Incarcerated individuals give governor’s residence a holiday makeover

By Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications

The Executive Residence got a makeover from seven women living in another form of state housing: prison.

Women incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor visited the Executive Residence Dec. 3 to decorate it for its annual holiday tours, which take place during December.

Incarcerated individual, Starla Clemens, adds some greenery to incorporate festive details to the porch (Photo courtesy of Department of Corrections).

By the end of the day, these women had adorned the grand staircase, windows and doorways in pine garlands, colorful wreaths, twinkling lights and floral arrangements. The festive trimmings included fresh hydrangeas, roses and holly, cultivated by students in the prison’s floriculture and horticulture vocational programs.

It takes 25 wreaths of various sizes and 880 inches of cedar garland–among other lights and embellishments–to decorate the residence. No taxpayer money is used for the decorations; community donations and revenues from private events at the Executive Residence fund the holiday decor.

The decorating tradition just entered its sixth year. It started after First Lady Trudi Inslee toured the prison in 2012. She was so impressed with the floriculture and horticulture programs that she invited students enrolled in those programs to decorate the Executive Residence for the holidays.

Horticulture instructor Bob Andren (far left) supervises some of his students as they hang decorations above a doorway at the Executive Residence. In addition to instructors, a correctional officer accompanies these visits (Photo courtesy of Department of Corrections).

Floriculture and horticulture are two of the many hands-on educational programs where enrollees can use their experience to earn college credit through Tacoma Community College. Floriculture instructor Bob Andren said the Executive Residence isn’t the only thing that gets transformed.

“The women in the program just bloom,” Andren said. “Their confidence goes up, their skills go up, everything changes.”

Andren said his students can use their new skills in fields such as landscaping, plant production and nursery management. They can also use their skills to potentially get jobs decorating homes, businesses and event venues.

(Clip courtesy of Department of Corrections).

Lisa Mumm, 54, hopes to do just that. She’ll be released from prison in 2020, after serving a 115-month sentence. Mumm said she never graduated high school, but now has plans to get a job working for a state or municipal park after she leaves prison.

“Prison has been a high point in my life,” Mumm said. “I’ve done more positive things in prison, and furthered my education and done more in my life than I ever have before. I’m grateful for this program. It’s made a big difference in my life.”

Keeping Communities Safe

The Department of Corrections (DOC) takes steps to ensure public safety when individuals in DOC custody visit the Executive Residence. Trained correctional officers and class instructors accompany them at all times. The Executive Residence security staff are also notified of the visitors.

Gov. Inslee shares a meal with the women who decorated the Executive Residence (Office of the Governor photo).

Department officials acknowledge that taking a trip to the Executive Residence is a privilege for these incarcerated individuals, and they impose a strict set of requirements on those seeking to make the trip. These individuals must be infraction free for at least a year, have a minimum-security custody level and have less than four years remaining on their sentences. They must also have earned a GED or high school diploma and be enrolled in the prison’s horticulture or floriculture programs. Additionally, DOC staff conduct screenings to make sure these potential visitors to the Executive Residence don’t have connections to gang members or crime victims in the local community.

Kristy Pruett, 42, will be released from prison next year. The visit earlier this month to decorate the Executive Residence was her second during her incarceration. She’s nearing the completion of a 60-month sentence.

Pruett said the experience in the horticulture class changed her and that she’s no longer the person she once was. She’s developed a passion for horticulture in prison and has dreams to work on an organic farm after her release.

(Office of the Governor photo)

She said the program and the chance to decorate the governor’s residence is a testament to how people can change.

“I came as a person who couldn’t survive in a social setting, and now look what we can do,” Pruett said. “For us to come here, it shows our dedication to our program and all the things that we have learned–this is our way of giving back and making positive memories for our futures.”

While there aren’t spaces left on the Executive Residence holiday tours, you can call 360-902-8880 to get on the waiting list. You can also learn more through the Department of Enterprise Services Capitol Tour Office. For more information about the Executive Residence or other capitol campus tours, visit the Executive Residence’s foundation website.