"The Butterfly Redemption"

"How scientists, volunteers, and incarcerated women are finding hope and metamorphosis through supporting a struggling butterfly."

"They are ravenous and roving. Newly emerged from a six-month state of suspended animation, over a dozen larvae scale the crumpled paper towel inside a plastic cup. One determined individual undulates past the others to the top of the paper peak. There, it anchors its hind prolegs, raises its head and abdomen, and begins a kind of dance. About the length of a paper clip, the caterpillar sways its black and bristly body back and forth. It reaches toward the light streaming in through the greenhouse glass and the face of the woman beaming down.

“It brings out the little-kid excitement in me,” says butterfly technician Heather, “something I haven’t felt in a long time. They want to see what’s going on. It’s like a little snake-charmer thing.”

Heather wears her dark hair in braids. She’s also wearing a bright red sweater marked DOC for Department of Corrections, identifying her as an inmate of Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, a minimum security prison located near Belfair, Washington. Heather is not her real name. She says she feels lucky to be participating in this work while she serves her sentence here. She shows me around with a proud, almost parental smile. Along with eight other incarcerated women, Heather is entrusted with the care and feeding of nearly 4,000 members of an endangered species, the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. With this trust comes the privilege of working just beyond the razor-wire fence during the day before returning to life among the general prison population each night."

Brian Payton reports for Hakai magazine February 27, 2024.

Source: Hakai, 02/29/2024