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Bee-ing Happy and Productive in Prison

June 2, 2021

By Laurie Pyne, Adult Basic Education and Horticulture Instructor, Centralia College and and Yvonne Brumfield, Public Information Officer, Washington Corrections Center

large amount of bees

The queen is sometimes difficult to spot. She is pictured on the upper left side of the have frame. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Corrections Center)

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Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily suspended most Sustainability in Prisons Project programs. A few outdoor programs, such as native plants, butterfly rearing, peer-led education and some beekeeping programs operated on a limited basis (only when it could be done outside with participants masked and socially distanced), according to Kelli Bush, co-director of the Sustainability in Prisons Project.

However, with warmer weather and some COVID-19 restrictions beginning to ease, many facilities are beginning to do a soft restart of their beekeeping programs. Several facilities have received new hives. Incarcerated beekeepers have continued to maintain the new hives. Washington State Beekeeper Association beekeeping certification courses have also been put on a temporary pause. However, the DOC and program partners continue to monitor COVID-19 infection rates within facilities and will restart the courses when it is safe to do so.

The following is an account of Washington Corrections Center’s soft restart of its beekeeping program.

Honeybees are astonishing animals and are available all around the globe. They are probably the best pollinator on the planet, and a great deal of the food we eat relies upon their difficult work. The world without honeybees is incomprehensible as their annihilation would enormously influence our economy and food sources.

From: Facts About Honeybees – The Beekeeper’s Bible.

SHELTON – Washington Corrections Center (WCC) has four new beehives. The bees are bringing in multiple colors of pollen indicating they are foraging on a variety of flowering plants. Diversity in food source is as much a good thing for them as it is for us. While caring for the hives, Horticulture and Adult Basic Skills Instructor Laurie Pyne and her team of incarcerated beekeepers take a moment to watch where they are flying once they leave the hive. Many bees were heading towards the R4 unit, while others were heading out on flight paths toward the greenhouse area and across the back field.

They did manage to spot one of the four queens but saw eggs in all the hives and didn’t want to disturb the colony. The WCC beekeepers, also nicknamed bee whisperers, did a great job, Pyne said. The two beekeepers who worked through the hives were very new to hands-on inspections and were very calm and loved their time being immersed in the hives.

Pyne said most people know honeybees are vital for pollination, food production and floral beauty all around us. However, the pollinators have another hidden talent: transforming the lives of incarcerated people.

“I love the power of these tiny, endlessly fascinating insects to transform lives,” Pyne said. “I see it over and again in the corrections environment. Incarcerated beekeepers express their joy, peace, profound and deeply moving experiences working with the bees and the responsibility for helping to care for them and sustain them.”

WCC Plant Manager Andy Williams, with the help of incarcerated beekeepers, also put up some yellow jacket traps near the hive site. Yellow jacket wasps are an invasive to honeybees, according to beekeepers. When left unchecked, yellow jackets can invade honeybee hives and destroy entire honeybee colonies.

Beehives Everywhere

Pyne became involved with beekeeping nine years ago. As the president of the Olympia Beekeepers Association, Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) staff invited Pyne to speak about bees to incarcerated individuals at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. SPP provides opportunities for incarcerated individuals to lead science and environmental sustainability programs in the state’s correctional facilities. Pyne is now a Centralia College horticulture and adult basic skills and teaches basic adult basic skills at WCC.

Several other facilities invited her to speak as well. Pyne says she is met with and witnesses great enthusiasm for beekeeping in the prison each time she visits.

WCC is not the only correctional facility in the state to have beehives. There are more than 60 hives among 11 of the 12 state correctional facilities. There are also a pair of hives on McNeil Island. The beekeeping project is one of the many projects that have come out of the collaboration between the Sustainability in Prisons Project, The Evergreen State College, Department of Corrections, and Correctional Industries.

Incarcerated beekeepers from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) maintain the hives at McNeil Island with guidance from expert beekeepers from local communities. The hives at McNeil Island, which were installed three years ago, are rare because it is a pesticide-free island. Pyne says its uniquely wonderful for bees because they aren’t exposed to the toxin/poison pressures that exist in most other places.

“It is strongly supported, and the beekeepers carry their experiences in the hives there back to CCCC and through their own enthusiasm have become ambassadors for pollinators and bees to others,” Pyne said. “The same is true for the WCC beekeepers!”