My First Visit to Juvie: the Training

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.

Backstops with razor wire prevent escapes….apparently.

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!

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42 thoughts on “My First Visit to Juvie: the Training

  1. badfads says:

    That’s awesome that you’ll be volunteering! Do you know what you’ll be doing there specifically?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ok wait – so that is a NO on ladders? Or they ARE ok? You sort of left us hanging there.

    Good post, thank you to you and all those other peeps for helping these youth. Youths? No it’s youth, definitely youth. Right?

    • Maggie O'C says:

      You know Mol, that is a very good question not only did no one laugh at smuggling in ladders they didn’t even acknowledge my hilarity so I still don’t know if I can bring a ladder or not. I’ll bring one just to see what happens.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. Molly says:

    Oopsie. Anonymous is me. MOLLY.

  4. Brigitte says:

    Wow, Maggie. I’m so impressed with your dedication and the way in which you’ve described all this. The henna-haired lady with the big personality sounds grand as does Rev. Craig. Can’t wait for part Two. The way you’ve written this, with your comedic (and sympathetic) flair is awesome. Thanks for sharing and look forward to hearing about the tour. Do you ever think of writing a book, have you?

  5. Wow. That really is a totally different world, isn’t it. I was getting the heebie-jeebies just reading your post. These kids live in such a different reality, It’s so hard to wrap my head around it.

    And Betty is going through training there to get a break from hospice care for her husband? That’s tragic.

    Who needs fiction when real life is like this? This is good good stuff, Maggie. It kind of makes me want to swallow a bottle of lye with a cyanide chaser, but it’s good stuff.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      I can’t wait to see what it’s like when I get to actually work with these kids. But as I said, the upper middle class white kids that I know don’t really need my help 🙂

  6. Brigitte is right, this is so beautifully written. Had I been in the group with you I would have gotten a case of the church giggles when you said ladder, but sometimes I’m just really inappropriate. Good for you for doing this!

  7. Hellosailor says:

    Really interesting, thanks for sharing!! Can’t wait to read more.
    I would have laughed at ladders. We were doing law in Vet Nursing lesson today and was asked “What can a Vet Nurse legally NOT do”. I said murder. I knew they meant castrate cats or something, but where is the fun in that? And legally I’m not allowed to murder anyway.
    xoxoxox

  8. Simon says:

    Maggie, first I want to tell ou how great I think you are. You are doing a really cool thing and I admire you for it. Second, I echo the other commenters that this is superbly written and really made me feel like I was with you. Third, perhaps they should have told you to leave your sense of humor in the car with your purse because the ladder comment was gold. Lastly, my mind keeps going back to juvie babies. Hilarious and I commend you for peppering in just the right amount of humor into a serious subject. Cheers to you!

    • Maggie O'C says:

      Simon, you are my blog boyfriend! Thank you so much. I almost posted twice today because I’m so excited to tell you all about the tour!

      Cheers back. Compliments coming from you are extra special b/c you have been Freshly Pressed three times….you are a Blogebrity!

  9. Andrew says:

    This was excellent, with just the right amount of humor. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something, and another to actually do it. Awesome job.

  10. La La says:

    I agree with everyone, I think you are doing awesome things, this had the perfect amount of humor and yes, you should write a novel.

  11. acflory says:

    I second what everyone else has said about your writing Maggie. I could see every moment, like being a fly on the wall. If you’ve ever thought about writing and don’t want to write fiction I would really suggest making this juvie experience your first project. I think it’s going to change you and in time maybe you will be able to change juvie for the better.

    I feel kind of guilty for not following your example but I just don’t have your kind of courage. Having read this post I’m doubly glad I nominated you for another award. Yes, I know they’re coming out of your ears already 😉 Check out my post for details.

    Very proud of you.

  12. […] It’s Maggie’s World, They Just Live in It. « My First Visit to Juvie: the Training […]

  13. Anonymous says:

    How often will you go? How did you get interested in doing this?

  14. travellingmo says:

    I think it’s incredible that you are doing this! I can’t wait to hear more about it

  15. […] new readers of my blog, I am volunteering at juvie….read here and […]

  16. Loyal Bassett says:

    I enjoyed your article as I know some of the people involved.

    I do disagree with your comment about Mary Kay Letourneau (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau). Mary is still married to her husband Vili Fualaau, the very same one that she served time in jail for loving. Some societies cannot fathom different aged relations. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriageable_age, New Hampshire offers women to marry from 13-17 and men to marry from 14-17. So had they been in New Hampshire, gotten parental permission, and had he been a woman it would have been legal….

    I do agree with the point of avoiding relations with those that cannot be your equal, as in the case of incarceration. Mary and Vili have demonstrated via action that they are equals — they are still together after all this time. We can have another discussion if they become divorced!

    • Maggie O'C says:

      They were not equals when that relationship began. He was 12 years old. I have a 12-year-old and aside from the idea alone turning my stomach, a 12-year-old does not possess the emotional capacity to be involved in an intimate adult relationship, let alone a sexual one. I think she is a sick woman. She surrendered custody of four of her children. There’s something very wrong about that.

  17. […] final hour of the training was a walking tour of the facility. As we were walking out of the main building, a group of young […]

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