We are approaching the holiday season when friends and family will be staying at our homes. This is a great time to renew old acquaintances and have dinners and parties with the ones we love. However one group of folks that isn’t looking forward to you coming to where they work is the staff at the Multnomah County Jail.
They have a program for those that choose not to come back and are seeking a changed life. For a plethora of reasons some former inmates have gotten off track and turned to a life of crime. In their heart they know this is a dead-end; but lack the skills and knowledge to turn their lives around. Enter the Multnomah County Justice Reinvestment Program and the Inverness Jail Alcohol and Drug Pre-Treatment Unit.
The program is looking for inmates that don’t want to be repeat offenders and eventually end up in a state or federal prison. In fact one of the components of the program is a tour of the Oregon State Penitentiary which leaves a lasting impression for those who haven’t been in that institution.
First, inmates have to volunteer for the program. History has taught those running the programs that if the inmate isn’t ready it is a waste of time and money. Next, they are selected by the type of crime they have committed, usually a low level type of crime, i.e. DUI or possession. Next, the inmate is separated from the general population and put in a separate pod. As new inmates come into the pod the other inmates stand up and applaud. This, in itself, is an anomaly, but it sends a message that they are all there to help one another.
What I noticed when I entered the pod was that the color of the walls wasn’t institutional gray, and there were many landscape photographs on the walls. These types of benefits are huge among the jail population. This also lets the other inmates who didn’t choose this option that more than likely they will be repeat offenders.
Volunteers of America counselors are under contract with the Department of Community Justice to provide the alcohol and drug pre-treatment component. Additional support comes from Corrections counselors. Key to their success is that the inmates have volunteered. Counselors comment that the sessions with the inmates where they share their past proves to be a real catharsis. Inmates don’t normally open up to other inmates but try to maintain a tough exterior to protect themselves. However, in a segregated environment they feel safer because everyone is telling his or her story. Some of these stories are very dark and reveal horrific child abuse on a level that we can’t comprehend.
This program offers a way out; an open door to positive change maybe for the first time in the offender’s entire life. The holistic approach provides classes in job training, access to Work Source Oregon offender program, resume building, National Career Readiness Certificate, G.E.D. instruction, and support to find housing so they are not back living on the street.
The requirements for the inmate include intensive monitoring, random drug testing, mentoring, and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.
Bottom line for the inmates is they start to believe in themselves. They also mention that mentoring is critical for their success. For many this is the first time in their life they received positive support. Most of all they want a way out of a life of crime or addiction, and want to have what many of us take for granted: a family, a job, and maybe a Thanksgiving meal at their table in their own home.