Author Archives: michelle

love and greetings from the community

IO card packets 2013Another of the projects my Inside-Out students took on this term was to create beautiful hand-decorated holiday cards for children visiting the Oregon State Penitentiary to take home with them, personalize, and mail back to their fathers, uncles, and other loved ones.  OSU (outside) student Lexie explains the rationale for these card packets:

These packets were made by the Inside-out class of fall 2013. These packets will be given to the children of inmates at OSP so that they may have a stamped, addressed, decorated card to send to a loved one with little to no barriers. It also included candy, extra writing paper and an extra envelope. Receiving things from family members on the outside means a lot to these guys and helps them to keep their heads up while working to improve their own lives and the lives of others for the duration of their sentences. Most of these examples of the cards are done by inmates and are beautiful. There are some that are not that great, haha, but have potential for the kids to make them great. These aren’t all of them, but a few we picked out to share.

It’s a small but important way for us to continue to support men in prison (including our own inside students) and the children who love them.

Oregon State University Inside-Out Class Project Aims to Educate Potential Employers

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We are the 1 in 100….Fall 2013

IMG_2135 memo_tumblr2013 marc_tumblr 2013

The We are the 1 in 100 tumblr site is an ongoing project of my Inside-Out classes, with submissions representing both the approximately  1 in 100 Americans behind bars and those affected by their incarceration.  The Fall 2013 inside and outside students have recently added some powerful new sentiments and images.  Check it out.

Halloween Rituals and Bonding with Incarcerated Fathers

TheGreatPumpkinCharlieBrownI was fortunate to host one of the more meaningful Halloween events of my life this year.  Building on the work I have been doing in one of our state youth correctional facilities over the past couple of years, I approached the administration with the idea of holding a Halloween party for the incarcerated fathers and their young children.  The fathers, themselves, are in their late teens and early twenties, so their children are all very young and at the age when Halloween is a major holiday.

We arranged to have the event on October 30th, so that it was an additional celebration and did not take the kids away from their own neighborhood celebration of Halloween.  Approximately seven young fathers participated, and family members brought their young children in their Halloween costumes into the facility to decorate pumpkins with their dads, decorate and eat cookies together, and to try to catch donuts and apples on strings (a more hygienic version of bobbing for apples). The culminating event was when the kids and their dads were able to trick or treat down the hallways of the institution’s school.  I had eight fabulous students from Oregon State University helping to run the event – the OSU volunteers were able to each go into a classroom and greet the little trick-or-treaters with kindness and candy.    After the little kids went home, we invited the full population of the facility to join us in the gym for pumpkin decorating, lively games, cookies, and candy.  I think it’s safe to say that the OSU volunteers and the young men in the facility all had a great time.

In the grand scheme of things, this event was a little thing that the youth correctional facility made possible.  All we had to do was suggest the idea; they then allowed us to make the plans, and then the administrators made it happen.  In the past 20 years (at least), they have never had an event like this.  For the kids and dads who participated, this was a big deal.  The dads got to be involved in an important childhood ritual, and they were able to make some unique memories with their kids.  I got to play photographer for much of the event, and I took some great family photos that both the kids and dads will be able to look back upon and enjoy for many years to come.

In my research and teaching, I think a lot about at-risk youth and children of incarcerated parents.  Small events like this one seem to me to be a small but important step to show that the community cares and wants what is best for these children.  It was a Halloween well spent.

A Father’s Grief and Grace in Newtown

from CNN (take 3 minutes to watch the video if you have a chance):

Robbie Parker has a message for the family of the gunman who killed his 6-year-old daughter and 19 of her school mates.

“I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well,” Parker said, as he remembered his oldest girl, Emilie Alice.

Emilie died Friday at the hands of a gunman who opened fire at her elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history…

Fighting back tears with his voice cracking, Parker asked Saturday night that the tragedy “not turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people.”

11-year-old attempts carjacking at gunpoint

In Oregon, an 11-year-old boy is being arraigned on allegations of first- and second-degree robbery and unlawful use of a firearm.  His accomplice was a 7-year-old boy.

The Oregonian reports:

Police said the 11-year-old was armed with a loaded .22-caliber derringer and threatened Amy Garrett, 22, in her pickup while she was parked at Freedom Foursquare Church about noon Saturday. Garrett said the 11-year-old and a 7-year-old boy, carrying a backpack with bullets, demanded her pickup, then money and her phone.

The boy’s father was charged with a relatively new law that makes it a crime to leave a gun unsecured and within reach of a child.  The father is a convicted felon, and he has had two child neglect and abuse complaints filed against him in the last year.  The 11-year-old boy and his two younger siblings were taken into protective custody.

A neighbor claimed to have called police several times over the past 18 months with complaints about vandalism and trespassing involving the then 10-year-old boy.  The young age of the attempted carjacker and his relatively long history of contact with police brings to mind the case of Nathaniel Abraham; Abraham was given a real opportunity when he was sentenced as a juvenile; unfortunately, he seems to be struggling in prison as an adult.

But back to the current situation with an 11-year-old boy facing first- and second-degree robbery and weapons charges.   What a strange and sad case!  What in the world would an 11-year-old do if his victim had surrendered her vehicle?  Would he have attempted to drive it off?  To where and to what end? And, what are the circumstances of his 7-year-old accomplice?  The boys are not related and police have not take action against the 7-year-old.

What do you think should be done in this case?  What would be an appropriate response?

Edit, Dec. 13: here is a follow up to this story.

Inspiration from within Prison

The word cloud above represents how my 2012 Inside-Out students from Oregon State University and the Oregon State Penitentiary felt about their experience in my class.   As you may know, the larger the word is in the cloud, the more times it was mentioned by participants.  I had each student try to capture the essence of the experience in three words and this is what they came up with.  “Inspiring” was by far the most-used word to describe our class.  Wouldn’t it be great if all college classes earned such a positive response?

This quarter’s students also added more posts to our We Are the 1 in 100 tumblr site, offering perspectives on incarceration and communities from both inside and outside of prison.  For the first time, we’ve got photos taken inside the prison on the site; while no individuals are identified in these posts, I think it adds a little something.  Check it out and feel free to add you own submissions.

17-year-old sentenced to church

Here’s a case that brings up some intriguing questions: as a condition of a youth’s probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction, an Oklahoma judge sentenced him to attend church regularly for 10 years.   The New York Times reports on the details of the case:

The 17-year-old defendant, Tyler Alred, was prosecuted as a youthful offender, giving the judge more discretion than in an adult case. Mr. Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter for an accident last year, when he ran his car into a tree and a 16-year-old passenger was killed.

Although his alcohol level tested below the legal limit, because he was under age he was legally considered to be under the influence of alcohol. Mr. Alred told the court that he was happy to agree to church attendance and other mandates — including that he finish high school and train as a welder, and shun alcohol, drugs and tobacco for a year. By doing so, he is avoiding a 10-year prison sentence and has a chance to make a fresh start.

This sentence certainly seems to challenge the separation of church and state, and the ACLU is seeking sanctions against the judge…but is it a bad idea?

The judge believed that both the offender’s and victim’s families were satisfied with the sentence; the article reports his view of the outcome: “‘I am satisfied that both the families in this case think we’ve made the right decision,’ and noted that the dead boy’s father had tearfully hugged Mr. Alred in the courtroom. If Mr. Alred stops attending church or violates any other terms of his probation, Judge Norman said, he will send him to prison.”

Given the few details we have on this case, I think it’s fair to speculate that Mr. Alred – the young offender – was friends with the 16-year-old victim who was riding in his car with him.  Being responsible for a friend’s death is a heavy, heavy burden to carry regardless of the state-imposed punishment.  I’ve known a couple of young men serving prison sentences for similar crimes, and the guilt seems to be a separate entity that they will carry for a lifetime.  I wish we could hear from the victim’s family to better understand their thoughts on the situation and the sentence, but it may be that these unusual conditions of parole may actually “save” a second family’s son.

What do you think?  Is sentencing an offender to church all that much different than requiring parole/probationers to attend 12-step programs like AA?  If the young man fulfills the conditions of his probation and stays out of prison, should it be considered a success?  Why or why not?

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving offers an annual opportunity to stop, take stock of one’s life, and to simply be grateful.  As a sociologist, I can appreciate the many continuums in the social world, and it is a useful exercise to think about where my one wild and precious life fits into the grander scheme.  I’m grateful for parents who loved me (and love me still) and supported me through every aspect of my life.  As someone who studies and teaches about delinquency, I truly understand the importance of parents and families in shaping our understanding of the world, in building and nurturing our emotional bonds, and in guiding us into adulthood.  I was more than fortunate to have kind, caring, compassionate, and hard-working parents.  I was and am lucky to have older sisters who watched out for me when I was younger and are now my beautiful friends as well as my family.  School was another place that largely worked in my favor: I grew up with peers who took school seriously and helped me stay out of trouble, and I had teachers who took notice of my particular skill set and ambitions and encouraged me.

I am fortunate today to have a career that I love and that I believe matters.  I have great colleagues and friends that I get to share ideas with and engage in thought-provoking and fun discussions.  My students – both inside and outside – inspire me on a daily basis.  They make me strive to work harder and do better.  The resilience of the men that I know in our state prisons and their passion for doing good in the world – despite their confinement and limited resources – reminds me of the luxuries in my own life and the many, many opportunities that I have to make a positive difference in my own communities.  I’m grateful to know them and to be able to consider them my teachers as well as my students.

I’m still learning and growing, but I’m grateful for these many blessings and happy to be another year into this journey.

Youth, Prisons, and Change

This post is in response to a comment on my earlier post The Irony is Killing US: When to Treat Juveniles as Adults.  It was written by an inside student after I shared that blog post – and the comments – with a couple of men in my Inside-Out class at the state penitentiary who were convicted as juveniles (they do not have internet access, so I shared a paper printout and was given a handwritten response).  These are his words:

“People are versatile.”  I pulled this from what was written in the previous comment.  Absolutely, I agree.  Beyond that, and in support of that very idea is that “everyone is different,” as no two people or situations are the same.  Do I believe that there are some juveniles who once imprisoned should at no point thereafter be released?  Yes, I do believe that, however, not based solely on that act which first put them in prison.  To say that any choice made as a juvenile discounts one’s ability to grow, learn, change, and become a productive member of society…for the rest of their life!  No, not now and not ever.  One can change at any stage in life, for better or worse, we as humans are continually going through changes from the moment we are conceived to the moment we pass from life to death, this is simply in our nature.  I don’t believe it is just in any way, shape or form to label a juvenile as “scum” that cannot ever change and therefore be sentenced to “Life in Prison” when at that age there remains such an incredible amount of potential for both growth and change.  It does no harm to allow someone hope; condemning an individual, especially a juvenile, closes doors we as a society have no right to close.  Can anyone know the future?  No matter what position of authority is held, I’ll not be convinced that the act of a minor guarantee the outcome of their future based on decisions made as a juvenile.

the photo is from OSU’s Inside-Out tumblr page: We Are the 1 in 100