The Good Teacher - Zuleyma's Story

Zuleyma was known as a “good teacher” to her students and colleagues during the years she taught K-12. But her career in education came to an abrupt halt when she was arrested for selling drugs. An abusive partner had gradually come to have more and more control over Zuleyma, pressuring her to do whatever it took to keep her partner happy. That included selling drugs and becoming cut off from family and friends. In this video, Zuleyma explains what happened next.

Interview and videography by Greta Smith.

The Good Teacher - Chapter 4: Making a Positive Life

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Upon my release, I started to contact Portland State University and advocate for support to get in the counseling program. I really wanted to get back into school but wasn’t successful in getting responses, so I started looking for jobs in the trades.

I was released from Coffee Creek on May 20, 2016 and did not have a place to go. I ended up living in a halfway house until my parole officer would approve the housing situation with my family. I started to look for work and got temporary jobs as a labor worker. I also completed the Oregon Tradeswomen program. I bounced around from one construction site to another for about a year and now I have a permanent position. This is a physically demanding job and I always do my best and appreciate the opportunity. I support these trade programs unconditionally because women are very capable of doing these type of jobs in our industries in Oregon.

More importantly, I see the world differently and want to share this experience with others and try to tell my story to help others feel supported when facing drugs and violence in their lives. I feel it is my responsibility to help reduce domestic violence and help people facing mental illness and addiction in the community. I also want to be an advocate for those considering suicide.

The Good Teacher - Chapter 3: Lost and Healing

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For the first two years, I was angry and bitter and refused to accept that this had become my life. I especially resented the fact that I had become a felon and was sent to prison for something I felt I wasn’t at fault for. My world stopped and I lived in shame and embarrassment from my name being in the news on local channels as a drug dealing teacher gone bad. In addition, my friends disappeared and did not want to be around someone who was in prison.

I lost my house and material possessions. My family members helped me with everything they could, but some of them lived in Canada and it was difficult for them to keep in contact with me. Eventually I felt so lonely and lost and didn’t know how to begin confronting my situation. I was scared and trying to figure out how to survive in prison. My friends disappearing was a hard lesson because I thought people would care about me, but life showed me that people will fail you when you face difficult situations.

I arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for women in June 2012. I went through intake where women are separated and classified. The ones with less severe crimes and a release date of four years or less go to the minimum-security side. The ones with more severe crimes and life sentences go to the medium-security side. After spending a month on intake, I was finally sent to minimum where I was given a bunk with a thin, crappy mattress, a pillow, one blanket, one thin bar of soap, a small cheap bottle of shampoo, a small toothbrush, and some baking soda that I was supposed to use for toothpaste. The space in the bunk areas are very restricted. About three feet away from each other. You need to have money on your account to buy canteen, which are approved items of food and hygiene products.

I started to work for the canteen warehouse at the Salem headquarters. I learned how to operate a forklift and to unload pallets of canteen items for all the prisons in the state of Oregon, men and women. I did inventory of items, and entered information of popular items sold in prison such as shoes, clothing, makeup, food, and drinks. I worked Monday through Friday from 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM and was paid $72 a month, which was the top pay in the prison. I did this for one year.

In the afternoon, I would help women prepare for their GED test and felt very grateful that these women are now getting a basic education to better their future. My contributions were very worthwhile because I knew they were going back to their children and would be able to get better jobs to support them.

I worked on myself as well and got into a few coping skill classes to help with my codependency issues. I also managed to get some therapy regarding the psychological abuse that I had experienced in my relationship. In addition, I found running to be very therapeutic and got very good at it. It also helped me release a great deal of stress and worries. I took every class I could to better myself so that I would have an opportunity to work upon my release outside. 

I never wanted to know anything about my ex partner.  I had finally felt free from her control and free of being scared. One morning I woke up and said to myself, “What was I thinking? I lost everything and I am in prison.” This actually made me work harder to become a better person. In fact, I took trainings for certifications like CPR, food handlers, hazmat, forklift, facility maintenance training. In addition, I was part of physical activities such as the 5K marathon and creating physical circuits to help other women find healing through physical fitness. I meditated about my life in prayer and gratefulness, becoming more humble and appreciative of the world.

After a year of working for canteen, I applied to physical plant where women are trained for trades such as electrician, welding, carpentry, landscaping, and painting. I was part of the electrician’s crew and work in this for the remaining time at Coffee Creek. I met so many women in bad circumstances that sent them to prison, like domestic abuse, being homeless, and mental illness that had caused addictions to drugs or alcohol. Many of the women genuinely had remorse for their crimes.

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 4: Making a Positive Life

The Good Teacher - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse

By Zuleyma Figueroa

READ CHAPTER 1: ROLE MODELS AND SUCCESS

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Suddenly, in June 2010, I was caught selling drugs and went to jail. I lost my teaching and administrative license. After serving three months in jail, I got a lawyer and managed to get out. I was devastated. I still had my house and decided to rent out a couple of rooms for income. I got a job and began to work in a Mexican store. Not planning to continue my relationship with my partner.  

Suddenly, one Friday morning, she turned up at my front door asking me to let her in my life again. I said no and I asked her to leave.  She left, but she began stalking me and sending people to my house to spy on me and what I was doing. Then she showed up again and this time she got into my house and put a gun to my head. She told me that if I said anything, or called the police, that she would make me or one of my sisters disappear in an instant. I was terrified! I had been kidnapped in my own house. And the threat was real because her brothers are sicarios, contracted hitmen. These guys would make you disappear and no one would ever find out where you were or what happened to you. I was so scared for my life and the life of my sisters. 

This woman took over my house and my possessions. She used my name to do a lot of different things. Including opening up an automotive shop where her brothers were acting as mechanics. My life was a living hell. I became her maid and I would never talk to her in a way that would make her mad or upset. I told my sisters to not visit me or contact me because I didn’t want them around me or these dangerous people. I wanted to commit suicide several times. I didn’t have a phone because her phone was the main contact for everything.  

When the shop was opened, it was with money that I did not know where it came from but I am sure it was drug money. She ordered me to be in the front office to run the business because I spoke English. I never knew what she was doing in the shop, but I assume it was bad things because of what she was doing to me. I was a scared woman with nowhere to run to and nowhere to turn. If I said anything, I knew that I would end up in a grave. I slept in a room by myself while she slept in a separate room with her guns, vigilant of anything I did. She put up cameras in the back and front of my house. 

Eventually, the DEA showed up to the shop to perform a search and I was arrested. Again she seemed to have escaped justice. I was charged with possession and delivery of drugs and although the DEA knew I wasn’t their suspect, I was the only one they had in their custody. I was interrogated and told them several times I didn’t know anything. It didn’t matter and I was convicted of charges that sent me to prison for four years. 

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 3: Lost and Healing

The Good Teacher - Chapter 1: Role Models and Success

By Zuleyma Figueroa

“Good teacher.”  This is how my students and their parents would describe me in the schools that I have worked in. I was a teacher for over 15 years in bilingual programs, K-12. I have always had a passion to teach and serve the children and youth in our community. Indeed, I was happy. I had a house, a nice car, wonderful teaching job, friends, family, and most of all I made my mother proud for having put my degree from higher education to work. My mother was my hero and my older brothers were great role models in my life. Even as I came out, revealing I was gay, I had a great deal of support from my parents and family.

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It was winter 2007 when I met a woman that I fell in love with. We were happy and things were going well for a couple of years. Then I started to notice that my income from work was not enough to cover the life of luxury that my partner wanted. She began to invite people into our life and into our house, and suddenly there was a world that I never asked for. Reluctantly, I began to get involved in this lifestyle in a desperate attempt to keep my partner happy. Eventually I would succumb to her manipulation and eventually found out that she was heavily involved in a family drug dealing business. In retrospect, I now see how love can be so blind.

Gradually, I began to start selling drugs for money to keep my partner happy.  I also started to have fear as she began controlling me by yelling and hitting me. She had also drilled in my mind, because of my standing, that I would never have consequences behind my actions. She also promised me that she would always have my back and the police would never suspect me. I believed her and did whatever she wanted. I ignored the realization that I was contributing to a drug problem in my community and was destroying people’s lives, including my own.

I also did not realize the degree of psychological manipulation that was being inflicted upon me and all the strategies and tactics in which she was controlling my life. She gave me constant reassurance that everything was going fine. Certainly, domestic violence can take many forms and it was not fully apparent to me at that time. I was completely brainwashed.  After all, money did not seem to be much of a problem as she traveled back and forth to her family, buying expensive cars and have parties every weekend. Doing drugs was not the addiction, but selling drugs and getting money were. I lost my identity and I started to be very codependent of my partner. I stopped living my life and started living her life instead. I stopped seeing my family and friends too. The world that surrounded me belonged only to her.

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse

790 Days - Part Eleven - The end of a cycle

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Isabelle S.
20559660

I’m coming almost full-circle to completing a year of my life, blogged monthly within these posts. And within this context, I’m starting a new year, too. I’m starting again with school, and I’m starting again with new possibility. This is where I was back in 2013, when I first moved to Oregon - an incoming freshman going into a private liberal arts school, waiting to see what an education could or would bring, only with more desperation on the line.

I’ll be coming in with a year of school under my belt, so I’m no longer a freshman. But the point remains the same. I don’t believe many people reach the opportunity in their lives to simply press ‘redo’; to go back to the very same place in which they were before some seemingly fatal life decisions were made, and to get the choice to act again. And this seems to be where I find myself now.

It could also be that I misunderstand the situation, and perhaps this is what it’s like to fully step into your life again - perhaps many women come to this crossroads, where they come face-to-face with the same situation where they would have acted differently years ago. And that’s the thing about incarceration, when it’s done as it’s meant to be - people just come out different. We come into the same lives we used to inhabit, but now we wear a different skin. And that’s why sometimes, there’s no better adjective to describe this whole thing than simply being weird. It’s dichotomous. You - me - I’m split in two. I experience life through multiple filters, depending on which history of mine I’m tuning into. And very specifically, it’s split in half by my time at Coffee Creek.

So, as I start this new year, in the wonderful position I have, I get to see it through this lens. I get to see it as the culmination of the work I’ve done in prison, and as the second chance I believe every human being deserves. It’s only when we put ourselves back where we first started that we are able to see just how much we’ve grown.

And how beautiful an opportunity that is.

And, if I can say so at this point, thank you for reading any part of my story that you have. Hopefully it grants a little bit of insight into the fragmented nature of change, and of our justice system. I know my life has shifted tremendously from it, and I only look forward to seeing how this develops.

I’ll see you on the other side, my friend.

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

Freda's Story Part Two

After her conviction and sentencing under Measure 11, Freda Ceaser served her time at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. There, she experienced the pain of separation from her family, including the death of her father while she was still incarcerated. Having spent time in prison, Freda now believes strongly in a more restorative approach to justice that she thinks will be more effective in addressing the root causes of crime and preventing re-offending.

This is part two of a two-part series with Freda. Watch part one.

Freda's Story Part One

Since it was introduced in 1995, Measure 11 has become perhaps the best known of Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Crafted amid a climate of fear about violent crime, Measure 11 was backed by voters including Freda Ceaser. What Freda didn’t expect was that she herself would end up being sentenced under the law.

In this video, Freda discusses how her youth and an addiction problem led her to involvement in property crime. She - and many others who voted for Measure 11 - understood that it would be taking on those who were committing acts of violence. Yet, without having done this herself, she still ended up being convicted under Measure 11.

This is part one of a two-part video series with Freda. Watch part two.

Payton's Story

Payton describes how prison re-traumatized her, triggered memories of an abusive behavioral modification program that she survived as a teenager, and crushed her soul. Her experiences in prison and the lack of trust and resentment that prison fostered in her has made life back in the community a struggle. She believes that there is not enough education for young people about how the criminal system functions and the grave consequences that can result from seemingly small actions.

790 Days - Part Ten - The growing edge

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Isabelle S.
20559660

As this is my second to last blog post, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this last year in blog-writing has passed. I’ve thought about the changes in myself, in what I’ve written about, and in my perception of my own space in society. And although I haven’t reached any conclusions by any means, I have realized that this has been one hell of an extraordinary adventure. I’ve had all sorts of means come test my boundaries, and although troublesome at the time, they really blossomed into opportunities to get to know myself.

I was reading an issue of Harper’s the other day, and in their miscellaneous readings section they had published a short letter-to-the-editor written by Oscar Wilde in the late nineteenth century. And, even more apropos, it was his direct commentary on England’s prison system at the time, from his experience serving two years incarceration for “sexual indecency” - or what we might now know of as homosexuality.

I realize there will always be injustice in the world, which seems a sad, but also liberating truth to bear. Although I imagine conditions must have been harsher at the time, Wilde’s commentary was so strikingly similar to what I saw, and my own identification with incarceration that it left both a feeling of vindication, and a little residue of hollowness.

As long as systems remain what they are - which is to say, human pieces of machinery - there will be people subjugated by them. I don’t know if this is what matters so much as it is learning how to live through them, and despite them. I’m no idealist about systems change. but I do think we can become more aware of the world we live in, because, the way I see it, each one of us has had a part in shaping it, most likely unconsciously.

I’ve lived with enough guilt in my life to know better, by now. I’ve done some pretty harmful things, and I’ve been hurt in some pretty brutal ways. But neither of those matters so much to me anymore. I’ve had to make my amends where possible, and I’ve had to take accountability in order to be able to make that last claim. But regardless, in looking back at each statement I’ve made, and each subject I’ve thought important, what I see is my own future in the making.

And that is the most liberating truth I could ask for.

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

790 Days - Part Nine - What kept me going

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Isabelle S.
20559660

There is a nearly miraculous power behind decisions. I’ve heard somewhere that, on average, a human being makes about 35,000 decisions in a day - this counting every infinitesimally small, almost unconscious choice we might make, between choosing to reach for another piece of toast, or choosing how we feel about how our significant other responds to us.

Decisions are powerful.

And I really learned of their power behind bars. Prison is a place, almost the trademark place, where one might think of a person as deprived of choice. And that’s pretty accurate, in one very evident light. In another, the most crucial decisions in my life have been made in this space, where I was most physically restricted.

I think most of us are familiar with the idea of traumatic life events (potentially) leading to spiritual realizations, or major life shifts. Unfortunately, they can also come with depression, uncertainty, ostracization, loss of property, relationships, and personal identity, and many other effects besides.

What separates one person from another in a place like prison very quickly comes down to one thing: the power of decision. Those who are considered successful within its walls come to this place by hard work, that much is evident. It isn’t easy to live every day when you’re in prison, for anyone, I think. No matter how much you get used to it, there remains a part of you acutely aware of all the things you’re missing: your niece’s graduation and your daughter’s first birthday; the cool feel of roughened bark under your hand; the smell of coffee in the morning, when you’re lounging around the table with nothing yet to do. You really know what you don’t have, when you don’t have it. Cliché, but true.

And the power of decision is what kept me going. I realized, if I wanted to move forward, the only part of my life I could develop any grasp of was my own relationship to what was happening around me. I had to learn to separate myself from the consequences, and keep going. I had to decide to be happy, because what I didn’t have wasn’t going to come to me anytime soon.

So, I decided to notice the small stuff. The trees I was privileged to see from the window four bunks down and two bunks north of me became some of my best friends in the two years I spent in Coffee Creek. (As a side note, I was housed in the minimum-security facility. Within the medium facility, in its halls and its cells, there are no windows.) I would look to those trees when I needed support, or reassurance, and it meant the world to me to know there was something I could count on just being there.

Life is funny in this way; you never know where it’s going to take you. But you can be certain of how you choose to handle it - that much, I believe, is firmly within your grasp.

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

Ailene's Story

When Ailene left Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, she quickly found a job working in fast food and started to volunteer at a detox facility. She soon realized that, with the many barriers she faced as a formerly incarcerated woman, she needed to go back to school because education would be the key to building a new life for herself and her children. She's a passionate advocate for more educational opportunities for currently and formerly incarcerated people.

According to the New York Times:

"That prison education programs are highly cost effective is confirmed by a 2013 RAND Corporation study that covered 30 years of prison education research. Among other things, the study found that every dollar spent on prison education translated into savings of $4 to $5 on imprisonment costs down the line.

Other studies suggest that prisons with education programs have fewer violent incidents, making it easier for officials to keep order, and that the children of people who complete college are more likely to do so themselves, disrupting the typical pattern of poverty and incarceration."

This video was produced and edited by Avalon Edwards, who is a rising junior at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. She chose to intern with the Women’s Justice Project this summer because she wanted to learn more about the unique and often overlooked challenges that incarcerated women face.

Barrilee's Story

WARNING: this video includes description of sexual harassment and abuse that you may find disturbing.

Barrilee was incarcerated in Oregon in the 1990s, before Coffee Creek Correctional Facility opened in 2001. Due to overcrowding at the previous women's prison, she and others were sent by the State of Oregon to Arizona, to a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America. At that prison in Florence, Arizona, she experienced intimidation, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse at the hands of guards. Barrilee returned to custody in Oregon but her troubles did not end there. 

In 2012, four percent of state and federal prisoners reported having experienced some type of sexual victimization. The intention of incarceration is to hold people accountable for the crimes they commit, yet many finish their sentences with new abuses and traumas to contend with on the outside.  

790 Days - Part Eight - Freedom

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Isabelle S.
20559660

In my eyes, freedom began when I recognized the intense amount of help I needed. One of the most difficult circumstances of modern-day life, I think, is that nagging sense of why. Why, when we have so much, does life happen the way it does? What’s the enduring purpose behind all of this materialism? Why keep trying?

These are sincere questions I think many of us encounter at some point within our lives - maybe during moments of stress or transition, at the loss of a loved one, or the end of a major step in our lives. These questions arise from a place of deep innocence within each of us. These are the questions that were awakened within me by the sequences of life that brought me into Coffee Creek.

It is this sincerity that also awoke a deep understanding within me. If I want to live what I consider to be a successful life, I need to take responsibility for creating it. If I wish for purpose, I need to make it. Over the two years I had to be with myself, I realized that what I wanted could be distilled to simple terms: love and happiness. I realized that even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was being guided by a set of beliefs, tied to very basic desires - and once I recognized this, I could take back responsibility for achieving those desires.

I wanted something to matter. I wanted something to live for. In Coffee Creek, I found many women turned to their children (as most women within Coffee Creek were mothers) as a motivation to keep them afloat. People often talked about the lives they would create for themselves and their families, if they were given the chance to. I couldn’t identify in the same way, but in my mind I saw leaving Coffee Creek as a way to change my life, and as a way to give birth to a different self.

That’s why, when I was released, I took every opportunity I could put my hands on - I joined groups, started meditating, got a membership at a gym, found a housing assistance program,  started multiple jobs, found a career and finance coach - all because I didn’t know what lead would take me where I wanted to go. I knew that if I tried as many things as I could, I would figure it out eventually. I would feel out the direction in which I wanted my life to go.

It’s only by beginning to accept this help, by declaring a state of openness and vulnerability, that I was able to begin moving away from the cravings and depression that had ruled my past life. Instinctively, I knew I needed to throw myself into my life in order to fully detach myself from my past. Unfortunately, that possibility isn’t always there for everyone. But, part of me deeply believes that if we open our eyes, we will find a way to grow out of our desperation. We all come from different circumstances, and so this growth is unique to every person. It is my desire to see our cultural focus shift away from the past, and towards this growth.

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

Crystal's Story

At just 19 years old, Crystal was sent to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility on a 16-and-a-half year sentence. In this video, she describes what it was like to arrive at the prison, how "old-timers" took her under their wing and how she adapted to prison life. Crystal explains how, despite her experiences of trauma and abuse, she found her voice and used it to speak up for herself and others. 

790 Days - Part Seven - Discipline

Isabelle S.
20559660

One of my personal keys to handling distress is discipline. And where did I learn discipline? From Coffee Creek. Within its walls I lived in an environment where the sheer chaos and drama around me really drove me to find something deeper within myself; it forced me to find a source of sustenance that would keep me going. If I hadn’t looked there, I would have been sucked away by the ‘he said/she said’ stories (or in this case, ‘she said/she said’), or given in to fears and insecurities about what two years in prison was going to look like. (If you don’t think two years is a long time, you’re right - but try it yourself. It’s hard to swallow at the beginning.)

I find that most people I met in prison, at one point or another - and usually further along in their sentence - found this ability to ground themselves in their own reality. You can usually tell who’s new by their level of acceptance of reality, and by their groundedness (or lack thereof) in the present. This isn’t always true, but I think it speaks to the power of time. Within the walls of Coffee Creek, and essentially isolated from the fluctuations of the outside world, you start only to count on the very basic events of the day: meal times; shower times; when you can brush your teeth; when the lights will go off.

In my experience, having so few things to reliably count on actually helped me look for what was more important - the things that provided for my growth. I began to supplement my spare time with rigorous, routine exercise (not an uncommon thing to see many people turn to); within my spiritual service, I began to meditate daily and unyieldingly. In fact, I became known for this tradition, if for nothing else than the fact that it’s hard to hide anything you do from the 150 women who surround you - especially when you live on a top bunk.

Some of the habits I picked up were done so strictly, in a sense, that I wouldn’t (and don’t) pursue them in the same fashion out here as I did in there. My life has so far found a softness that I didn’t have the privilege to experience within Coffee Creek. The sometimes excessive discipline that I learned within those walls - for example, there were long stretches of time that I would eat very little other than raw vegetables and beans - helped me to truly experience the benefit that comes from pursuing a habit over time. I think if I hadn’t been forced to sit down for two years with very little to do, my young self might not have picked up on this for many, many years. After all, it’s hard (I think) for a 20-something to dedicate herself to any sort of activity, when there’s a whole wide world to experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still fond of varying experience. Only now I see that those two can go hand-in-hand. I see that dedicating myself to a discipline which truly helps me isn’t mutually exclusive to trying different things, or trying something, and if it just doesn’t feel right, letting it go. This is the softness I’ve developed. It means I know what helps me, and I keep doing it - but just because I do one kind of meditation, for example, doesn’t prevent me from joining a Buddhist group, or trying out a different form of yoga, or going to church. I try many things to help keep my life vibrant, but now I know what to hold on to.

Coffee Creek has taught me to become strong. The key is I now know what makes me stronger, and I keep doing it.

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

Isabel's Story

Isabel describes her experience of incarceration in Oregon and the challenges of accessing programming in prison that can help rehabilitate people or train them for new careers after prison. She believes better access to trade programs in particular would help prepare women for life outside. But even for those who have managed to learn a trade in prison, finding an employer who's willing to take a chance on someone who's been incarcerated is one of the major challenges of life after incarceration.

Isabel experienced houselessness before going into prison. She feels fortunate to have found agencies to help her with money after her release to secure housing. But persuading a landlord to look at a formerly incarcerated person as a tenant can be as difficult as finding work.

790 Days - Part Six - The Flip side

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Isabelle S.
20559660

As unfortunate as it is, Coffee Creek was probably one of the best lessons I’d had in life about inequality. There is a definite culture to prison life, and it rings of disparity. It’s reminiscent of street life, and followed not only by the women in prison, but by many of the officers as well - particularly the newer ones, and particularly males.

I don’t mean to cast blame for perpetuating patterns. I understand that with particular life choices comes a particular way of staying safe, and this follows almost everyone into prison. What’s more disconcerting is the adoption of these beliefs by the staff members that spend nearly eight-to-nine hours of their day with us. What results is a system that feeds back to us the same message we’ve heard most of our lives (if you’re like most anyone who ends up in prison): You’re worthless, you’ll amount to nothing, and you’re here because you don’t know better and you can’t know better.

It’s not like these statements are directly said, for the most part. But they’re followed. It happens in the way we as women are spoken to, and the way we are spoken about. It’s my personal opinion that this can be one of the most debilitating aspects of incarceration: It forces someone to spend years in an environment in which they are treated no differently than they were on the streets, and in which support is mainly offered by its unpaid volunteers ... but rarely by its own staff.

I don’t want to be unfair - there are some amazing officers and other staff who have worked there for years, who care and know how to work their jobs properly. As usual, they’re too few for the overwhelming number of both inmates and assorted new officers.

Spending time in Coffee Creek, I experienced what many women thought about themselves through the ways they behaved, and the ways they were treated (myself included). I got to see the very real way that life was lived by other people, and I started to understand just how much of a life-and-death battle it really can be. I was able to see firsthand how choices no longer become choices, and what loneliness and raw need can do to us. I got to see what humanity is like under pressure. It’s important, and fragile, and part of every human life, but it remains within a very broken system.

It cut something open in me. I know there are other truths to be learned, and perspectives to see. Prison is seen as the underbelly of society - if so many of us can be locked away and treated with such disrespect, what does this say about the rest of us?

The writer underwent two years at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, convicted for charges directly related to an active drug addiction.

HerStory Oregon: Starting a wider conversation about the women we incarcerate in Oregon

Our Women's Justice Project Director, Julia Yoshimoto, and our Director of Communication, Alice Lundell, spoke to host Doug McVay for Prison Pipeline on KBOO. We explained how our HerStory Oregon project works, what we've learned so far, and what's coming next. We also shared some extracts from video interviews with women who have been incarcerated in Oregon.

To listen to the show at KBOO's website, click here. This program was hosted by Doug McVay and produced by KBOO.