Photography and photojournalism in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest

Slow motion life at Coffee Creek: Coming to terms

Everything is privilege-based at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, inmate Michelle Fox explained to me during an interview in 2008. Even the amount and type of work an inmate is allowed to perform is based on having a strong disciplinary record and a good rapport with corrections staff.

Fox was sentenced under Oregon’s Measure 11 to six years and three months in prison in 2005, convicted of manslaughter following a fatal crash. She used a number of the services offered to incarcerated women to productively serve her time and was released late last year a different woman than when she was arrested.

During our recorded interview I shot photos. And it was clear that even though she was over four years removed from the crash that changed her life, it still weighed heavily upon her. To me, that’s what takes a relatively boring photograph tainted by flourescent light and transforms it into something worth viewing.

Michelle was frank with me as we talked. And she obviously was frank with herself, because she nearly broke down on several occasions.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Coffee Creek’s award-winning Through a Child’s Eyes program usually brings out a completely different response (right) when  incarcerated mothers are reunited with their children. Many of the children are too young to realize exactly where they are, which makes these types of scenes all the more poignant.

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