Tag Archives: inmates

New Turtles and New Technicians!

Text and photos by Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers programs just received new turtles last week!

New turtle at Larch Corrections Center

New turtle at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

These turtles just finished their treatments at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center and the Oregon Zoo and moved on to the prisons to be cared for and monitored by the trained turtle technicians at the prisons.

Technician Eldridge holding a new turtle at Cedar Creek

Speaking of turtle technicians, we would like to welcome two new technicians who joined the Larch program at the same time the turtles arrived. A big salutations to Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Larson!  They are getting some great training from current lead technician, Mr. Goff, before he moves on to try out the new dog program at Larch.

Two new turtle technicians at Larch posing with new turtles

Here’s to new turtles, new technicians, and to the future release of these turtles back into the wild!

Happy New Year!

Snakes in a prison

Text by Giovanni Galarza and Joslyn Rose Trivett
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Last week, SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center brought Giovanni Galarza and two snakes into the classroom. Giovanni is an Evergreen student and herpetology enthusiast, and he gave an exceptionally compelling presentation. Thank you to Ricky Osborne for his powers of photography—seeing these images is almost as good as being there!

Sierra, a Desert Kingsnake, investigates his enclosure before the lecture. Desert Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes native to the Southwestern United States, and are immune to the venom of Rattlesnakes which they prey on.

A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.

Giovanni passes around Brandy, a young Corn Snake, for students to touch.

Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.

Giovanni assists a student with proper handling of the Corn Snake.

For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with live snakes. Everybody seemed to gain a new appreciation for these beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.

 

The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.

Collecting Sagebrush Seeds

Article and photos by Gretchen Graber, Sagebrush Grower Contractor at the Institute for Applied Ecology

Seed collectors pose with their seed collection bags.

As part of the Great Basin Sagebrush partnership, we collected sagebrush seed twice this November. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Coyote Ridge off-site inmate technician crew collected first at Swanson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and then in the Saddle Mountains on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Both properties are part of Washington State’s sagebrush steppe landscape.

Seed collectors take turns viewing sagebrush seeds through a scope.

For the Saddle Mountain collection, many local native plant society members volunteered, and we were joined by a Juvenile Justice Center work crew. For both collections we had great weather. We enjoyed being outside learning about partnership efforts to restore shrub-steppe habitat for the continued existence of the imperiled greater-sage grouse.

We gathered seed from a subspecies of big sagebrush, called Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). The seeds will be shipped and cleaned at the Seeds of Success seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon. Then it will sent back to Washington State to be used to grow next year’s crop of 60,000 Wyoming big sagebrush plugs in Coyote Ridge’s Sagebrush Nursery. We collected enough seed to create a reserve supply for the program, and share with other programs for research and conservation purposes.

Seed collectors smile from the field, surrounded by mature sagebrush.

Seeds of Success intern Shawna Kelley supported both collections, along with BLM botanist Molly Boyter. Seeds of Success supports BLM’s Native Plant Materials Development Program whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring resilient ecosystems. The Wyoming sagebrush plugs will be planted onto fire damaged lands occupied by the greater-sage grouse. The entire seed collection and sharing process ensures the availability of genetically-appropriate seed for the recovery of the greater-sage grouse in Washington State. Funding for the program is provided by BLM in Washington D.C., the Institute for Applied Ecology coordinates programs regionally, and Sustainability in Prisons Project runs the Washington State program.

During seed collection, they discovered a dead lizard atop a spiny hopsage plant; it was probably intended for later eating by a loggerhead shrike (the Cornell laboratory describes the species as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits”).

What is an Aquatic Emergent Pre-Vegetated Mat?

By Amanda Mintz, Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery Coordinator, and Master of Environmental Studies student

EVM tech at work

Technician Kent Dillard inspects the plants for evidence of pests. Photo by Fawn Harris.

In SPP’s new Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we are growing native wetland plants in coconut fiber mats for wetland restoration projects. The program relies on a team effort from incarcerated technicians, prison maintenance staff, Evergreen’s program coordinators and managers, Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Center for Natural Lands Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife. All have done an amazing job meeting the challenges of the innovative program’s technical demands.

EVM meeting

DOC’s Jim Snider, technician Brian Bedilion, aquaponics expert Daniel Cherniske and SPP Program Manager Kelli Bush tour the nursery. Photo by Fawn Harris.

Coconut fiber mats, or “coir” mats, are commonly used in restoration for erosion control and suppression of weeds such as reed canarygrass. We are pre-planting them with wetland sedges and rushes, giving those beneficial plants a head start under nursery conditions. These plant types are known as “emergent” for their ability to grow through—emerge from—the water’s surface. Our hope is that the plants will be able to out-compete weeds and provide superior habitat for wildlife, such as the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

To grow the plants, we are using an aquaponics system. Two large fish tanks contain more than 100 koi, which produce waste that the plants use as nutrients. The water from the fish tanks circulates through the plant beds and then back to the fish tanks to pick up additional nutrients. The plants grow directly into the coir mats and do not need soil. By using an aquaponics system, we save water and reduce the need to weed or fertilize the plants.

We installed the first mats at Joint Base Lewis McChord in early November, and plan to have new mats ready in just a couple of months.

carl-and-mat

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott prepares to unroll a mat at JBLM. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

 

vegetated-mats-at-jblm

The first mats have been installed! Photo by Amanda Mintz.

Turtle 4176’s Release

Co-Authored by Western Pond Turtle Technicians Taylour Eldridge and William Anglemyer

On Monday October 3rd, turtle 4176 was released from the Turtle Rehabilitation program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center . She had been there for quite some time—about 4 months, with a month long intermission at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center in Lynnwood, WA—then back for another 4 months.  She had suffered from seizure-like episodes and for awhile it looked like she wouldn’t be deemed releasable back into the wild.  We had been worried, as people who have spent time in solitary confinement ourselves, that months in captivity would have a detrimental effect on her.  So it was a great relief to finally load her into a container and board a van destined to deliver her to the Lakewood Western Pond Turtle Refuge.

Turtle Technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Eldridge, getting ready to release turtle 4176. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

When we arrived, we were met by Washington State Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Emily Butler.  In addition to facilitating the turtle release, Ms. Butler showed us how the radio telemetry transmitters are attached to the turtles. We were then given a training on how to use the radio receivers and Ms. Butler took us to the area where the turtles lay their nests.  She had hidden two mock (plastic) turtles with transmitters attached to the shells.  We took turns using the radio receiver and the attached antenna to find the plastic turtles. We both found it quite difficult; it’s not even close to easy to use the radio telemetry equipment.  But we were eventually successful in locating them–truthfully, we received some visual hints. We have a new-found respect for anyone who has to attempt to find turtle nests in this manner.

Technician, Mr. Eldridge, learning to use the radio telemetry equipment. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

Apart from the experience making us much more aware of the very difficult work of finding nests, it was a great learning experience which gave us a new found appreciation for the hands-on work that goes on in the field—a part of the program we’d never been privy to before. We learned of the plethora of other activities that the biologists do every day to help with the recovery of this amazing species.

We both feel good about being part of the SPP Western Pond Turtle Rehabilitation Program and we cannot think of a more worthwhile job—especially as people in an incarceration setting. We’re looking forward to helping the next batch of turtles get through their healing process and seeing them released back into the wild.  We hope the day will come soon when there are no more turtles that need help healing.  Hopefully, the future will bring multitudes of healthy turtles living in their natural habitat.

The Honey Bees are a Buzzin’ at Larch Corrections Center

Written by SPP Liaison and Classification Counselor Shawn Piliponis.

On September 8, 2016, Larch Corrections Center (LCC) reached another historical milestone as it kick-started a new apiary (beehive) program by hosting a class to educate participants about bees and beekeeping.

Larch Staff and students enjoying the Bee Thinking lecture. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Larch Staff and students enjoying the Bee Thinking lecture. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Inmates and staff who participated were genuinely interested in learning about bees and beekeeping, but were understandably concerned about the potential of being stung by bees. Rebekah Golden and Gabriel Quitslund from Bee Thinking in Portland, Oregon, taught how bee colonies work, which alleviated a lot of the initial fear, and those who participated walked away feeling more educated and comfortable about LCC’s new beekeeping program.

Bee Thinking's Rebekah Golden teaches a class of staff and incarcerated students about beekeeping. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Bee Thinking’s Rebekah Golden teaches a class of staff and incarcerated students about beekeeping. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

“I want to help the offender population think outside the box by showing a variety of employment opportunities available to the offenders upon release,” said Classification Counselor Shawn Piliponis, LCC’s sustainability liaison. “My primary goal for this program is to coordinate with other organizations like SPP and Bee Thinking to provide official Beekeeper Apprentice and Master Beekeeper certifications to the offender population before they release.”

It was a voluntary class, and an instant hit among all who attended. A total of 11 inmates and 11 staff, volunteers, and contractors participated, and already there is demand for more classes from both staff and inmates.

Staff get a closer look at honey comb. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Staff get a closer look at honey comb. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Shawn Piliponis coordinated with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP)-Evergreen staff Kelli Bush, Emily Passarelli, and Sadie Gilliom to arrange and sponsor the beekeeping class for LCC inmates and staff. The class was taught by Rebekah Golden and Gabriel Quitslund from Bee Thinking in Portland, Oregon. Rebekah has worked with bees for eight years in university research labs, her own apiary, Bee Thinking’s apiaries, and other community organizations. Gabriel is a sales manager for Bee Thinking who has a vast knowledge of bees and issues related to beehives such as disease, colony collapse, and pests.

Bee Thinking's Rebekah Golden and Gabe Quitslund help CC2 Shawn Piliponis set up Larch's new beehive. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

Bee Thinking’s Rebekah Golden and Gabe Quitslund help CC2 Shawn Piliponis set up Larch’s new beehive. Photo by Emily Passarelli.

The new beekeeping program at LCC will start with a beehive donated from the beekeeping program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC).

 

Sustainability & Justice

by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
Photos by DOC staff

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times. Photo by DOC staff.by Jonathan Bolden, Roots of Success Instructor, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Jonathan Bolden was certified as a Roots of Success instructor in May, 2015. Since then, he has co-taught the environmental curriculum six times.

Too often we assume that the concept of sustainability is exclusive to the realm of environmental justice. That somehow the idea of conserving natural resources, protecting endangered species and habitats, or reducing our energy consumption will automatically result in a healed earth.

This assumption overlooks the most important factor in actually employing sustainability approaches and practices to meet the growing demands of environmental justice—the human being.

Transforming our earth requires the transformation of people, more specifically, the transformation of people’s attitudes and behavior, as it relates to the environment. The greatest potential and need for this change to occur exists within prisons.

Society has condemned and confined prisoners to prison because of their unsustainable (criminal) behavior. Their behavior has wreaked havoc and devastation within communities similar to the unsustainable human behavior that has led to the environmental crises we currently face. In this sense, the sustainability concept not only applies to radically improving our relationship with the earth and environment but also in our effort to redeem, reform, and rehab[ilitate] prisoners.

Einstein once said that the current dilemmas we face could not be solved at the same intellectual level in which they were created. We are going to have to revolutionize our thinking in how we establish responsible environmental and criminal justice practices. What better way to achieve this goal than to incorporate the solution of one with the other.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Roots of Success program (Roots) puts this wisdom of Einstein into practice. These types of programs provide prisoners with the necessary skills and experience to successfully reintegrate into society and find employment in the green economy.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

Roots instructors Julian Reyes, Jonathan Bolden, and Eugene Youngblood pose at a graduation event.

At Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC), SPP creates programs and opportunities for prisoners to engage in sustainability activities. For instance, the sagebrush project allows prisoners to acquire experience with the native plants of Washington State. The sagebrush plays an essential role in the eastern Washington landscape, as it provides numerous species with food and shelter. If the sagebrush were to become threatened or even extinct, this would have serious implications for the Washington State wildlife.

Sagebrush-and-tattoo-arm

A technician in the sagebrush program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center checks the health of a plant plug. Photo by Jeff Clark, Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, the Roots course empowers prisoners with its environmental literacy curriculum. While it builds environmental understanding, it also focuses on building the individual student. This means students are challenged to assess their attitude and behavior toward the environment and by extension their attitude and behavior toward society. By introducing the green economy and green jobs to students, Roots highlights the opportunity for students to become gainfully employed and be a veritable solution to our environmental problems.

Ultimately, what we do today determines our tomorrow. SPP and Roots are planting seeds that are sure to bear the fruit of sustainability and justice. So let us take a cue from these programs and dig our hands into the dirt to cultivate a better future.

Sagebrush in Prisons Project

by Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator, Institute for Applied Ecology

Sagebrush nursery partners stand together in the hoop house. From left to right, they are Mr. Bowen, Ms. Graber, Ms. Olwell, Ms. Erickson, Mrs. Trainer and Mr. Le. Photo by Washington DOC staff.

The iconic greater sage-grouse, a species recently considered for endangered species listing, is getting a helping hand from a unique set of partners: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), and Sustainability in Prison’s Project (SPP).

Peggy Olwell, the National Plant Materials Program Lead, BLM-Washington D.C. and Vicky Erickson, geneticist for the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Region visited the “Sagebrush in Prisons Project,” at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA, on June 3rd. BLM is sponsoring the program propagating 43,300 Wyoming Big Sage and Three-tip sagebrush, plants that will be carefully nurtured over the summer months and planted out in burned shrub-steppe habitat managed by BLM, this November in Douglas County, WA.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

The tour was given by Sam Harris and Dorothy Trainer of Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator with IAE. Olwell and Erickson were able to witness the intangible benefits of the program while meeting the inmates and supporting DOC staff that are growing the sagebrush.  “Community is being created within DOC as a result of the project,” said Mr. Harris. “Coyote Ridge staff have excelled at managing the new program and special thanks goes to Dorothy Trainer and Sam Harris for their intelligent management of the program,” said Graber.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

Areas where the sagebrush will be planted are occupied by greater sage-grouse, the species targeted for population increase and recovery. The partnership among BLM, Washington DOC, IAE is part of an unprecedented effort to prevent endangered species listing of the grouse.

Greater sage-grouse are unique from other grouse species in not having a muscular crop used for digesting hard seeds. They forage on sagebrush leaves, herbaceous perennials and insects. Planting genetically appropriate sagebrush species from locally derived genetic sources provides important food and crucial habitat for the birds.

Olwell and Erickson also viewed a living quarters unit, met and talked with several dog training inmates and petted a puppy during their tour at CRCC. “Here’s to a positive future for the greater sage-grouse and to more sagebrush,” commented Olwell.

 

Princess Remington and Pele: Royalty in a prison classroom

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Vulture-and-students

June’s lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) welcomed royalty from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. I had met Pele, Fire Goddess and falcon (a kestrel), once before, and she was as impressive as ever. However, never before had I met a turkey vulture, and I was immediately smitten with Princess Remington.

Princess-Remington

Princess Remington was named for the gun that disabled her left wing during a flight over Shelton. Now she graces classrooms throughout the Puget Sound so that students can discover the magnificence of turkey vultures.

The Princess’ handler is Fawn Harris, our coordinator for the conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center. She also is staff at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and she answered nearly an hour of questions on turkey vultures. We learned that turkey vultures are social birds. They travel in groups and are monogamous. Fawn says that if she offers Princess Remington food she does not like, the vulture will still remember and express her dissatisfaction with Fawn a week later.

Fawn told us that Princess Remington was unusually at-ease in this classroom. She bowed to the assembled students!

Fawn-is-a-great-presenter

Fawn Harris clearly loves her work, and she shared a wealth of information about turkey vultures. Never again will I see them the same way.

While vultures are classified as raptors, they don’t have the typical talons or hooked beak. In fact, they are not capable of killing and they are rarely aggressive. Turkey vultures only eat animals that are already dead, finding them with an exceptional sense of smell. The acid in their stomach’s is comparable to battery acid, and diseases cannot pass through. By scavenging, they effectively remove maladies such as rabies, botulism, and cholera from the environment – without vultures, we would see far more of these nasty diseases.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels, North America's smallest falcon.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels.

Deb Wilbur told us about Pele. She is an American kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon. Deb fed Pele a baby mouse, and she tore it apart as the presentation went on. The crunching was audible to at least the first couple rows – gross and amazing! A special thanks to Deb who has volunteered her time at two or three other SPP lectures.

Lecture-students

kestrel-and-students

Deb took Pele for a tour of the classroom.

The lecture series students offered excellent questions to the presentation, and were fully attentive to the visiting royalty. At the lecture’s conclusion, one of them remarked to me “Another great lecture!” Holy cats, if they are all that good, I have got to start attending more of SPP lectures!