As I mentioned last week, I had volunteer training on Saturday for the Oregon Youth Authority. The facility where I want to volunteer and where the training was held is in a small town about 25 miles south of Portland. There’s an outlet mall there so I knew where I was going.
The long driveway winds through grassy open spaces that are bracketed by a tall chain link fence that curves inward like baseball backstops, but these backstops have razor wire on top of them.
I pulled into the parking lot and got my lunch and purse and went into the security office to sign in. Very nice lady told me the purse was not coming in with me…no purse, no cell phone. I then sort of freaked out and left my lunch in the car, too because I didn’t want to get sent back out again. (Happily there were snacks because I don’t like to be without food or without knowing food is available to me. Sort of like how some people are about their cell phones.)
Gave the security guy my ID and got a visitor badge and went through the gates onto the main campus.
This is the main hall; when it was built, back in the ’20s, it was the only building on the grounds:
That’s not scary looking, right? The whole facility isn’t scary looking. There are five brick “cottages” (built in the early 50s so they aren’t real cottagey) which house the “youth” incarcerated here. Call them “youth” not boys, not kids, not inmates, “youth”. I didn’t realize this is an all male facility but I suppose they wouldn’t house a bunch of boy and girl juvenile delinquents in the same facility. There would be baby juvies running all over the place. The Youth here have all been through the system for years before they wind up at this place. Youth from 15-24 are in here. They have been convicted of felonies as adults.
There were 28 people in the conference room for training. Catholics obviously go big for this stuff…the battle of the parishes erupted with teams from St. Agnes, St. Luke and Sacred Heart. There were some hopeful faces when I introduced myself thinking I would tip the scales in favor one of the parishes. But nope, Maggie O’Connor was just representing herself. The training was led by Rev. Craig a thin, 60ish man with a gray/blond braid down to the middle of his back and a pierced ear. Not Catholic, I’m guessing.
Ten of the 28 volunteer trainees were old people. Not old like me, I was young to these people. One woman, Betty, who is almost 80, had just started hospice at home for her husband the day before. She was exhausted but thought that doing five hours of training on how to deal with juvenile offenders was a “respite” from dealing with her husband’s dementia. God bless her. Mary was a little bent over woman with a cane and a hump on her back and some crazy henna red hair and a huge personality. Mary has a hearing aid and wore nylons with her orthopedic open toed sandals. She looks like and is an old character and nothing is slowing her down mentally. So there were old people there, two college interns (one obviously had a really good Friday night because she seemed on the verge of napping quite often), young Hispanic men and women, some translating for others. It was really interesting to look around the room at this group all of whom had decided to volunteer in a correctional facility with some of the worst youthful offenders Oregon can come up with.
I have been to umpteen seminars on marketing, communications, public relations; seminars with guest speakers; seminars that do that personality testing…I’m a Loud External Pink Narcissus or whatever the hell those letters are. Every professional seminar I have taken I have left thinking, “If people can’t figure that shit out for themselves, they have no business having a grown up job.” The five hour training on Saturday flew by because I was actually being taught something.
The agenda covered:
- Boundaries – don’t even touch these kids on the arm….there is a good chance they will think you are hitting on them, they will want to get with you or they are going to freak out about being touched. The group finally settled on quick hugs are okay if it’s at a party or gathering of some kind with a LOT of people around. But really, just stick to shaking hands. These kids are taught to shake hands, I suppose because no one ever bothered to before.
- Contraband – Contraband could be anything paperclips, aerosol products, tape “you can do a lot of things with tape”, no over the counter drugs. Specifically contraband is divided into two categories: Dangerous and Nuisance.
Dangerous is anything that could be smuggled into the facility to help with escaping. Rev. Craig asked for suggestions of what that might be and I said “ladder” and no one laughed. See that’s funny because it would be almost impossible to smuggle a ladder into the facility in my pocket because I can’t have a purse and a purse-sized ladder wouldn’t help anybody anyway. Dangerous also includes weapons, chemicals, drugs, arson materials.
Nuisance is porn, tobacco, anything with a sports team logo because that can set off gang members, pens and markers for graffitti.
- Sexual harrassment — See boundaries. I’m puzzled that you need to teach adults not to screw kids that are in their care or at least in a relationship that can NEVER be equal. I’m looking at you Mary Kay Letourneau.
- Suicide — Kids have tried to kill themselves by drowning in a sink of water. All the usuals hanging, cutting, overdosing.
There are five different levels of suicide watch. 5 is Regular because they assume any and all of the Youth are open to killing themselves. Once an attempt has been made or the strong signs are there (and they taught us about that), the youth is at Level 1 or 2. At those levels, they are in isolation and watched 24/7, their actions are documented every 10-15 minutes.
I learned things during this training that fortunately, I’ve never had to think about before but now I know.
The trainees were also fingerprinted … my first time! And had my photo taken for my ID badge. I think it’s pretty cute, I’ll let you know.
Stay tuned for Part II of my day at Juvie, The Tour!