACE garden. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications.

Fish says the work crews do more than just pull weeds – they learn to describe their skills and credentials to potential employers. Things they learn about on the crew– habitat restoration and knowledge of native plants and noxious weeds, for example– can lead to jobs in agriculture, commercial greenhouses, farming, and horticulture industries.

Garcia is scheduled to release from incarceration in two years. She’s still exploring her career options. She is a Native American and wants to use her newfound knowledge about the environment to find a job within her tribe, the Squaxin Island Tribe.

“That’s where my heart stands,” Garcia says. “It’s changed my outlook on a lot of different things. I’ve got to plant things and watch them grow and, at the end of the day, when we (work crew) look and see our work and say ‘Oh my gosh. We did that. We did that.’”

Safety and Eligibility

The Department of Corrections and Kitsap Conservation District makes sure everyone at the worksite as well as surrounding communities are safe.

A correctional officer supervises the work crews at all times. Crew members must meet a strict set of requirements, including being classified as a minimum-security custody level. They can’t have any serious infractions for six months, nor any drug-related infractions for at least a year. Crew members can’t have ties to family members, victims or gangs in the community in which they’ll be working.

At the GRACE garden, there are no public tours when the incarcerated gardeners are present.

The crew also receives occupational safety training on working outdoors and how to properly use garden tools. Conservation district staff inventory tools after each shift and secure them when not in use.

Additionally, correctional staff provide conservation staff who will be working with the crew orientation and continuous safety training.

Susan Keeler, a correctional officer who supervises the work crew, says getting to leave prison for a few hours a day might seem like a special privilege to outsiders. “But what people may not realize is that in addition to this being hard work, all these women are getting out of prison at some point. They need to learn how to fit back into society and be a part of it again. It makes them feel good and they’re doing something positive and contributing to society.”

Impact

A gardener cleans up a small cabbage before adding it to the transport container. Photo by Rachel Friederich, DOC Communictions.

Peggy Knott, 39, says she’s an example of that. She has just under two years left on her prison sentence. She says while she’s been on the work crew, she’s learned many jobs she could qualify for after prison, many of which she might not have considered otherwise, like wastewater management or working on a farm.

“I’ve taken so much from my community in the past and giving back gives me a more positive aspect on the type of person I can be,” Knott said. “For us to come out and do this, it makes us better people. You really push yourself and you feel really proud of yourself at the end of the day.”