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Inmates Deck the Halls at the Governor’s Mansion

December 8, 2017

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Two women trimming greenery on the porch of the Govenror’s mansion

Inmates Starla Clemons (left), and Lakeisha Hamilton (right) trim foliage at the Governor’s mansion in Olympia. The women were part of an inmate crew who decorated the mansion for its public holiday tours. (Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications)

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INFOGRAPHIC: Decorations by the Numbers

OLYMPIA — People tour the Governor’s mansion year round to take a gander at the antique furniture, sparkling chandeliers, and historic architecture.

Only in December do visitors get the treat of seeing it decked out in holiday splendor. Not many know the fresh garlands, wreaths wrapped in brightly-colored bows, and elaborate florals are the work of prison inmates.

Eight inmates from the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, Wash. traveled to the Governor’s mansion Dec. 4 to decorate it with items made inside the prison’s floriculture program. It’s a tradition five years in the running. In 2012, First Lady Trudi Inslee toured WCCW. She was so impressed with the floriculture program, she invited inmates to decorate the mansion.

No taxpayer money is used for the decorations. The funding comes from donations and private events.

The floriculture program is one of the prison’s many hands-on educational programs in which inmates can earn college credit through Tacoma Community College.

Horticulture instructor Ed Tharp and Floriculture Instructor Bob Andren supervise the women at the mansion each year. They say the program often helps inmates formulate reentry plans for when they eventually get out of prison.

“It gives them the ‘I can’ kind of attitude and thinking about what they’ll do when they get out of here,” said Tharp, noting one of the previous inmates who took his class recently got a job as a landscaper in Pierce County. “I love seeing them feel good about themselves.”

The Department of Corrections (DOC) takes steps to ensure public safety during annual visits to the mansion. Trained correctional officers and class instructors accompany inmates at all times. Mansion security staff are notified of the inmates’ visit.

DOC officials acknowledge taking the trip to the mansion is a privilege that comes with a strict set of requirements. Inmates must be infraction free for at least a year, have a minimum-security custody level, and have fewer than four years left on their sentence. Additionally, they must have earned a GED® or high school diploma, be enrolled in one of the prison’s floriculture or horticulture programs, and not have any connections to gang members or crime victims in the community.

Lakeisha Hamilton, 34, is finishing a sentence for assault and a drive by shooting. She said the program has given her a passion for education. She says she’s confident the skills and discipline she learned will be essential to finding a job and keeping her from coming back to prison.

“I want to be an asset to society instead of being part of the recidivism group,” Hamilton said. “Before this program, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was lost. I’d like to think of this as one of our ‘howevers.’ We (inmates) may have made mistakes, however, I’ve learned the skills to change.”

Spaces for the holiday tours are full. However, the Department of Enterprise Services keeps a waiting list, should any spots open up. To be added to the waiting list, call (360) 902-8880. For more information about mansion tours, visit the Governor’s Mansion Foundation

View the King 5 News story at their website.