My First Visit to Juvie: the Tour

The 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 men were coming in to do some cleaning. They all stood aside to let us pass and either smiled or just looked at us curiously. (Another boundary thing is they aren’t allowed to stare at people because it is a form of intimidation.)

Outside a group of guys were working with Project Pooch. Project Pooch was started here in 1993. There are kennels on the grounds where dogs, rescued from animal control facilities around Oregon and around the country, live until they are adopted. The incarcerated Youth learn to train and socialize the dogs, bathe them, work with them to get their Canine Good Citizen certificate which means they are ready to be adopted. The recidivism rate for Project Pooch workers is 0%. ZERO and the program started in 1993. That’s amazing.

The training group saw the guys walking and playing with the dogs and the trainers were clearly interested in the group of civilians walking around. We saw the gym where boys were playing basketball or looking out the windows at us. We toured the visiting room which also serves as the hall for high school graduation. Saturday was sunny and as we strolled around the grounds, Rev. Craig told us about the different cultural traditions celebrated there. Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth (I had never heard of this but it is a celebration of the end of slavery), and there are sweat lodges for Native Americans. Mary (cane, hump back) asked loudly, “Can anyone go?” The reverend was amused by this and I told her she could if she behaved herself. That went over better than my ladder comment. And really Maggie, it’s not your show so why don’t you just shut up?

Next on the tour was the Geer Building named, as all the facility’s buildings are, after a former governor of Oregon. The Geer building houses: the isolation unit, Geer 3 and Geer 2.

Youth go to Isolation for suicide attempts or extra-bad behavior that requires they be removed from the general population. The isolation program takes one month to complete but if the kid screws up, the month starts over. When we were walking by that unit there was a kid in isolation pounding on his window at us, which was a little disconcerting.

Geer 3 is for violent youth who aren’t as extreme as the ones in isolation. This is a 2-3 month program that also starts over if they screw up.

Geer 2, on the other end of the spectrum, is for guys who have had no behavioral problems for two years. They are highly-motivated and involved in academic and work programs. I could make out their shadows in some of the rooms even though all the windows have tinted glass. They were watching us.

We walked by the dining hall where young men are also being trained to cook. And cooking doesn’t mean grilling burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is Oregon after all. There is a huge kitchen garden and this is cooking like Farm to Table cooking. And Youth work in the garden. As I said, this isn’t a lock them up and throw away the key sort of place. The facility as a whole has a 30% recidivism rate. I heard that and felt bad for Rev. Craig for having to admit the number is so high. I quickly learned that 30% is one of the lowest rates in the nation! Good lord help us.

So for the most part what I have described here, except for a few things, kind of sounds like it’s a camp. It’s not. There are baseball fields and soccer fields and kids watching TV but this is not a camp. Imagine if every time you moved from one room to the next in your house, you had to unlock the door, go into the next room, lock the door, do whatever you were going to do, unlock the door, relock the door. Any and everything you want to do, you have to ask. You can’t go to the bathroom without asking. You can’t walk to another building without asking nor without an escort. First graders have more freedom to go places alone than these guys do.

We walked back to the central quad in front of the pretty main building. The “cottages” are clustered around the quad. One cottage was having a barbecue. A service organization has adopted that cottage and has had weekend barbecues for the boys for the last 13 years! We didn’t go to that cottage but they were watching us. We had a tour of the alcohol and drug abuse cottage, there are also cottages for special needs kids, sexual offenders, violent offenders, etc.

The cottages have patios and there were kids out playing ping pong and strumming a guitar. The only difference between this and a real “cottage” is that the patios are completely enclosed with wrought iron mesh and there is a gate to enter the patio which is locked.

Rev. Craig unlocked the patio gate and we filed past the ping pong players who looked like boys I see everyday at Annie’s high school. But these kids are wearing their uniforms which consist of black shorts or jeans and gray t-shirts. Once inside the cottage (each one houses 25-30 kids), there is a front desk, a kid was talking on the phone (NO cell phones allowed in, period), there’s a white board with all the kids’ names listed and what level of privileges they have or if privileges have been revoked. Kids were playing cards, watching basketball on TV, hangin’. We gathered around and A. spoke to us about life in that cottage, drug/alcohol treatment, AA, school, privileges. He was well-spoken, affable.

The sleeping barracks have a locked gate too and are a stark reminder that this is no camp. There are cots just like you see prisons in the movies. No comforters, one pillow, a sheet, a blanket, no bed skirts, nothing on the walls, no carpeting, no nothing.

I know I keep saying that the Youth seem so average. I’m not that naive, these kids have done some bad shit to get where they are. The Youth have been convicted of Measure 11 offenses. That means they are juveniles convicted as adults of violent crimes or serious sex offenses i.e., arson, assault, rape, attempted murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, murder, child porn and promoting prostitution. I have to pray that some can be changed, some of them can be rehabilitated.

I believe in evil. I believe some people are born bad. But I don’t believe that many people are. There are 170 young men at this facility. There’s no way they are all just evil. Adults have failed most of these kids probably from the moment they were born.

Rev. Craig emphasized in the training class that volunteers have the opportunity to be a steady adult presence, once a week or once a month or whenever, but still a consistent adult presence which has been absent from these kids’ lives.

I strongly believe that our governments (federal, state and local) need to cut spending. The amount of money wasted on silliness like swine studies in Namibia or keeping congressional staff happy or bridges to nowhere, etc. frustrates the hell out of me. We are spending too much and cronyism on all sides of all aisles is responsible for it. I also firmly believe if spending cuts are what this country needs to do, then everyone needs to step up and do the work that we don’t want to pay government to do. Everyone, including me, makes fun of George H.W. Bush’s “1000 points of light” . (It’s a link to Dana Carvey, watch it) But George H.W. had a point, it is our responsibility to pick up the slack. Americans are giving and helpful and generous; we are witness to that every time there is a natural disaster or national tragedy.

In the immortal words of Frank Cross: (If you don’t know who he is, Google him!)

“You have to do something. You have to take a chance, you do have to get involved. There are people having trouble trying to make their miracle happen. There are people that don’t have enough to eat and people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. Take an old blanket out of the closet, you can make them a sandwich and tell them, “Oh by the way, here.”

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37 thoughts on “My First Visit to Juvie: the Tour

  1. Simon says:

    Maggie, this is stellar. Interesting, informative, and tugs at your heart strings. I am really excited that you decided to chronicle your experience and share it. Bravo with closing with a quote from Scrooged, an all timer for sure.

  2. Maggie O'C says:

    I win. I’m first. I’m the winner!

    (NOT MAGGIE)

  3. Maggie O'C says:

    “there was one?” = Stripes!

    (WHY IS NO ONE LISTENING TO ME)

  4. Andrew says:

    Can I also join in the Bill Murray talk? And also good job Maggie.

  5. Brigitte says:

    Maggie, this is so great. I so agree with you about there is good and evil and some people are, but most aren’t. I visited a facility similar to this when we lived near Charleston, SC and wrote an article about it for a local paper. Has your local paper written about this? You should do it. It’s warm, informative and gives us a real insider’s view of a place many people will never see or even think about. Are you really going to teach them French? You’ve gotta feel so good about yourself. I do! Great post and so look forward to reading more about this. 🙂

  6. acflory says:

    I think your sense of responsibility is awesome Maggie but surely there is a limit to how much volunteers can do? Like you I think governments everywhere waste huge amounts of /our/ money on nonsense but, bottom line – what is government truly for if not to look after those who can’t look after themselves?

    I suspect this may be a major political divide between the States and us [Australia] as we see the role of government slightly differently. We see healthcare, education and a decent standard of living as a right. Then again we don’t see the right to bear arms as being such a good thing. Horses for courses I guess.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      There is definitely a limit to what volunteers can do but right now our government does too much, in my opinion. And I agree that governments must help those who CANNOT help themselves, not those who WON’T help themselves.

      Australia and the U.S. clearly have different starting points. I know next to nothing about Australia so feel free to correct me.Our Constitution outlines the rights we believe citizens have but no guarantees. The 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) was written hundreds of years ago when the U.S. was still finding its way to independence from England. We didn’t have standing armies and the English did, so we needed to have militias. Obviously the 2nd Amendment is under fire, so to speak, right now in the U.S.

      As for healthcare…I have learned a lot about the UK’s NHS since blogging here and I do not want that. The U.S. needs to fix our healthcare system but I don’t want what we call a single payer system. And in the U.S. if you go to the ER without insurance, they are going to treat you.

      I’ve never heard Horses for Courses. What does it mean, I mean literally? I’m going to start saying it!!

      I love these discussions and learning more about countries from the people who live there!

      Thanks, Maggie

      • acflory says:

        I don’t know how the British healthcare system works but here in Australia we have a 1% levy on taxpayers that funds Medicare. Medicare is complicated and not perfect but it does mean that even the poorest people have access to basic health care. They can go to the ER or they can go to a private doctor who chooses to accept only the base fee for that consultation. The base fee is paid for by Medicare. People who have more income can go to the same doctor, be charged the /normal/ fee and get a refund from Medicare for the base fee.

        I had to go to the doctor just a couple of days ago. That doctor charge a normal fee of $70. I will get roughly half of that back as a refund from Medicare. The same thing applies to specialists except that they charge quite a bit more so the percentage I get back is less.

        I do have health insurance but only to cover me for private hospital care. If I were to have an accident of some sort I’d be taken to a public hospital first and possibly transferred to a private hospital once my condition was stable. Or maybe not because public hospitals do have excellent doctors. Private hospital insurance would pay for a specialist to treat me at a public hospital though.

        It really isn’t a perfect system but it does ensure that everyone can afford treatment when they need it. If you can afford more then you do get better care in some instances but often you just get classier care if that makes sense.

        What we’ve had in Australia for a long time, and still do, is a relatively small gap between those who have the very least and those who have the very most. Yes, this means that there are ‘bludgers’ who won’t help themselves and rely on handouts but most people want to have a comfortable middle class life and work for it. Somehow this mix of policies makes us happier as a whole.

        We do have violent crime but since the Port Arthur massacre when a nutter shot and killed 32 people, including very young children, we have had very tight gun laws that make it a lot harder to get guns to go on rampages /with/. Sadly the crims still manage to get them but no system is perfect.

        We do have very rich people as well 🙂 Gina Rinehart was in the news here recently because she is now the richest woman in the world! She’s also having strife with her children and is very overweight. And that last sentence is what we call the tall poppy syndrome. Fly too high and aussies will cut you down to size again 😉 For us being that rich is no big deal because it doesn’t make you happy. We’re a weird mob 😀

        Sorry for the long reply. I’d be really interested in knowing how things work over in the US too.

  7. Catchowder aka Lynsey says:

    There is a book you may be interested in that talks about a man who volunteered in a juvenile facility to teach some sort of writing class. It’s more narrative than academic and focuses on the kids’ reactions. I wish I could remember the name; i’ll see if the library keeps a log of my check-outs because I would know it by name.

  8. chrisdevoss says:

    My Mom used to drive us by such a facility in Ohio to scare us when we were bad. I remember the kids in there Orange jumpsuits hanging out, looking forlorn. I’m going to have my boys read these posts next time they act up. Powerful stuff.

  9. I didn’t know you were in Portland..Is that city as awesome as everyone says? I need to visit there one day.

    • Maggie O'C says:

      uhhhh…. yes I am in Portland. Is it awesome? To visit, yes. It’s beautiful, great food, tons of progressive liberal stuff which usually serves to make me crazy. The city government is a mess and our economy is still in the shitter but to visit…YES! And it is really pretty, even I think so. Come visit! I would have a bloggers party 🙂

  10. Beth says:

    Wonderful summary of your volunteer training. I’ll subscribe to your blog to hear future experiences. Keep the stories coming–and I agree, you should send these blogs to the Oregon newspapers to get a broader audience.

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

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