The Evergreen State College’s Sustainability in Prison Project Offers a Metamorphosis for Participants

Submitted by The Evergreen State College

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) is a partnership between The Evergreen State College and the Washington State Department of Corrections that was formalized in 2008. It began as a collaboration to pilot ecological conservation and sustainable practices in a single prison and has now grown to 200 programs, with well over 2,000 participants in all 12 Washington prisons.

Evergreen State College
Carolina Landa, who came to Evergreen via the SPP program, is a member of the 2021 graduating class with Evergreen’s MPA program. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

SPP programs contribute to conservation, ecological restoration and provide education and training. Incarcerated people participating in SPP programs describe the importance of feeling valued, serving a purpose, and knowing that they are more than whatever past circumstances led them to incarceration. Education programs empower them to create their own metamorphosis into who they can become after they are released from prison.

One of SPP’s programs is the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly program. This partnership includes state, federal and nonprofit partners. Incarcerated people receive education and training to rear, breed, and care for federally endangered, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and their food source plants. Through this partnership, more than 35,000 caterpillars and adult butterflies have been released on Salish lowland prairies since 2011.

This June, both Carolina Landa and Nichole Alexander, former SPP participants, will receive their degrees from Evergreen. Both young women have worked extremely hard to reach this goal. Landa is receiving her Master’s in Public Administration through Evergreen’s Olympia campus and Alexander is receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree from Evergreen’s Tacoma campus. Both look back at what brought them to their graduation, and it seems like their pathway to Evergreen started another lifetime ago.

Evergreen State College
Now, as she gets ready to receive her MPA from Evergreen, Landa’s looking forward to her future with her son. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

Landa was first introduced to Evergreen through SPP at the Mission Creek Corrections Center in Belfair, Washington. She saw a job posting for the Butterfly Program and applied. The job description along with the opportunity to be involved with something outside of routine work within the prison facility intrigued her. She interviewed and was selected to be a part of the program. As she watched the butterflies that she fed and cared for through every stage of their lives, she began a metamorphosis of her own. As her release neared, Landa, who already had a year of college under her belt, used her experience and certificate earned through SPP to apply to Evergreen to continue on for her bachelor’s degree. Now as she gets ready to receive her MPA from Evergreen, she’s looking forward to her future with her son.

“I attribute my success and all accomplishments to the program I did with the Sustainability in Prisons Program. SPP and Evergreen being partners meant there was a foundation and path where I could aim to pursue further education,” said Landa.

She plans on getting to a director role within the next one to three years. For now, she will continue passionately advocating for positive change in her current career as a public servant.

Alexander also took part in the butterfly program for three seasons until her release in April 2019. Her experience with SPP and the opportunity to work with subject matter experts across federal and state agencies made her feel respected and valued: an experience that was therapeutic to her.

Evergreen State College
Nichole burning her court documents, leaving that part of her life in the past. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

“Being able to go out to the butterfly lab every day…the routine of being able to be in a work environment, an educational environment, to actually feel like we are giving back to the community, bettering myself and laying the foundation for my future, my kids’ future, was huge to pull me through some of the worst times that I have been through…I was actually able to find a light within myself in a very dark place,” Alexander shares.

Alexander says her experience with SPP laid the foundation for her future accomplishments. In particular, she credits Kelli Bush, SPP co-director and Keegan Curry, former SPP Butterfly coordinator, for providing the encouragement and support to apply to The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus while still incarcerated to attend post-release. In her opinion, they reminded her that she had potential.

She successfully completed her undergraduate coursework at the Evergreen Tacoma campus and was accepted into the MPA program and will graduate as part of Evergreen Tacoma’s first graduate program class.

Alexander is very active in giving back to the community and while attending school has tirelessly worked in providing support resources for the unsheltered population around Seattle.

Evergreen State College
Nichole handing out meals with World Central Kitchen, while representing the organization she works for, REACH. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

Speaking of the differences in her journey before and after incarceration, Alexander says: “If you hear my history, for that person there’s no hope…Then to sit in the meetings that I sit in …and to work with the people that I work with today, there’s no ceiling. It’s unstoppable where you can be and how you can give back.”

Both Landa and Alexander are also dedicated to reducing recidivism, connecting incarcerated women with their children, and increasing educational opportunities. With that outlook, there are many more great things in store for both women and those their work and life impact.

For more information on opportunities that The Evergreen State College offers to those looking for a metamorphosis through experience and education, please visit The Evergreen State College website.

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