Tag Archives: The Evergreen State College

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!

Teddy bears and rebuilt bicycles: From prison to the community

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

There are little bits of prison humor throughout the SPL; the signs for the bear and quilt production area read “Stuffed Animals Department” and “Bears From Behind Bars.”

Before visiting the Sustainable Practices Lab (SPL) at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), I was told it was an impressive set-up. Still, I was not prepared for how large and integrated it is. The SPL is basically a warehouse housing 18 programs, including a Teddy Bear program, aquaponics, SafeTap water filtration system (here’s an article on the guys at the SPL constructing water filters!), composting, wood-working, recycling, trout, gardens, quilt making, crochet/knitting, classroom, and the sign shop. I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting too—the SPL is incredible to the point of overwhelming!

 

This is a view of the wood-working area within the SPL. In the background is some of the recycling (cloth and cardboard) as well as a little “plant hospital” at the back, where inmates care for “sad” plants brought in by staff members.

 

On the left side of the photograph is the aquaponics and trout area of the SPL. On the right is where inmates make quilts, teddy bears, and knitting and crochet crafts. There’s a room in the back of the photo that houses the wood-burning equipment, for sign etching.

I could not believe how resourceful the guys at the SPL are. Everything they work with is recycled or donated — even the teddy bears’ stuffing comes from recycled material retrieved from the prison’s waste stream.

 

These garden boxes are what started it all at WSP. Inmates rent a box for a small fee, and keep a garden with the plants of their choice. As the popularity of the garden boxes grew so did the sustainability programs available.

 

When an inmate joins the SPL their first task is to make a baby quilt. All materials for quilts have been donated by the local community. Once the quilts are completed, they are donated back to the community.

Of all of the stories I heard when I visited the SPL, I was most struck by one about an inmate rebuilding a bicycle. This particular bicycle came with a letter attached. The letter explained that the bike was owned by a little girl who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The parents kept the bicycle in their garage for almost 20 years before giving it to the prison to be refurbished. When SPL staff and technicians read the letter and saw the little girl’s bike, they knew of the perfect man to refurbish it: an SPL technician who had been incarcerated for hitting and killing a bicyclist while driving drunk. He was asked if he would be willing to refurbish this bike; he accepted knowing the task would be difficult and healing.

He refurbished the bike to look exactly like it did when the little girl rode it and returned the bike to her mother with a letter of his own. He detailed his healing process through refurbishing this bicycle; he was frequently moved to tears while working on the bicycle and even now, he can’t help but cry when he thinks about it. The mother of the little girl now takes the bicycle and the two letters with her to local schools and organizations where she talks about the dangers of driving drunk.

For me this story captures the heart and soul of the SPL, where every program is dedicated to reclaiming materials, creating value, and giving to the community. It’s a moving illustration of how ingenuity, creativity, and hard work can change lives!

Here’s a link to an earlier two-part blog on the WSP SPL: Part 1 and Part 2.

Climate Change Symposium in Prison: Incarcerated people creating solutions

Text by Erin Lynam, Workshop Series Coordinator
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On October 18th at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we held the first ever Climate Change Symposium in a prison. The five hour event brought together 91 environmental students, eight SPP-Evergreen staff members, five guest speakers, and five DOC staff members.

First up was Mike Burnham from Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) who gave a presentation about region-wide planning and action for climate change resilience. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

TRPC asked participants to break into small groups to play their board game, Resilience Road. Each group collectively selected and prioritized responses to a climate change challenge for a hypothetical community. This small group included SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The exchange of ideas and insights was a highlights of the symposium. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Students had the chance to show just how knowledgeable they are regarding environmental issues. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

But the game wasn’t all work, it was fun too! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

TRPC graciously donated a copy of Resilience Road to Stafford Creek Corrections Center so that students can continue to play and inform their work as environmental stewards. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During the symposium students were given an opportunity to mingle and engage with guest speakers and SPP staff about climate change. Here they talk to SPP’s former Turtle Program Coordinator Sadie Gilliam. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Next up was incarcerated environmentalist and longtime SPP participant, Toby Erhart. He shared what climate change means to him and what actions he’s taking to address it. He is an active member in the conservation nursery program, beekeeping, and the composting program at SCCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

After staff, guests, and students had a lively discussion over a shared lunch, members of Got Green gave a presentation. Johnny Mao, Johnny Fikru, and James Williams of Got Green presented on Got Green’s social and environmental justice work in low income and communities of color. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During Got Green’s presentation, James Williams stated that even though the students may be apart from their community, they were not forgotten and he considered them part of his community. This acknowledgement of oneness is an incredibly rare moment in the prison environment and was moving to witness. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To wrap up the symposium and reflect on everything they learned, SPP invited the students to share what they found most important and what steps to take next. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

To have the opportunity to spend the day learning alongside individuals who are emphatically committed to keeping our planet healthy was inspiring. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big news for the SPP-Evergreen team

Dear SPP partners and friends,

I am pleased to make some Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) announcements!

The Evergreen State College recently decided to change SPP’s campus status from a Faculty Project to a Public Service Center. SPP had grown far beyond the scope of a Faculty Project since I took over the co-directorship in 2011. An exciting outcome of this new transition is that establishing SPP as a Public Service Center allows a new model for the directorship.

I am pleased to announce Kelli Bush as SPP’s new Co-Director! She is filling my former role leading the Evergreen side of the partnership. Kelli and her excellent counterpart at Washington State Department of Corrections, Steve Sinclair, will oversee SPP’s programs statewide, and guide and consult on SPP-modeled programs internationally.

Kelli Bush releases Oregon spotted frogs in 2015. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In her 8 years as Program Manager, Kelli has shown herself to be an effective, detailed, and diplomatic leader. She has handily managed the Evergreen side of the SPP partnership, is a thoughtful and supportive supervisor, and has kept all the bits and pieces of this program working smoothly. During my tenure as Co-Director, I could not have asked for a more capable Program Manager than Kelli. As my responsibilities as a faculty member at the college cycled through more demanding transitions, Kelli took up much of the ambitious and challenging work of shaping and implementing programs. I am delighted to formally recognize her talent, vision, and capacity as a leader.

Kelli Bush and Steve Sinclair co-present SPP at American Correctional Association’s conference in August, 2017.

SPP’s Director for WA Corrections Steve Sinclair shares a high regard for Kelli:

“I have had the privilege of knowing Kelli since around 2008. Since that time and as I assumed new roles for SPP, my interactions with Kelli have increased and re-affirmed what I know from my earliest interactions: Kelli is truly dedicated to the mission of SPP, she brings organization and a steadfast determination to the work of SPP. Kelli has played a key leadership role in maintaining operations throughout the many transitions. In her new role, I am sure her vision will drive SPP to new and greater accomplishments.”

This transition to a Public Service Center is essential: organizational and program development and operations require day-to-day decision-making at every level. Even with this shift, SPP will still receive important faculty support and input. As Senior Science Advisor and a member of SPP’s Advisory Panel, I will ensure the ongoing academic strength of SPP programs, and optimize my involvement around scientific contributions. Relieved of administrative duties, I will be able to give more focus to engaging additional members of the faculty which will increase the range and diversity of expertise available to staff.

Dr. Carri LeRoy ready to release Oregon spotted frogs in 2012. SPP staff photo.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to all of you for your roles in helping us to build and champion SPP. We extend special gratitude to the college’s leadership and the Board of Trustee‘s for supporting this organizational transition. I look forward to my interactions with all of you in the future. Thank you for all you do for SPP!

~Carri
Carri J. LeRoy, Ph.D.
Member of the Faculty, Freshwater Ecology
The Evergreen State College

In 2011, Carri and Kelli celebrating the butterfly program with partners, filling up the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly greenhouse at MCCCW.

Kelli and Carri share a laugh with Joslyn at SPP’s ten year celebration in 2013. Photo by Danielle Winder.

My First Few Months at SPP

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

When I first heard about a job opening at the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I couldn’t believe there was a group that combined two of my passions. I called my best friend and excitedly shouted at her all I had learned about SPP. Her response was simply “you’re applying for that, right? Cause it’s perfect for you.”

Well, I applied for the position of Green Track Program Coordinator and practiced for my interview over and over. I would like to think I projected an air of confidence during my interview, but I desperately wanted to make a good impression so I made myself quite nervous. A few days later, I received the call offering me the position! I don’t really remember the call, I just remember being so excited I could hardly breathe.

For the second time in my life, I knew I was on the right path.

Emily Passarelli and Bethany Shepler observe nursery technicians at WCC picking buds from violets that will be used for re-seeding later. Photo by SPP Staff.

Sitting at my desk a few months later, I still know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I still get excited to go to work, I love the challenges this job brings, and I can’t wait to find out what I learn throughout my time here.

Although I don’t get to go to prison as often as my colleagues do, when I do I find that I’m always surprised by how normal everything feels “inside.” I sometimes forget where I am until I see the barbed wire and guard towers.

Group photo of Climate Symposium at SCCC. This was an incredible event about climate change and the actions people can take to mitigate it. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The thing that surprises me the most is how inspiring the inmates are. They are full of hope. Out of all the inspirational speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in my lifetime, the most powerful voices are those of the incarcerated individuals I work with. I often leave prison feeling hopeful and positive about the state of the world. Regardless of the tweets or breaking news, it’s the people who we’ve locked away that are showing me the way forward.

SPP Manager Carl Elliott Receives Restorationist of the Year Award!

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Conservation Nursery Manager, Carl Elliott has been awarded the Society for Ecological Restoration Northwest Chapter’s  (SERNW) Restorationist of the Year Award for 2017.

Carl receiving the Restorationist of the Year 2017 award. Photo by Keegan Curry

The award is given “in recognition of individual efforts to promote ecosystem health, integrity and sustainability through ecological restoration.” Carl brings more than two decades of professional experience to SPP, including appearances as the “Radio Gardener” on a Seattle radio program, ecological restoration work with the Nature Conservancy, experience teaching organic gardening classes and serving as a founding board member of Seattle Youth Garden Works. During his graduate work in The Evergreen State College, Master of Environmental Studies program, Carl started SPP’s first Conservation Nursery program in a Washington Department of Corrections facility in 2009.

Carl explaining how to identify harsh Indian paint brush. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Carl giving a prairie tour. Photo by SPP Staff

SERNW presented this award in recognition of Carl’s “innovative application of horticulture to the restoration field in developing a conservation nursery program that additionally improves outcomes and conditions for incarcerated people in WA State’s correctional system.” With this award they “recognize the unique challenges and creativity needed” to develop a conservation nursery program in a prison while also providing education and training to incarecerated partners. They also state that Carl’s work has “greatly expanded capacity for native seed production needed for glacial outwash prairie restoration.”

Carl talks with incarcerated parners during a prairie nursery tour. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With partner support, Carl has helped grow the SPP Conservation Nursery Program from one prison to three prisons, producing over 2 million native plants of about 60 different species. In 2016, Carl and the SPP staff he oversees, delivered more than 130 educational workshops and seminars for incarcerated program participants. More than 130 incarcerated people have participated in these programs since 2010. We are so grateful for all of Carl’s contributions to SPP and pleased that he has been recognized for his excellent work!

Finding Elysium

Words and Color-Pencil Illustrations by Michael Gorski, Conservation Technician, Stafford Creek Corrections Center
Editor’s note: Seems like Mr. Gorski gives SPP too much credit, but his beautiful work needs to be shared!

I was introduced to my artistic life in 1959. I lived in a dysfunctional family that was without love. However, I was blessed to be in a small country-town of about 500 people in the woods of Central Washington. Mt. Adams was the view from the front yard. A beautiful mountain creek flowed serenely through our town. Our town was five blocks by seven blocks in diameter, so, within minutes, I could escape the prison of my childhood and wander into the realm of the country-stream that became my Elysium.

It was in the summer of 1959 that my grandfather came to stay with us for a summer visit. He came to the United States from Russia in 1912 where he had been an artist, musician, and woodcarver. He noticed that every morning I would wander off (sneak out) of the house long before the madness began. He asked one day if he could join me in my country, Elysium. That summer, my grandfather taught me how to draw nature using colored chalk, charcoal, and colored pencils. But this was not just an education on art. This was a lesson in recognizing the inherent quality and basic constitution of all things – all things that flowed the waters, flew in the air, and grew in the ground. He taught me that Mother Nature’s garden is God’s gift; and this countenance is what will protect me.

Once my father and older siblings found out what I was doing and saw my art work, they laughed at me and teased me mercilessly. I continued on through life for the next 51 years keeping my artwork and love for the outdoors private and personal. I was so self-conscious that I went on secret camping trips that I hid from my family. I even hid my love for flowers and gardening by acting as if the work was for my wife and daughters. I felt that I had to hide what brought me peace.

Then, serendipitously, a guest lecturer [Jeanne Dodds] from the Sustainability in Prisons Project held a workshop to teach how to draw butterflies, birds, and other nature imagery with colored pencils. I was at once transported to my childhood Elysium. Working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project erased the need to keep my artwork and devotion to nature a secret. Not only was I taught how to coax seeds to germinate, but my sense of self germinated in the process. Working to ensure the health and survival of plants became the focus of my life. Through tending vegetable and flower gardens, caring for honeybees, learning about greenhouses and aquaponics, and cultivating wild prairie seeds, it became okay to share my love for these things. It became okay to share my artwork for the first time in my life. I am now drawing pictures of birds for my daughters and my grandchildren. We as a family are now discussing nature – mountains, woods, rivers, camping, hiking, and gardening. An old man has the tools he needs to succeed in life and share all he is with those he loves.

I can now say that I am proud of my artwork. My hope is that anyone who looks upon one of my drawings can feel the sense of peace inside myself and the birds that I draw. Thank you for teaching an old man about life. Carpe diem!

Busy as a Bee at WSP

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Group photo of program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, professional beekeeper Mona Chambers, and a class of inmate beekeepers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Amid the razor wire and blocky buildings of the Washington State Penitentiary, you might be surprised to see beautiful blooming flowers and thousands of bees busily bumbling through their work. From catching feral swarms, to breeding their own queens, the beekeeping program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has established themselves as a successful and inspirational model.

The program began about 5 years ago when three feral hives were discovered on the grounds. Some of the staff was interested in raising bees and contacted Rob Coffee, an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately, those first few hives didn’t last the year, but still it was enough of an introduction to catch the interest of staff and inmates.

Over the years, there have been staffing changes and many generations of bees have come and gone. Rob Jackson, now Associate Superintendent, first pushed for the bee program when he noticed those feral hives on site. These days the program is run by Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, both corrections staff and experienced beekeepers. Last year, a professional beekeeper and founder of See the Bees, Mona Chambers, donated her time to come teach a class of beekeepers at WSP; since then she has kept in contact with them monthly and has supported program innovations such as natural, effective ways of mite control. The program also receives some input from the same Master beekeeper (from Millers Homestead) who supports the beekeeping program at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A class at WSP working with bees. When asked about the beekeeping course, one student said “I love it. It’s so exciting. Honored to be a part of it, really. If they were going to transfer me next to my family, I’d tell them to wait until this was done.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jonathan and Ron teach WSP’s class to certify inmates as apprentice beekeepers has 15 slots, and clearly this isn’t enough to meet demand – there were 90 inmates who wanted to take the class this year! The course is split between in-class sessions and hands-on working with hives. Their goal of the program is for inmates to gain sufficient experience and journeyman level-certification so they could teach the classes themselves. Even in the early days of the bee program, staff wanted this to be a program that inmates could be fully involved in and eventually run.

Currently, WSP has 12 healthy hives, and that’s even though only 5 made it through the winter. To boost their numbers, they catch feral swarms or buy packages of bees. The one thing that WSP won’t buy are queens—they can rely on Ron Benjamin’s experience as a commercial beekeeper in which he learned how to breed queens. By breeding their own queens, they can choose to favor certain traits and genetics beneficial to their environment.

A class of students, program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, and professional beekeeper Mona Chambers inspect the hives before opening them to check on WSP’s bees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The WSP beekeeping program’s main goal is to help incarcerated individuals build skills as productive members of society, but they have many other things they want to accomplish, too. They want to educate inmates and staff about the beekeeping crisis on the west coast, and do their part to reverse the bee shortage; they want to give inmates opportunity to experience the serenity that comes with beekeeping; and—above all—teach inmates a marketable skill to have when they’re released.

As the season wraps up, WSP will harvest their honey and package it in jars that are decorated in a seal designed by this years’ graduated beekeepers. Once they finish harvesting, they will begin to wind down for the winter. We at SPP look forward to more continued success and inspiration from the busy beekeepers of WSP.

An inmate beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at WSP. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Bright colors speak loudly for the hard work being done at Stafford Creek!

Photos and text by Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

In SCCC’s nursery, technicians sow wild seeds for prairie restoration; here, a technician works with Scouler’s campion (Silene scouleri) seeds.

For nursery technicians, much of the year is spent inside greenhouses where they can be found sowing prairie seeds and tending vegetable starts. Weeding, watering, and controlling insects are the main duties — duties that generally do not yield much glory. However, when summer arrives, the facility resembles a hive that buzzes with activity, color, and pride.

Prairie plants move from greenhouses to outdoors as they mature. Vegetables are unearthed, cleaned, weighed, and sent to local food banks. Flowers are blooming as they are sent to various gardens around the facility. And amidst all of that – cultural & education events.

In photos, here is a sampling of the summer’s activities and harvests.

(From left) Shabazz Malakk, Bui Hung, Aaron Bander, and Travis Newell just harvested beets from one of their vibrant vegetable gardens near the Conservation Nursery.

Shabazz Malakk looks for ripe strawberries in the lush garden of the Conservation Nursery.

Terrell Lewis carefully moves established prairie plants to meet the needs of the next stage of growth – to a greenhouse with different watering conditions.

(From left) Joshua Hieronyms, Toby Erhart, Travis Newell, Bien Nguyen, and Mark Sherwood share salad and sustainability and the SCCC cultural event.

Environmental programs in corrections, near and far

In an Oregon prison, butterfly technicians pose with their larvae, growing in cups under energy-efficient LED bulbs. From left to right: Marisol, Carolyn, Mary, Sarah. Photo by Tom Kaye or Chad Naugle.

By Kelli Bush, SPP Acting Director for Evergreen, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Our summer newsletter highlights a selection of environmental programs in corrections. Most of these programs have been replicated across the country, and we have included a few international examples. Beyond these examples, environmental and sustainability programs are operating in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities nationwide and around the world. Many extend the SPP-style model of ensuring benefits for everyone involved—these are not just cost saving measures.

In these articles, we share perspectives from inmates, corrections staff, and outside-prison partners, demonstrating the collaborative nature of the work. Connections with allied environmental programs have strengthened a growing movement to offer environmental education, access to nature, and sustainable living skills to incarcerated people. We get to continually learn from each other to improve and expand programs, collaborate on new initiatives and evaluate impacts.

Dog handlers of Freedom Tails at Stafford Creek Corrections Center pose for Atsuko Otsuka, freelance journalist and author, consultant for the Guide Dog Puppy-Raising Program and the Horse Program at Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Japan.

Together we are inviting people who are incarcerated to recognize the significance and relevance of their skills, talents, and contributions to the environmental movement. Honoring their creativity, experience, and resilience and adding the power of education creates potential for positive shifts in self-perceptions and agency. At the same time, we are working to add diverse and talented stewards to the environmental movement.

As a result of this growing movement, beekeeping is thriving in multiple states. Environmental education in correctional facilities is no longer so uncommon. Countless prisons are creating new standards for reclaiming and revaluing resources the rest of us are too likely to throw away. In Washington, we can barely keep up with the excitement and demands for sustainability programs in prisons. It is wonderful to be part of something big-hearted, socially inclusive, and life affirming!