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Group of Wash. inmates 'busy as bees' training to become beekeepers to save population

GIG HARBOR, Wash. - Candace Ralston wants to prove to herself and her family that she can expand her comfort zone while in prison and she’s doing it with bees.

She is one of eight inmates at Washington’s Corrections Center for Women learning to become a bee keeper.

“To be honest, I’ve never harvested honey, so I’m not sure how to really do that,” she sad laughing as she pulled out a slice of honeycomb from one of two hives inside the barbed wires of the center in Gig Harbor.

She’s proud of what she’s learning because of the need for bees.

“Bees nationwide are suffering massive losses,” said Gary Clueit, President of the Washington State Beekeepers Association. “We are hearing 35 to 45 percent in various regions, that's really an unsustainable loss.”

With that in mind, the Department of Corrections started a beekeeping program in 2014 with the idea that inmates may find value in training to become a beekeeper.

“Why can’t we do something to make that better and grow the state wide bee population,” said Steve Sinclair, Assistant Secretary of the state’s prison division.

There are now apprentice beekeeper programs and hives inside seven state prisons as part of the department's Sustainability in Prisons Project.

On Friday, a day long Beekeeping Summit was held in the gymnasium at the Corrections Center for Women for inmates, local beekeepers and officials from other prison on how to keep, sustain and grow a prison bee program.

“We need more bees, we need more hives and so expanding this into the prison population is just another avenue for that,” said Clueit. “It would be nice of the prisons could breed queens that can survive the northwest. Queens typically come from California.”

For Candace, becoming one of the prison’s beekeepers is more than helping the bee population grow. She wants to make amends for her mistakes and show her family that you can learn anything anywhere, including prison.

“Somewhere along the way I lost my integrity and they [her family] paid for it,” said Ralston. The mother of three has served two years of a four year sentence for theft and forgery.

“The only thing I can I can do here is learn to be a better, and to deal with the stuff that got me here, and to show them you can make lemonade out of lemons,” said Ralston.

She’s thinking that beekeeping could become a vocation when she gets out in two years.

Lemons will make way for honey and money by raising bees.

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