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Being Green - Sustainable Prisons

Hi Folks:

I usually start these with, “Friday once again and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.”

This post started out the same way… I had one idea for a topic, then completely changed my mind and went off in a different direction, started doing research on that, wrote two other blog posts, celebrated (with Marcia) our 195th Monthaversary of being a couple, followed by our 18th Anniversary (216th Monthaversary) of the day we met, and it’s now Monday and I’m back to my original topic!  This coming Saturday is our 100th Monthaversary of being married, but I should have this week’s ‘Being Green’ post done before then!  😉

Before I get to that, however, last week’s post was on solar power and I wanted to take a second to add in this link: Concentrated Solar Power Tower In Seville, Spain: The Future Of Electricity? I also wanted to point you toward a brilliant TED talk by Michael Pawlyn on biomimicry, titled “Using nature’s genius in architecture“.  Well worth your time.

Okay, this week’s post is on ‘Sustainable Prisons’.  I have friend who has a Master’s degree in Criminology and as such she’s entitled to use fancy words like ‘recividism‘, and qualified to talk about the penal system in Canada and the US vs. the penal system in Sweden for example.  I also had a friend (now deceased) who was a psychologist at a prison for the criminally insane.  I have no such qualifications, but I have read Edward O. Wilson’s book called ‘Biophilia‘, and was touched by the movies ‘Greenfingers‘ and ‘The Bird Man of Alcatraz‘.  Essentially ‘biophilia’ translates as ‘love of the earth’, and that’s something that affects all of us.  There’s an interesting article called, ‘Biophilia, Selling the Love of Nature‘ that speaks to this, and I did a previous ‘Being Green‘ post on a similar same topic.

If you ask most people about ‘prisons’, I think they would conjure up the same images of steel bars, razor wire, concrete walls and guard towers.  Apparently the first time it was suggested to close P4W (Prison for Women) in Kingston, ON was the day it opened.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that people need that connection to the earth and to life, and when they have it they are transformed in ways they can’t really explain.  The 2010 ‘Windlesham Trophy’ went to the inmates at HM Prison Foston Hall, Derbyshire, England, and various groups of inmates in British prisons have won medals at a number of shows over the years, including the world-renowned RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

One woman who’s taken this to another level entirely is Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a dynamic woman and a professor at Evergreen State College in Washington state.  Dr. Nadkarni and other scientists and students have been working with the Washington State Department of Corrections to create and maintain the Sustainable Prisons Project.  In addition to creating organic gardens, recycling, composting and reducing water and energy use in the prisons, inmates are actively involved in projects like growing mosses, restoring populations of the Oregon spotted frog and growing endangered plant species (YouTube video).  From the inmates’ perspective, it provides them with useful activities and gives them an income, but it also expands their horizons, makes them an integral part of something larger, something significant outside of the prison, and gives them a connection to the plants and animals under their care.  I don’t know of any similar programs in any other state or province, and I wasn’t able to find any online.  I did discover that the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR is being constructed with sustainability in mind.  I also found that in the spring of 2009 it was announced that the Correctional Service of Canada would be shutting down its six prison farms over the following two years, a move viewed as misguided by the National Farmers Union in Ontario.  More information may be found on the ‘Save Our Prison Farms‘ website.

As someone who’s been involved in fish and wildlife research for a number of years (decades), I can say that the field of biology and especially research is perpetually short of staff and funding and would welcome input from a dedicated group of individuals such as is being demonstrated at the Stafford Creek Correctional Center in Washington.  There are many, many benefits to all involved, and few if any risks.

There’s another level to this as well, and that’s to involve people in connections and community before they lose their way and wind up in prison.  A couple of examples include ‘Evergreen‘, which is involved with greening school communities, and the ‘Rediscovery Society‘, which introduces youth to Native elders, and which teaches them about their connections to the earth and each other.  Marcia and I used to live on 200 acres outside of Toronto, and we used to volunteer to do craft workshops at Covenant House in Toronto.  Covenant House is essentially a no questions, few rules sanctuary for street kids.  Covenant House has a number of programs, too many to mention here, but one day we had a busload of kids, two staff and two volunteers show up at our place in the country.  Most of these kids had never walked on anything but concrete or asphalt, and I don’t think any of them had ever been surrounded by 200 acres of trees and grasslands.  They didn’t know what to expect, but 6½ hours later almost all of the kids wanted us to adopt them and none of them wanted to get back on the bus – even after they discovered it was a 4-hour round-trip walk to the closest convenience store.  My Lakota ‘grandmother’ and teacher would have said, “Mitakue oyasin” – we are all related – and it’s true.

The links for this week include:

Okay, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!
Mike.

P.S. To celebrate our 18th Anniversary we went to a local restaurant called ‘red fish blue fish‘.  We’ll write more about it at our end-of-the-month ‘Food’ post, but it has a lot to recommend it from a ‘green’ perspective as well.  The restaurant is small, made largely from a reused shipping container.  All of their seafood is ‘Oceanwise‘ sustainability certified, and they have no garbage bin.  There are two bins: one for glass, metal and plastic for recycling, and one for leftover food, napkins, (paper), food trays (cardboard), utensils (pressed wood fibre) and coleslaw/condiment dishes (paper), all of which is collected for composting.  If they told me that their used fry oil went to biodiesel production and that the coleslaw was made from locally harvested vegetables, it could be ‘green’ fast-food heaven!  (The food is very good too, but we’ll get to that.)

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