Photography and photojournalism in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest

These inmates give back to the community

With the way society stigmatizes people who are or have been in prison, it’s understandable when they become bitter about their situation.

At Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Ore., however, there is one group of inmates that definitely does not fall in that category. Coffee Creek is Oregon’s only women’s prison, and it is home to a variety of vocational and educational programs. This includes a state-funded eyeglass repair and maintenance course run jointly with Portland Community College in which inmates can earn state certification as an eyeglass technician.

Because obtaining legitimate employment with a felony criminal record is difficult under the best of circumstances, it’s understandable when the two dozen women currently enrolled in the eyeglass program express pride in what they are doing. The program not only gives them a reason to stay on course and navigate the difficult prison path smoothly, it gives them something to fall back upon when they are released.

I recently paid a visit to Coffee Creek and the eyeglass repair students as part of a story about a holiday sock drive for the homeless put on by the students (there is a paywall). Even though I’ve become a regular visitor to the prison over the past several years, there never is a time when being locked behind barbed wire is easily digested. It’s just something you have to shove to one side as you work, and this visit was no exception.

As is usually the case, however, the women involved in the class were welcoming and glad that someone outside the prison walls actually was interacting with them on an equal basis. And they’re even more grateful in most cases to have the chance to start repairing the societal trust they lost when they entered prison.

“At a time in our lives when we’re at our lowest, we still are able to give back to help people who need it more than we do,” inmate Anna Monroy told me.

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3 responses

  1. knudsens

    I do not judge people who have been in prison.

    December 7, 2011 at 16:00

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. I wish more people took that approach and viewed prisoners with a more open mind. There are certainly some stereotypical hardened criminals at Coffee Creek, but many of the women are there because they either made a single, terrible mistake or otherwise got caught up in something they shouldn’t have. All it takes is a few drinks too many or some other scenario and anyone could find themselves behind bars for years.

      December 7, 2011 at 17:06

  2. mads

    i wish i was the 1 there(as visitor, of course).

    November 27, 2012 at 11:27

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