Category Archives: Uncategorized

MCC-SOU graduates Beekeepers: their excitement is contagious!

Text by Bethany J. Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

This is a poster created by staff at the SOU to advertise the program to inmates at the facility. Photo by SOU staff.

We are so excited to announce that Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offender Unit (SOU) just graduated their first class of Beekeepers! Since the beginning of their program last year, the SOU has been incredibly enthusiastic about beekeeping; it has been a pleasure to see their willingness to learn and try new things.

Honeybee comb formed in a top-bar hive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The program partners with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, and Association member Kurt Sahl volunteered as the program instructor. While every other prison bee program in the state has opted to use the Langstroth hives, the SOU uses primarily top-bar hives. Top-bar hives forgo pre-made, rectuangula frames, and leave space for bees to shape their comb as they wish (see photo for example).

Kathy Grey is the staff liaison for the beekeeping program, and one of the new Apprentice Beekeepers! With her permission, I’m sharing her description of the people and programs of the SOU.

All of the hives SOU has are painted by inmates at the facility, this one has flowers, bees, and the Earth. Photo by Bethany Shepler.
An observation window on the side of the top-bar hive allows you to see what’s going on inside the hive without opening, and disturbing, the hive. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

The Special Offender Unit (SOU) houses and treats mentally ill, intellectually disabled, and brain-injured inmates and is part of the larger Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. In addition to providing psychiatric care for the inmates, SOU also offers mental health counseling, educational opportunities, and innovative, sustainability programs for its incarcerated population. These programs include vegetable gardens and an animal rescue program that is still going strong with close to 900 animals adopted since its inception in January 2006. In addition to those programs, SOU offers Yoga Behind Bars, a University of Washington sponsored Book Club, a Community Visiting Volunteer Program and most recently the Beekeeping Program that was started last year. Beekeeping has been a fascinating outlet for the men at SOU and their excitement is contagious.

SOU is an interesting, dynamic facility with men who are eager to don their bee suits and learn everything they can this spring. Lastly, it’s important to note that volunteers are often pleasantly surprised by the genuine gratitude shown to them by the SOU inmates in recognition for their time, effort and talents.

Keep up the good work, SOU! We’re excited to see your continued successes unfold!

Seed to Supper: a bittersweet goodbye

By Jacob Meyers, Conservation Nursery Coordinator


For the past year and a half, I’ve had a truly unique and remarkable opportunity. Once per month, I made the hour long trek out to Washington’s coast, not to surf or go clamming, but to teach a garden class to over 50 incarcerated individuals. The garden class began as a way for Ed Baldwin, the Ground/Nursery Specialist at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), to support and encourage the gardens at the facility. Former SPP Coordinator, Joey Burgess, joined the effort by offering a superb (and free) introductory gardening curriculum called Seed to Supper. Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service teamed up to create the course which aims to educate and inspire adults to grow a portion of their own food and build more food secure communities. Topics covered range from building and planning to maintaining and harvesting a garden.

A PowerPoint slide from one of the very first lessons of the Seed to Supper curriculum.

During one of my first trips to prison, I got to watch Joey teach one of these classes. Joey made teaching look effortless with a laid back, but confident persona. But the following month, it was me up in front of 50 inmates and not Joey. I’m not a shy person by any means (I acted on stage in college and high school in front of well more than 50 people) but this was a bit different. For one, when I started I was by no means ‘an expert’ on gardening. And two, I wasn’t sure how well my teaching style would be received.

SPP Nursery Coordinator, Joey Burgess, presenting the Seed to Supper curriculum to gardeners at Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Photo Credit: Ricky Osborne

I remember staying up late the night before my first class scouring the material over and over to make sure I could answer any and every question thrown my way. Of course, I had no such luck. But at the same time I find it kind of funny that I was so worried. I should have guessed that the class would be full of smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable and kind individuals, and it was. They asked me tough questions and challenged me. They took what I offered them, and—with their ideas and questions—made it better. I had been too focused not being a gardening expert or  that I am not a perfect teacher. It was helpful to remember that the students weren’t expecting me to be just as I wasn’t expecting them to be perfect students, or any of us to be perfect people. Sure, these men (and women) have made mistakes, but they are people. Many of whom are eager and thirsty for knowledge.

One of the unit gardeners at SCCC raises his hand to ask a question.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

So for the past year and a half I’ve made the same trek every month not just to teach a group of men about gardening and growing vegetables, but also to learn from them.

However, in 2019 the gardening education program is transitioning and so is my role in it. I won’t be leading the class at SCCC anymore, but there are exciting developments underway. SPP has signed an agreement with Oregon Food Bank to propose changes to the Seeds to Supper curriculum. SPP staff along with incarcerated students and educators at Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Department of Corrections staff, Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Tilth Alliance, will be suggesting revisions to the existing Seed to Supper curriculum, enhancing the course with additional modules on select topics, and transitioning the resources to support a peer-led model. Developing this peer-led format builds on a growing number of efforts to empower incarcerated people with resources and support to increase educational opportunities in prisons across the state. So while it means my time delivering the program has ended, the possibility for reaching more incarcerated men and women and sharing the joys and wonders of gardening has never been higher.

And so to the unit gardeners I had the privilege to teach and learn with and to the staff at Stafford Creek I got to work with, I say goodbye for now. Hopefully someday, I will see you in the garden.

Flowers in full bloom at one of the gardens at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

Letter from a graduate: Centralia College Horticulture Program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Letter by a Horticulture Program graduate, courtesy of Scott Knapp, Horticulture Instructor

In 2013, a gardener works next to the pumpkin patch. Photo by Cyril Ruoso.

The Centralia College Horticulture Program at the Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) is a valuable asset to our Communities. It teaches us the many aspects of horticulture such as Basic Botany, Equipment Operations, Composting, Pruning, Vertebrate Pest Management, Basic Entomology, Vegetable Gardening, Plant and Flower Propagation, Lawns and Weeds. These are all sustainable resources and very important in our ongoing endeavors to make the planet a better place.

Horticulture students and TAs cultivate ornamental and pollinator plantings throughout the grounds. This display is from summer, 2018.

This season we grew more than twenty-five thousand annual flowers in our greenhouses and planted them around the facility. In addition we grew 8,000 pounds of fresh garden bounty such as Walla Walla, Red and Candy onions, Blue Lake bush beans, Gold summer squash, zucchini, Beets, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, apples, Bell peppers and strawberries.

Pumpkins await the Fall Family Fun event.

In addition, we support some of our Family Friendly events —most notably the Fall Family Fun event growing about two hundred pumpkins that the kids got to decorate with their dads, and the spring science fair with the plant a plant booth. These are great events and keep the kids and the dads connected to family.

All students and Horticulture Teaching Assistants (TA’s) in Mr. Knapp’s Horticulture program have earned twenty college credits toward our education in the horticulture industry. This will also assist us in our re-entry efforts when we return to our communities.

We learn how to work with a very diverse group of individuals as well as troubleshoot problems that may arise, not just in horticulture but in life. Accomplishing these things gives us a sense of self-worth and builds our self-esteem. Thank you to the Centralia College Faculty and Staff for making our lives better and helping us make the planet a better place.

Sincerely

Current Horticulture Graduate and Teachers Assistant.

Summer 2018 looked like a good one for growing Brassicas!

First Graduates in 4 Years!

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Graduates from the Roots of Success class proudly display their certificates; from the top left, you see graduates Jill Robinson, Dara Alvarez, Shannon Marie Xiap, Nikkea Marin, Katlynn Draughon, and instructor Chelsey Johnson.

We’re so excited to announce that Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) just graduated their first Roots of Success (Roots) course since 2015! Five students completed the 10-module course, and they are excited to put their education to work, and continue learning more.

These graduates are about to lose their instructor to release, leaving a potential void. The SPP team at Evergreen sees this as a worthy challenge, one that we are happy to address. We have put together a package of supplemental education materials that don’t require a certified instructor: movies, books, and articles that relate to the material presented in the Roots curriculum.

Roots instructor Chelsey Johnson presents
Nikkea Marin with her certificate.

Graduates have the support of MCCCW staff who also want to implement some of the things students learned about in the Roots course. For example, they hope to start working with the folks from TerraCycle to recycle the “non-recyclable” waste the facility generates. We can’t wait to hear about their continued successes – keep up the good work!

A New Innovative Partnership

Text by Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director, The Evergreen State College

Presentation team with WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar (from left to right, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Brian Bedilion, Roger Millar, and Kelli Bush)

Alvina Mao presenting at WSDOT Partnerships and Innovations conference

Over the past year, SPP Evergreen staff have been working with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) partners to develop new opportunities for education and employment pathways. The new partnership has tremendous support from WA Corrections Secretary, Stephen Sinclair, WSDOT Secretary, Roger Millar, and many staff at each agency. Building on successful prison program tours and executive leadership and committee meetings, WSDOT staff invited SPP-Evergreen staff and former SPP program participants to present at two recent conferences.

Each conference presentation included a panel with Carolina Landa and Brian Bedilion sharing their stories from pre-incarceration to post-release, Kelli Bush providing a brief overview of SPP, Alvina Mao and Eric Wolin discussing partnership alignment with WSDOT equity and inclusion goals, and Tony Bush describing education and employment pathway ideas in the environmental field.

The audience for the first conference was WSDOT environmental staff. Session participants enthusiastically expressed their appreciation to Carolina and Brian for sharing their experiences.

Carolina Landa presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

Following a successful session at the environmental conference, the panel received an invitation to present at the WSDOT Innovations and Partnership conference. The 4th Annual Innovations and Partnerships in Transportation conference included a welcome from Governor Inslee and an impressive variety of partner organizations. Our session titled “Forging a new partnership and building safe, strong communities through successful reentry” included productive discussion with attendees.

 

 

 

Brian Bedilion presenting at WSDOT Environmental Conference

The developing partnership among WSDOT, WA Corrections, SPP and others will provide exciting new education, training, and employment opportunities to incarcerated people in a variety of disciplines. Washington State Governor Inslee is a strong supporter of providing formerly incarcerated people employment as a way to build safer and stronger communities. The Governor signed executive order 16-05 directing state agencies to “implement further hiring policies intended to encourage full workforce participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories.” We are grateful to WSDOT and WA Corrections for providing such excellent support and enthusiasm for this growing partnership.

Conference presentation team (from left to right): Kelli Bush, Tony Bush, Carolina Landa, Alvina Mao, Brian Bedilion, and Molly Sullivan

Cross Pollination: Violet Program Presents in the Workshop Series

Text and Photos by Erin Lynam, SPP Workshop Series Coordinator and Alexandra James, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator

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.

July’s Environmental Workshopat Washington Corrections Center (WCC) was a very special one. This month’s guest experts were Conservation Technicians from SPP’s Conservation Nursery Program at WCC. Presenting alongside were the Teaching Assistants (TAs) that work with and support the technicians every day.

The workshop was about the technicians’ day-to-day work in WCC’s greenhouse and gardens to promote ecological and cultural restoration projects across Washington State. They covered the ecological importance of the early blue violet, especially its connection to the silverspot butterfly. They described the tedious but incredibly important process of growing violets and collecting their seeds, and how that work directly impacts the greater South Sound communities. They spoke to personal impacts their environmental work has had on them. In addition, they talked about the future of their work and the initiation of new conservation-minded projects at WCC.

SPP’s Conservation Nursery hosted by WCC continues to be among the most generative nurseries for native violet production for restoration of South Salish lowland prairies. The violets grown at WCC are used in prairie restoration efforts by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations including U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Joint-Base Lewis McChord, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, WA Department of Natural Resources, and the Center for Natural Lands Management. Violet seed collection is the focus for WCC’s Conservation Nursery Program, where Technicians learn how to nurture thousands of violet plants to optimize seed production. Technicians collect seeds from June to November. Collected seeds require cleaning, which requires sifting through a 5-plate seed sifter, inspection, and stowing in seed-safe containers. The technicians’ careful work ensure that seeds are well cleaned and ready for delivery to the various agencies and organizations.

Pictured on the left side of the table, TA Situe Fuiava and technician Dustin Sutherland show the process of sorting violet seeds.

Just like anyone who has to speak in front of a group of people, the technicians and TAs were nervous, but it didn’t show: they were cool as cucumbers through the presentation. However, by sharing their immense knowledge, demonstrating how seeds are sorted, and addressing challenging questions about the conservation work they do, their workshop was both engaging and interesting. After the workshop, it was evident that the successful experience had been a boost to their confidence. They were chatty with excitement, and were even walking a little taller.

And it wasn’t just the technicians who were positively affected by their presentation; the staff was affected as well. They showed honor and excitement for the excellent crew. WCC’s Workshop Series Liaison, Jeff Sanders, said he could not stop smiling through the whole workshop. Nursery Coordinator Alexandra James expressed that she felt incredibly proud of the crew for their hard work, dedication, and passion for the program and its positive impact on our prairie ecosystems.

Technicians and TAs present; Conservation Nursery Coordinator, Alexandra James, was only needed for technical support.

Gardening for a good cause in Kitsap County

By Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator

Two community service crewmembers from MCCCW transplant lettuce at the GRACE project.

I recently visited the Kitsap Conservation District (KCD) near Poulsbo, WA to learn more about their innovative GRACE project. GRACE is an acronym for Gardening for Restoration and Conservation Education. Each week, a community service crew from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) visits the KCD property and

The KCD offers assistance to landowners throughout the county to help improve their water and soil quality, along with managing other resources in the area.

tends a large vegetable garden that provides fresh produce to local food banks. This gives the incarcerated crew a chance to help those in need while gaining valuable skills in small-scale agriculture and farm management.

The project is coordinated by Resource Planner Diane Fish, whose background includes teaching Ag Entrepreneurship classes for WSU Kitsap County Extension. KCD initiated the GRACE project with a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts, with additional funding from the Washington State Conservation Commission.

“This is where it all happens,” said Diane as she led me through a hi-tunnel full of lush tomato plants. Beyond the tunnel lay several rows of mixed veggies, including onions, garlic, chard, kale, zucchini, yellow squash, collards, green lettuce, and more. It seemed like a diverse crop for such a small area! Shortly after my introduction to the garden, the crew from MCCCW arrived. Diane described their objectives for the morning and soon everyone had an assigned task, spade or shovel in hand.

Resource Planner Diane Fish coordinates the GRACE project, along with other KCD programs. She is an expert farm manager!

I spoke to the crew as they worked in pairs. “I didn’t know anything about gardening before I started coming here,” said one crewmember as she transplanted lettuce starts into carefully-spaced rows. “Now, I want to have my own garden at home once I get out.”

This sentiment was echoed by many women on the crew. They were also keen to mention that their labor was contributing to a good cause. Not only has the garden produced thousands of pounds of produce for local food banks, but the crew even planted a field of carving pumpkins that will be donated to food bank clients via vouchers; families who receive the vouchers can visit the KCD the week before Halloween and pick out their own jack-o-lantern free of charge!

A community service crewmember searches for the ripest zucchini.

MCCCW crews have worked on various KCD projects over the years including stream restoration for salmon recovery, native habitat revegetation, and other less glamorous conservation work. I spoke to Diane again after my visit and she emphasized that these crews “really are saving the world, a little bit at a time, in all the work they do for KCD.” The GRACE project was conceived as a way to enhance the KCD’s existing collaboration with MCCCW. This special initiative adds a meaningful service experience for the incarcerated gardeners while producing much-wanted, high-quality vegetables and herbs for local food banks.

By the end of July, 2018, the GRACE project had donated 4,356 pounds of fresh produce to Central Kitsap Food Bank, St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank, and the Bremerton Foodline. And in an exciting new development, the kitchen at MCCCW has agreed to take donations of produce that can be used for the prison cafeteria.

Thank you to Diane Fish and the KCD for giving me the grand tour, and for working with MCCCW to develop this project. And thanks to the incarcerated crew for getting soil between their fingers as they work to help communities in-need. Yet again, I am reminded of the transformative power of simply growing food.

A wide shot of the GRACE project farm, with MCCCW community service crewmembers harvesting produce for this week’s donations.

A running tally of donated pounds of produce for 2018. The year is only halfway over, and the GRACE project farm is designed to yield fresh produce year-round!

The day’s harvest begins to accumulate as community service crewmembers check on their progress. It’s satisfying to know that these bountiful crates of produce will provide nourishment for those in need.

Blooms & Blossoms at Washington Corrections Center

Early-blue violet. Photo credit: Alexandra James

by Alexandra James, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Teaching Assistant, Morris Talaga, inspecting a raised bed for weeds and pests. Photo credit: Alexandra James

Spring has sprung at Washington Corrections Center (WCC)! The Conservation Nursery is well underway with the cultivation of two viola plant species (Viola adunca & Viola howellii) that currently fill the twenty-nine raised beds that compose the core of the nursery. Viola adunca, commonly known as the early-blue violet, is a critical prairie plant species for the South Sound Prairie ecosystems of Washington State and Oregon. In fact, the early-blue violet is the only food source for the silverspot butterfly’s larval life-stage. This means that the silverspot caterpillar feeds only on the early-blue violet and relies on the plants sustenance for survival. Today, the silverspot butterfly is federally recognized as endangered due to the loss of native habitat and, in particular, the loss of the early-blue violet.

Why should we care about the silverspot butterfly? Like all butterflies, the silverspot butterfly is an important pollinator species. Without pollinators, we would see a collapse of our agricultural economy, food supply, and surrounding landscapes. Pollinators are essential in preserving biodiversity, preventing soil erosion, increasing carbon sequestration, and more importantly, providing us with ecological services, including our food and raw materials.

The WCC Conservation Nursery Crew is working hard to aid in the recovery of the early-blue violet. Technicians spend a vast majority of their time learning about, sowing, cultivating, and tending to thousands of viola plants—this is what it means to be responsible for the world’s largest violet production nursery! The crew dedicates year-round attention to the successful propagation of the early-blue violet and collects viable seed during the summer months to aid in prairie conservation efforts across Washington State. The seed they collect will be shared with state agencies such as the Center for Natural Lands Management and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and go to prairie restoration initiatives that aid in the protection of butterfly species, including the silverspot butterfly. “The work we do is important and it is great to be a part of something so important and meaningful for our community; it means so much to give back” – Teaching Assistant, WCC SPP Crew.

Spring blooms of the early-blue violet. Photo credit: Alexandra James

In addition to the viola plants, the WCC Conservation Nursery Crew has sown over thirty-five different prairie plants to be used in a Prairie Demonstration Garden that will aid in the education of prairie landscapes to WCC visitors, staff and residents. All thirty-five plants are native to the South Sound Prairies of Washington State and Oregon. The cultivation and propagation of these native plant species will support hands-on environmental education for the crew and bring awareness to the importance our state’s prairie landscapes.

Propagation tray of native prairie plant (Achillea millefolium) for the Prairie Demonstration Garden.

Liaisons are our Roots for Success

Text and photos (except where noted) by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

A Roots of Success graduate at CRCC shows his appreciation for the program. Photo by DOC staff.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental education program that promotes awareness of environmental issues, problems and solutions, personally, locally, regionally, and globally. Roots of Success is offered by the Sustainability in Prisons Project in 10 of Washington State’s prisons. The program is championed by incarcerated instructors and students, and more than 1,200 people have graduated since the program began in 2013.

The unsung heroes of Roots of Success are the DOC staff members who serve as program sponsors, or “Roots Liaisons”. The program wouldn’t be possible if not for the incredible individuals that work with us within facilities. Even though I can’t highlight all of them, I want to recognize a few extraordinary people who make Roots of Success possible: Chris McGill at WSP, Gena Brock and CRCC, and Kelly Peterson at SCCC.

The Roots Liaisons are in charge of finding and scheduling the classroom, ensuring secure and functional multimedia equipment, responding to needs of instructors and students, and program reporting. This program would not be possible without the Liaisons’ determination and hard work.

Chris McGill is the Roots Liaison at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). He manages the amazing Sustainable Practices Lab, where Roots serves as a prerequisite for jobs in the lab’s shops. Chris first got involved with sustainable programming when he and small team of inmates decided to transform an empty space at the prison into a garden.

Gena Brock is Roots Liaison for Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC); in the photo above, she poses with the Roots of Success Instructors at the prison. As the Roots Liaison, she has provided steadfast program support and is always thinking of ways to improve the program at CRCC.

Kelly Peterson at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) is a relative newcomer to the Roots program. Kelly recently took on the role of sustainability liaison at SCCC, and is the point of contact for everything from beekeeping to gardening to the aquaponic “EVM” nursery. SCCC’s Roots program has been going strong since 2013, and we fully trust her to continue that success. She is dedicated, productive, and positive—pretty much everything you would want in a partner!

SPP, Allies, and Friends: Thank you and goodbye!

Text by Liliana Caughman, outgoing SPP Workshop Coordinator
Photos by Mark Sherwood and Kelly Peterson at SCCC

Liliana poses with Workshop students on her last day at SCCC. These two were particularly energetic and engaged, always participating in everything: they asked great questions, brought insight to environmental discussions, and were willing to hold snakes when needed!

 

It is strange how the past two years have flown by and it’s hard to believe that my time visiting prison has come to an end. It is stranger yet that many of the people I interacted with in prison will remain there for years to come. I can only hope that my small efforts made an active difference in the lives of the students, those who I saw month after month in SPP’s Environmental Workshop Series.

 

Mark Sherwood was a lively and dependable partner at SCCC. He bridged the gap between SPP and the incarcerated students and made sure the workshops were successful for everyone.

 

To me, the story of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) is one of cooperation, patience, and unlikely friendships.

I was troubled by prison in many ways and became more cognizant of institutional discrimination. At the same time, I also encountered such beauty. I have seen in-prison gardens expand to cover acres and beehives spread across the state. I have seen a room of 80 grown men geek-out over octopuses and vultures and climate science. I have seen hardened corrections officers shift to a focus on rehabilitation and education and understanding. I have seen how—given sufficient opportunity—hope, happiness, progress, and creativity can flourish in any environment.

 

SPP’s work at SCCC could not happen without the ongoing support of Chris Idso. Here he says goodbye to Liliana. Chris is already so excited to get to know Erin and create more positive changes, like hosting workshops in the visiting room!

 

These valuable experiences will never leave me. As I continue my academic path, I will not forget about those behind bars or other vulnerable populations who are suffering. However, I will also remember the good people working in these institutions who are partners, fighting for change in the ways they know how. With all parties being valued, challenged, and heard, I know great things can happen.

Now the time has come for me to say goodbye and thank you to SPP and everyone with whom I partnered. I am proud to have been a part of this unique endeavor and look forward to watching it continue to grow.

I am also thrilled to pass on my position as Workshop Series Coordinator to Erin Lynam. With a focus on policy and passion for changing our system of incarceration, I know she will breathe new life into the program and continue its evolution.

Cheers!