AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Walk down the row of vegetables, past the flowers, and below the razor wire. That's where you'll find the beehives and their keepers.
Master beekeeper Jim Miller was tending to the hives alongside Luis Cruz Thursday morning. Miller volunteers at the Airway Heights Correction Center often to meet with the center's beekeeping group. He started the program a few years ago.
"That's what we are here for, to pass the word along. If I take it with me, then I didn't really accomplish anything in life," Miller said.
He never imagined decades ago, that he'd mentor and teach incarcerated individuals at the Airway Heights Correction Center. But, men like Cruz, now look up to Miller and his years of experience. Cruz used to be afraid of the bees. Now, he follows Miller around the hives and listens to his directions.
"Yeah, I was really afraid of it. Now, with the knowledge of mister Miller and how he managed the bees, It's amazing," Cruz said. He's a real teacher."
Miller's students include Cruz and 14 other men incarcerated at the Airway Heights Correction Center.
They've earned their place in the program as they work toward becoming journeyman-level beekeepers. About 50 men before them have finished the apprentice course to become apprentice beekeepers through the Washington State Beekeepers Association.
The incarcerated men were so passionate about the bees, they joined Jim to develop a new outline for the journeyman manual. The training curriculum was released, in collaboration with the West Plains Beekeeper Association, last year.
Cruz said this program, which he is now president of, has helped his outlook on life.
“It's been a different, amazing experience in this incarceration. I see this prison, not as a punishment. I see this as a journey, this place as a school,” Cruz said.
Under Miller's leadership, the program has grown in size and impact. The group is now raising and sustaining queens for other Washington State Department of Corrections centers.
“It's something that you are going to take with you when you get out,” Cruz said. “Beekeeper program makes a difference. Not only in this prison, but all over DOCs.”
Despite it's growth, Miller said it's enough for him to touch just one life.
“I see a difference in the people.” Miller said. “What other reason am I here for than to help someone else. That's what this is about.”
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