Photography and photojournalism in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest

Slow motion life at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility

One of the most interesting settings in which I’ve worked is definitely Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon’s only women’s prison. Located in north Wilsonville, Coffee Creek is home to over 1,100 women serving prison sentences ranging from a year to life without parole.

While DOC officials can be stingy with information at times, they also have provided a surprising level of access to both the minimum and medium security wings at Coffee Creek, although the intake section of the prison remains off limits. The latter is where every individual sentenced to a prison term in Oregon, man or woman, is processed prior to permanent assignment to one of the state’s 14 prison sites.

Working inside a prison means losing everything of value at the door, except what you absolutely need to do your job. Because inmates normally are issued blue denim jeans, visitors or volunteers may not wear blue trousers. You also are asked to sign a waiver absolving the facility of responsibility in case of the visitor is kidnapped or assaulted.

That might seem over the top. But not when compared with the day-to-day routines of inmates living under constant head counts, searches and an utter lack of privacy.

I’ve visited Coffee Creek enough times to have amassed hundreds of photos, some of them quite interesting. The images are mainly of the inmates themselves, often showing the children of inmates taking part (as above) in programs, including the prison’s groundbreaking Through a Child’s Eyes (TACE) program initiated by the Wilsonville Rotary Club in 2006.

In the photos in this post, inmate Alicia Roach is enjoying time with her son Antawan, 2, at the 2011 summer TACE event (A gallery from that event can be seen here.). By the end of the afternoon, it didn’t matter that time was growing scarce with his mother. It was time for a nap and a restful drive home.

Some might cringe when considering that Roach was sent to prison for her role in a violent 2008 armed robbery in which she helped entice the victim by offering sex for money. But her children know nothing of that. They only see a mother that adores her children, despite a decidedly checkered past.

Because of the number of images I’d like to share, I intend for this to be an ongoing series of posts. Virtually none of the photos have been published before now, and it seems like a waste to keep them hidden, given the scarce look the public gets inside the correctional system.

Here’s another recent photo of mine from Coffee Creek being used by the DOC.

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