This project takes an inside-prison perspective, showing incarcerated individuals involved in the wide-ranging environmental work of Sustainability in Prisons Project. The mission of Sustainability in Prisons project is to “empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons.” This involves conducting ecological research and conserving biodiversity by forging collaborations with scientists, incarcerated individuals, prison staff, students, and community partners.
I have photographed programs in 11 of the 12 prisons within the state of Washington.
Beekeeping in Prison
Responding to enthusiastic interest from Washington State Department of Corrections (WA DOC) staff and inmates, beekeeping programs were a major focus in 2016. In this photo, visiting SPP-Evergreen staff watch beekeeping students and a Master Beekeeper at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP); the expert had just captured the queen from an unexpected swarm found on the outside of a hive box and the group was discussing where to relocate them.
An incarcerated beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at Washington State Penitentiary.
A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
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 the bees.
Washington State Penitentiary
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.”
Incarcerated individuals at Stafford Creek Corrections Center handling snakes during a lecture on reptiles.
Brandy, a young Corn Snake, gets passed around for students to touch.
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.
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.
A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.
Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.
"The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) is a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections [whose] mission is to bring science, environmental education, and nature into prisons. SPP conducts ecological research and conserves biodiversity by forging collaborations with scientists, inmates, prison staff, students, and community partners. Equally important, SPP helps reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons by inspiring and informing sustainable practices."
Some of the programs include beekeeping, land restoration, horticulture, hydroponics, composting, animal rehabilitation, environmental literacy, and more…
There’s a poignant story from the Sustainable Practices Lab at Washington State Penitentiary about an inmate rebuilding a bicycle. The bicycle in reference 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.
A composting technician in the world-class program at Monroe Correctional Complex tends to the black soldier flies.
Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Renee Curtiss posing with one of the chickens from Washington Correction Center for Women
Incarcerated, student, and DOC staff partners care for (and about) a chicken at Washington Corrections Center for Women.
Anthony Ralls in the sewing shop at the Sustainable Practice Lab smiles as he describes his work at Washington State Penitentiary
At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, Prairie Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan found out that mature Balsamorhiza deltoidea flowers smell like chocolate!
Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm.
Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. The site visits were the technicians’ first opportunity to see the species they grow as mature plants.
A native sweat bee on Armeria species; as a part of the Conservation Nursery educational program, technicians learn about the importance of native pollinators in prairie ecosystems.
Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie, Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum.
Mima Mound Prairie Topography
Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster, Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie, Ambrosia Riche, Samantha Morgan, and Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott discuss Mima mound prairie topography.
Thanks in part to SPP’s conservation programs, Castilleja levisecta has returned to the prairies at Wolf Haven International.
Identifying Native Prairie Plants
Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan, Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds, and Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster identify native prairie plants.
Corrections Officer Kyra Cammarata and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ambrosia Riche and Ashley McElhenie sample edible Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata).
Another species grown extensively at WCCW, Castilleja hispida blooms vibrantly in the prairies at Wolf Haven International.
Prairie nursery technician Samantha Morgan visited the landscape she helps to restore in May, 2017.
Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie uses a hand lens to examine a Lomatium species at Violet Prairie Seed Farm.
Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott with rows of Balsamorhiza deltoidea, one of the primary plant species grown at WCCW.
Now at Wolf Haven International, Conservation Nursery Technician Ambrosia Riche looks closely at Armeira maritima in full bloom in the wild.