These prison inmates are saving the Earth as they serve their time.

It's a big day for these turtles. After rehabilitation, they're healthy, happy, and getting released back into the wild.

The 23 endangered western pond turtles swam away with much fanfare after successfully receiving treatment for a disease that caused their shells to deteriorate.


GIFs via Oregon Zoo/YouTube.

These vulnerable animals were able to make a triumphant return to the water thanks in large part to a unique conservation effort at Larch Corrections Center.

That's right — residents of the Vancouver, Washington, minimum security facility essentially ran a small hospital for the turtles as they recovered.

They delivered basic care and provided minor treatments. And after all their hard work, the men were able to attend the release, and witness their patients' return to the river.

Efforts like this are possible through Washington's Sustainability in Prisons Program.

It began in 2003 as a pilot project between Cedar Creek Corrections Center and Evergreen State College. Cedar Creek was looking to go green, and had already launched gardening, compost, and recycling projects. Around the same time, a professor at Evergreen, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, was looking to work with inmates to study forest mosses, which desperately needed to be replenished.

The two projects crossed paths and within five years, the partnership grew and expanded to become the Sustainability in Prisons Program (SPP).

The program has now expanded to every corrections facility in Washington, with most boasting anywhere from eight to 12 projects on site, including gardening classes, dog training programs, composting and recycling initiatives, even environmental literacy courses and lectures.

SPP guest lecturer Rus Higley of the Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College observes a red octopus with a student. Photo by Liliana Caughman, used with permission from the Sustainability in Prisons Project.

The program's partnerships with zoos along with local and national fish and wildlife departments have led to many successful conservation efforts.

Incarcerated individuals at Cedar Creek Corrections Center learned about beekeeping and even became certified as apprentice beekeepers. The men in the program learned fundamentals and how to build and maintain colonies and even how to manufacture lotions and lip balms from beeswax.

Entomologist Sam Hapke (center) trains inmates to become beekeepers. Photo via Sustainability in Prisons Project, used with permission.

In a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center are growing sagebrush, a woody shrub, to restore habitats for the sage-grouse, a local bird that relies on the plant for survival. The plants the inmates raise in the facility's nursery will be planted in central Washington.

A conservation technician tends to the sagebrush nursery. Photo by Jeff Clark, BLM, used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

The women at the Mission Creek Corrections Center built a facility to breed and raise Taylor's checkerspot butterflies. The creatures were once fairly common in the Pacific Northwest, but have experienced rapid decline since 2001.

Photo by USFWS Endangered Species/Flickr.

Mission Creek partnered with the Oregon Zoo (which created the first Taylor's checkerspot program) and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to release 2,500 butterflies into the wild each year onto restored prairies on the Puget Sound. Together, the Mission Creek and Oregon Zoo facilities have released more than 17,000 butterflies.


An inmate feeds a butterfly honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

And though it's too early to track recidivism rates, the program already has plenty of success stories.

"The program is getting mature enough that folks are starting to release from prison and enroll in the Evergreen State College and other academic institutions," said Kelli Bush, SPP program manager.

But SPP doesn't only benefit the incarcerated individuals who learn new skills and gain sense of pride for a job well done.

It also helps the research professionals and project partners — and not just with their sustainability efforts. Because many of them are interacting with the correctional system for the first time, it's often a learning experience for everyone.

Biologist Stefani Bergh (left) talks about western pond turtle care with SPP program coordinator Sadie Gilliom and two of Larch's newest turtle technicians. Photo by Carl Elliott,used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

"[Science and research professionals] are interacting with incarcerated individuals and gaining a human perspective on issues that are typically outside their scope," Bush said. "And so you really see just really beautiful exchanges between these two groups ... I think it's changing perspectives about who's incarcerated and what incarcerated individuals are capable of."

The model has been so successful, it's catching on across the country.

"Other states have begun modeling programs on the work here in Washington, including really great work being done by Oregon ... Ohio, Maryland, Utah," Bush said. "So it's kind of all over the nation now. "

SPP and Department of Corrections staff members (left) join turtle technicians at a release in 2014. Photo via Sustainability in Prisons Project, used with permission.

Whether it's an injured turtle or someone behind bars, an opportunity to change can be hard to come by.

But with proper rehabilitation and lots of support, both can return home and find success.

Watch the pond turtles and their keepers mark the end of their recovery in this short video from the Oregon Zoo.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Wikiimages by Pixabay, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich/Twitter

The 1776 Report isn't just bad, it's historically bad, in every way possible.

When journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones published her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project for The New York Times, some backlash was inevitable. Instead of telling the story of America's creation through the eyes of the colonial architects of our system of government, Hannah-Jones retold it through the eyes of the enslaved Africans who were forced to help build the nation without reaping the benefits of democracy. Though a couple of historical inaccuracies have had to be clarified and corrected, the 1619 Project is groundbreaking, in that it helps give voice to a history that has long been overlooked and underrepresented in our education system.

The 1776 Report, in turn, is a blaring call to return to the whitewashed curriculums that silence that voice.

In September of last year, President Trump blasted the 1619 Project, which he called "toxic propaganda" and "ideological poison" that "will destroy our country." He subsequently created a commission to tell the story of America's founding the way he wanted it told—in the form of a "patriotic education" with all of the dog whistles that that phrase entails.

Mission accomplished, sort of.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.