The Sustainable Prisons Project: Connecting Inmates with Nature

Beekeeping and composting aren't just for hippies and treehuggers anymore; they're also for felons.

Beekeeping and composting aren't just for hippies and treehuggers anymore; they're also for felons.

In 2004, Dan Pacholke, a superintendent at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington State, wanted to make his prison more cost effective. Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist at Evergreen State College in Olympia, suggested that he start by reducing the prison's water use, and connected him with a hydrologist from Evergreen who helped him install low-flow toilets and a water catchment system.

Five years later, this initial collaboration has turned into the Sustainable Prisons Project, a unique collaboration between Evergreen and the Washington State Department of Corrections that aims to "bring science and nature into prisons."

Operating in four of the state's 15 prisons, the Sustainable Prisons Project has guest lectures and hands-on workshops for inmates on everything from green building to sustainable agriculture; reduces the environmental impact of the prisons themselves with water conservation, organic farms, apiaries, and composting programs; and gives inmates opportunities to work on conservation programs that improve the ecosystem beyond the prison walls. In 2009, for example, offenders and staff at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center helped rear endangered Oregon spotted frogs to boost their numbers in the Puget Sound region.

The Sustainable Prisons Project has been successful at reducing costs. "I don't care if it's power, water, fuel, energy—we've saved every way you measure it," says Pacholke. But more importantly, perhaps, it's given prisoners the benefit of meaningful work. "There's all the therapeutic value that comes with working with something alive. It's a pretty powerful force."

Their hope is to have projects running in every prison in the state eventually, but the project has gotten attention from around the globe. State prison systems as far away as England and Brazil have expressed interest in following their example.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

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We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

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"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

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