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!)