Environmental Education

Education is integral to SPP’s programs. SPP-Evergreen aims to make the most of both formal and informal education opportunities and to offer new knowledge and new practice to incarcerated students, staff, and partners. While our goal is to provide education in every program, education and training in conservation and environmental education programs (described here) are SPP-Evergreen’s central focus.

Since 2016, SPP has awarded more than 300 certificates for educational achievements. For enrolled Evergreen students, a certificate translates to up to 15 transfer credits. Certificate recipients emphasize that credits awarded during incarceration provide important benefits, including encouragement and support for pursuing additional education post-release. The primary objective for SPP’s Director for Evergreen Kelli Bush is to create a mechanism for in-prison credit awards.

Gardening Course

Benjamin Asaeli is a student in the first class to pilot the Gardening Course, launched in August 2020. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

We launched a new gardening course for in-prison gardeners and learners in the summer of 2020. An extensive partnership contributed to program development and we are so grateful to all–inside and outside of prison–who made suggestions, wrote, and reviewed course materials.

The course is meant to complement existing education & gardening programs and meet more of the widespread demand for gardening education. The course is peer-led, and this should mean that many more interested gardeners will be able to study and receive certification for their new knowledge. The main program cost is printing the 500-page coursebooks that provide every student with course orientation, an overview of gardening principles, and literature on several advanced topics, with discussion questions and exercises throughout. The course also includes guidance for writing a Self Evaluation (following Evergreen’s model), and multiple forms for feedback on the course model and materials.

Foundations in Composting 

Two people shovel compost into a wheelbarrow.

Gardeners at Cedar Creek Corrections Center load compost into a wheelbarrow. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

SPP staff at Evergreen worked with numerous partners to develop a 2-credit Foundations in Composting course that builds on previous work in Washington State prisons and aims to provide foundational knowledge of composting science, techniques, and applications. The course provides education and training for small- to large-scale composting programs. The Foundations in Composting course is developed for the classroom or similar teaching and learning spaces with opportunities for hands-on learning. This course is flexible, designed for the corrections environment, and can be led by a peer facilitator, other instructor, or volunteer. Students who complete this class and all required components will receive a Document of Completion which can be used to obtain transferrable college credit from The Evergreen State College. 

Environmental Workshop Series

Workshop series coordinator Erica Benoit leads a nature illustration workshop at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, SPP’s environmental workshop series was going strong at three prisons (Stafford Creek, Washington, and Mission Creek Corrections Centers) and frequently extended to other prisons. At each prison each month, an expert in natural science, sustainability, or the environment shared their expertise. Topics were wide-ranging and engaging: wildlife biology, hydrology, innovations in composting, energy and biofuels, environmental justice, and reconciling science and religion. More than 4,000 incarcerated students have been part of SPP’s workshop series since 2009, and most attended more than once.

Workshops were enthusiastically received and we heard many requests for more topics and more events. Once we are able to re-start the program, share your expertise in science or sustainability by contacting spp@evergreen.edu.

Roots of Success (2013-2023)

A class of Roots of Success graduates and their instructor pose during a graduation ceremony at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Roots of Success (“Roots”) is an environmental studies curriculum that covers vital environmental topics and challenges students to think critically and innovate community-based solutions. During its ten-year period as a staple of sustainability programming in Washington prisons, Roots students were equipped with job readiness and re-entry skills to prepare for work in the green economy. The 50-hour course was taught by incarcerated instructors who were certified to deliver the curriculum; Both instructors and students were dedicated to ensuring the success of peer-led classrooms. More than 1,600 incarcerated adults in Washington prisons graduated from the program during its 10 years as part of SPP.

Many Roots students and teachers shared insights gained in the program. A Roots graduate, Austin Mays, wrote about Roots’ effect on his in-prison work as a cook:

…living in a place where you have little outside interaction causes you to be left behind. We, in prison, fail to see the world consuming itself. I recently graduated from Roots of Success and during this course my eyes were opened. Prison is its own city. The overhead is huge, and any way we can work together to create the best living conditions—by using the natural resources around us—is the best way.

Community College Courses

Three Washington prisons offer vocational horticultural classes, and those students gain access to classroom instruction and hands-on work in those prisons’ extensive gardens. These programs rely on partnerships with Washington State community colleges, and instructors and students of these programs are enthusiastic spokespeople for their programs. SPP staff at Evergreen seek out ways to complement and enhance their activities, but the greatest joy comes from celebrating their successes.

Class photos line the top of the white board in the Horticulture classroom at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.