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Coffee Creek abuzz with new beginnings

Correctional facility adds beekeeping to its list of sustainable practices


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A prisoner crew observes and takes notes of the beehives behind the buildings of Coffee Creek.In the small woods beyond the buildings of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility sit three colorful wooden boxes. Bees zip in and out of the holes at the front of each box, all working to maintain their individual colonies. On the back of each box is a name: Beelieve, New Beeginnings, Mizzbehavin.

When Sustainability Coordinator Chad Naugle was approached about beekeeping by Karessa Torgerson, a master beekeeper from Corvallis, he added it to his growing list of sustainability projects at Wilsonville’s Coffee Creek. In the 18 months that he’s held the position, Naugle has expanded a garden program into all of the Department of Correction’s 14 facilities, created a recycling and compost program and partnered with the Oregon Zoo to harvest viola plants for caterpillar food. Now, 10 adult inmates have the opportunity to earn their master beekeeper certification by caring for the three hives at Coffee Creek.

“There’s a lot of buzz right now on the site — everybody’s talking about it,” said Naugle. “They’re trying to identify bees in the garden inside the minimum (security facility). They’re talking about what they’re learning about. It’s amazing to see (the empowerment) and the confidence levels of these adults in custody, just from learning about bees and being a part of the program.”

This program had a faster turnover than the other sustainability projects Naugle implemented, as it had originally been slated for a Salem prison. However, hive location problems arose at the last minute, and the program had to be moved to Coffee Creek. After some fast rearranging, the Italian bees arrived at the prison on April 23.

“I truly have no idea what I’m in store for, but I am excited and full of anticipation to meet the bees,” wrote a woman in custody and crew member Crystal Magana after her first experience with the bees. “We are all with hushed voices of anticipation, thoughts and questions of what this night will bring. We all know it is huge and are so excited.”

After their initial meeting with the thousands of bees, the women spread word around the site about how monumental their experience was. Soon, staff were inundated with communication cards from other inmates about how they, too, wanted to participate in the project. Even the women in the medium security facility wanted to participate, which Naugle noted is good incentive for them to do well.

Naugle hopes the project will eventually expand within the Coffee Creek facility, and for this season, the number of participators will be held to 10. The project relies heavily on volunteers and donations, and its small size must be maintained to ensure everyone gets the most out of their experience.

In the first few weeks of the program, Naugle has already noticed changes in the crew. Learning the skills of beekeeping has not only provided the women new knowledge, but has given them something to look forward to maintaining upon re-entering into the community.

“Our goal is, with this exposure to nature, it’s going to be something they promote when they’re released,” said Naugle. “They’re being more conscientious of it when they’re out in the community. That’s even with our conservation efforts and our recycling efforts. It’s just a change of thought about how to live sustainably.”

For the beekeeping program, the 10-person crew was randomly divided into two groups of three and one group of four. The members of each team take turns going into the hive while the others take notes on their observations and findings. Every Friday, they don their white beekeeper garb and go out to monitor their colony’s behavior and make sure no diseases have infected the bees. On top of that, they have classes to go over what they learned and to prepare them for their next hive visit. The next aspect of the program is to figure out what to do with the honey, which the crew members are encouraged to come up with creative solutions.

While the honey is a perk, it isn’t what the beekeeping apprenticeship program is for. Just like with the other sustainability programs at Coffee Creek, Naugle said the goal is to not only help prepare the adults in custody for life after prison, but to be a positive influence on the environment and the community.

“On the ride back to inmate processing, the excitement hasn’t died, and the gratitude explodes,” Magana wrote in her letter. “This night marks the beginning to the futures outside these prison walls — one that I am so grateful for and excited about.”