HOME Youth Resource Center: Donations and Encouragement for At-Risk/Homeless Youth

For a number of years, the men in OSP, led by the Seventh Step club, have been the largest and most consistent donor to the HOME Youth Resource Center, a drop-in center catering to at-risk and homeless youth in the city where the prison is located. The Seventh Step club (for more information on prisoner-led clubs in OSP, see Chap. 3 in this volume) regularly holds hygiene drives, where prisoners can purchase new, practical items such as toothpaste, combs, and deodorant from the prison canteen/ shop and donate them to HOME. They also coordinate cash donations from the prison population to support the important work that HOME is doing to help youth who are either on the streets or at-risk of ending up on the streets. Staff representatives from HOME are regularly invited into meetings of Seventh Step and other prisoner-led clubs in order to receive the checks and donations for the youth they serve. In addition, the RISE UP! youth empowerment program has also started working with HOME to bring youth from the street into the prison to attend one of the youth empowerment program’s speaking panels; in these visits, the men from RISE UP! share parts of their own histories in order to discuss life choices and offer new perspectives with the youth who attend.

Working to Build a Partnership with the Oregon Youth Authority Michelle has had significant experience in volunteering with and teaching within the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) (Inderbitzin, 2014), and Trevor served significant time in an OYA facility before being transferred to adult prison. Based in part on these experiences, we have been working for the past several years to develop an official relationship between OYA and the RISE UP! youth empowerment program. We believe that men who have served many years in prison and matured and grown in the process have real wisdom to offer young men facing similar paths. In hopes of making the transition from OYA to the DOC as productive as possible, we have proposed a program where adults in custody (and formally incarcerated individuals) will share their personal experiences, perspectives, and advice with currently incarcerated youth. Incarcerated youth tend to have many questions, fears, and misperceptions about life inside a state prison; talking with men who have survived the transition and are currently leading productive lives in prison may help the youth in their own transition to a DOC facility.

This partnership is a work in progress. Michelle initiated contact with the Director of the OYA, and he and key members of his administrative team have come to the prison to meet with Trevor, James, and other men who could potentially serve as role models/mentors to youth and young adults in OYA custody. There are still many details to be worked out concerning staff supervision of any interactions and ensuring compliance with all federal regulations, but everyone who is involved believes this is a promising partnership and continues to invest time developing the idea and potential program.

Working with Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) is an international grassroots organization that works to improve the criminal j ustice system, and its members advocate on behalf of both prisoners and victims. The Oregon chapter of CURE is an all-volunteer organization that has committed to working with the Lifers’ Unlimited Club at OSP. Because the men inside raised questions and concerns about the policies and practices of the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, members of CURE regularly attend Parole Board hearings and provide valued feedback. They correspond with the Lifers’ Unlimited Club through e-mails sent and moderated by a prison staff advisor and by attending club meetings and speaking with the members.

James sees promise in the partnership with CURE and feels hope in knowing that the members of CURE care what happens inside the state’s courtrooms, parole hearings, and prisons:

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the representatives of CURE on a regular basis. To hear their thoughts, to take part in discussions about the immediate concerns they have regarding incarceration in general, and to be present when the hopes they have for effective change within the current prison system are voiced gives me hope. Why hope? Because right now the system punishes each person as if each is exactly the same, yet each of us is distinctly different in a myriad of ways. To incarcerate for the sole purpose of throwing away a problem doesn’t solve the problem in the long run; it only warehouses it. There are better ways to deal with people who’ve made horrible choices, and being able to work side by side with those from CURE who are actively stumping for change is rewarding because the two sides are learning so much from the other. Ideas are being shared and with the right approach I think amazing things are on the horizon.

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