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Undisciplined: Unlocking Nature

Julie Stevens

We’re talking to three researchers who came together, across very different disciplines, to try to do something to address a problem that affects millions of American children: how can we make the experience of visiting an incarcerated parent a little bit less traumatic?

More than five million children under the age of 18 know what it is like to have a parent in jail or prison. 

To put this into perspective, you could picture an average-sized elementary school kindergarten. One or two of the children in that class either already know, or are going come to know, what it’s like to have a parent behind bars. 

There’s very little we can do to make the experience of having an incarcerated parent a completely trauma-free experience. But my guests today wanted to do something. So they came together, across three different academic disciplines, to try to make part of this experience a little bit easier. And they did a pretty simple and beautiful thing: they built a garden where prisoners could meet with their families. Then, they studied the effects. They wrote about their study in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 

Joining us on the line from the School of Social Work and Criminal Justice at the University of Washington Tacoma is Barb Toews. She is also on the faculty of the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington, and she is the author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison

Joining us from all the way over on the other side of the nation, from the Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Program at Boston University, is Amy Wagenfeld. Her work focuses on collaborative design and outdoor environments, and she is the co-author of the book Therapeutic Gardens: Design For Healing Spaces

And finally, from the middle of the county, at the College of Design at Iowa State University, is Julie Stevens. Over the past decade she and her students have been working with the women who are incarcerated at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women to transform a previously barren 30 acres of open space into a living landscape of trees, vegetables, flowers, butterflies and bunnies.  

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.