Recently, Stony Mountain Institution has launched a beekeeping initiative with the help of CORCAN and community partners, fuelled by staff ingenuity and inmate participation.
The idea originated six years ago when Janalee Bell-Boychuk, Acting Warden at Stony Mountain, was participating in an ultra-marathon, where she met some corrections folks from Washington State Penitentiary. When Janalee heard about their beekeeping initiative, she thought to herself, ‘Bee hives in a prison? Fascinating!’
She read about the work of Sustainability in Prisons Project, a partnership founded by the Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections. With vital input from many additional partners, they develop and deliver a wide range of science, sustainability and environmental education programs in all 12 state prisons.
It was obvious to Janalee, who started gathering materials on her own, that there are many great reasons to have a bee program. Beekeeping provides job skills, both technical and transferable, is good for the environment, and very therapeutic. After many years of trying, however, Janalee found it was a struggle to operationalize her idea. When she heard a similar project was happening in the Ontario Region through the CORCAN Agriculture program, she pitched her idea to Sjana Sookermany, Operations Manager CORCAN at Stony Mountain, who loved the idea.
Sjana reached out to her CORCAN colleagues that operate beehives at Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions in the Ontario Region and learned various implementation options, including opportunities to involve members of the community who have knowledge of beekeeping. She also reached out to the University of Manitoba and the university spread the word through the local beekeeping associations.
Abe, a retired commercial beekeeper answered the call, and has been volunteering with Stony Mountain since April, coming out every two weeks to the institution.
There was also great interest from inmates in the minimum unit (Unit 7). When the poster was shared, everyone signed up and the inmates have been invested as program participants ever since.
Seeing the beehives thrive in their surrounding environment, Abe believes that is the kind of interconnectedness that we all need. “I feel that connection from volunteering. I like to think that the men I interact with feel the same about this as I do.”
“At first,” says Tam (one of the inmate participants), “most of the guys were interested in the honey! Once they dove in, they realized that beekeeping was about more than just a sweet treat. We know that without bees in this world, humankind may be extinct. With that, I am grateful to be part of the solution because we are contributing to society. The feeling of belonging to a productive co-op community definitely helps with my rehabilitation.”
Not only did they get an education about the honeybees, but they have also learned a lot from the bees. Bees are a pro-social community: they have the queen, the worker bees (females) and the drones (males), and they need to work together for their own survival.
Those participating are very excited every time they get to take care of the bees and they have been supporting each other when someone cannot make it to the hives.
Working with the bees has also been very relaxing. They are out in nature, with less structure and increased personal responsibility, and the time goes by fast. The participants have experienced positive gains related to their mental health, which could not have come at a better time during COVID-19 when visits from family, friends and volunteers have been limited, which has been very difficult.
Because this initiative was organized and led by staff, the project has been very organic and hands-on from the beginning. Janalee has watched both the staff and inmates embrace this initiative. She often hears how much the inmates enjoying caring for the bees, and that the staff love that this initiative is helping the environment. This incredible success is a win for the site, a win for the participants, and a win for staff.
This grassroots effort has allowed for a unique and fruitful collaboration between the institution and the community, where each participant is empowered to contribute to positive change. Abe has also been teaching staff and inmates alike, and everyone has been learning together as they go. “Hopefully,” says Abe, “I can be someone that leads others in a good direction, more than the other direction, just the same as others have done for me.”
While Stony Mountain’s goal for this year has been to sustain the hives, the institution is also working with the University of Manitoba in the hopes of offering inmates a “beekeeping for hobbyists” course, resulting in vocational certification. Janalee hopes that as the institution learns and grows from this project, they can also look into adding additional hives next year.
According to Sjana, “The bee initiative brings so much to Stony Mountain especially during the pandemic. We are learning together, from each other, and from the bees. The amount of dedication shown by the guys involved and the staff from the very beginning, well it is overwhelming and exciting! I am excited to see how our initiative has grown!”
This collaboration is providing on-the-job and vocational training opportunities, while contributing to the participants’ reintegration and supporting the environment. Nate, another inmate participant, always had the dream to work with bees and Stony Mountain has made this possible. “SMI is always pushing the bar, they are very innovative,” said Nate. “It has been a phenomenal administration over the years and I am very blessed in the minimum to have been given so many opportunities.”
When the Stony Mountain Citizen Advisory Committee shared this initiative on their Stony Mountain Community Group Facebook page, explaining that two staff members and 20 offenders would be involved in working with the bees, the comments were overwhelmingly positive. People loved the idea!
Stony Mountain’s Citizen Advisory Committee Chair, Jim Plumptre, believes that: “The bee initiative is an exemplary collaboration between CORCAN and Stony Mountain Institution SMI. It allows offenders to support a project that involves animal husbandry, specifically bees whose habitat is continually shrinking, and the production of a commodity, in this case honey. This project has garnered the interest of the community as well as its positive feedback. Job well done!”
Kudos to everyone involved for making beekeeping a success at Stony Mountain Institution and big thank you goes out to the CORCAN staff from Joyceville and Collins Bay for all of their help in starting this project as well as for all their assistance along the way! Initiatives like this absolutely embodies the Beyond 2020 themes and the institution is so proud to share it with everyone!