Youth Earn New Title: College Graduate

Meet the five youth in OYA facilities who are earning their college degrees with the Class of 2019.

Above: MacLaren’s college graduates, with their teacher, left to right: Ezequiel V., Dagny Brown, Justin H., and Agustin E.V.

The Oregon Youth Authority requires all youth in its custody to attend school and work toward their high school diploma or GED. For some youth in OYA’s facilities, that isn’t enough — they set their sights on college.

So far, in 2019, one youth in an OYA facility has earned his bachelor’s degree, and four have earned their associate degrees. These youth have different backgrounds and paths to graduation, but they are united by a common hope: that education will help them succeed when they are released.

Research backs them up. A 2013 report from RAND Corporation showed that incarcerated people who participate in educational programs while in custody are 43% less likely to be arrested for another crime than those who do not.

OYA is proud of the five students earning their college degrees — and thankful to the teachers, treatment teams, and families who supported them along the way. Meet OYA’s 2019 college graduates.


Ezequiel

Name: Ezequiel V.

Age: 23

Degree: Bachelor of Arts in social sciences, Portland State University

Facility: MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility

Ezequiel first came to OYA at age 16, during his sophomore year of high school. Before that, he had no interest in education and never saw himself finishing school.

Once he became incarcerated, his attitude changed.Ezequiel

“School was like my escape for a while, a way to feel normal in a situation that can feel very strange,” he says.

Ezequiel earned his high school diploma while at Hillcrest. When he moved to MacLaren, he saw older youth working on their college degrees, and he felt inspired to do the same.

Several years later, he’s now the first person in his family to graduate from college.

“One thing about college is that you have to be really disciplined and independent,” he says. “I like that freedom of taking some responsibility for myself and really pushing myself.”

Ezequiel hopes to continue studying at PSU and earn a master’s degree in social work. His career goal is to become a counselor working with at-risk youth.

“I have the story, I have the change, and I have something to get me in the door with the degree,” he says. “It’s been a really cool journey to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed in these 4 ½ years, and to see the growth and maturity.”


Hannah

Name: Hannah W.

Age: 20

Degree: Associate of Arts Oregon transfer degree, Linn-Benton Community College

Facility: Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility

Hannah has a keen interest in human behavior, but psychology and sociology didn’t call to her in school. Then she took an economics course.

“I took it to fulfill a requirement, but I learned I really liked it,” she says. “It’s interesting to learn about how money drives human behavior.”

After finishing her associate degree this term at Linn-Benton Community College, she plans to enroll in Oregon State University to earn a Bachelor of Science in economics.Hannah

Education was always important in her family, she says. But she “fell off from school” when she entered high school, she says, focusing instead on friends, dating, parties, and drinking.

When she came into OYA custody, she thought, “Oh well, there goes my diploma.” But she quickly learned she could earn her high school diploma at Oak Creek — which she did in 2016 — and take college courses, too.

Marcia Latta, Oak Creek’s past college coordinator, encouraged Hannah to enroll in more and more courses, and facility superintendent Mike Riggan told her if she stuck with it, he would try to find a way for her to attend LBCC’s graduation.

Hannah hit the books hard last summer, fall, and winter. Although she’s not able to walk at LBCC, the college president, Greg Hamann, is coming to Oak Creek instead to hand her a diploma.

“Education is something that nobody can take away from you,” she says. “They can take your clothes, your money, but they can’t take your intellect.”


Agustin

Name: Agustin E.V.

Age: 20

Degree: Associate of Arts Oregon transfer degree, Associate of Science Oregon transfer degree in business, and Associate of General Studies, Chemeketa Community College

Facility: MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility

Agustin is completing not one, but three college degrees this term — all associate degrees from Chemeketa Community College. He’s already working on a bachelor’s at Oregon State University, with plans to go on to a master’s program.

It might seem hard to believe that just a few years ago, several different schools expelled him due to his behavior and lack of attendance.

“Before I got incarcerated, I didn’t really care about what life had in store for me. I didn’t value it,” he says.Agustin

Even when he completed his high school diploma at Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility, Agustin only did it to get it over with.

But as he moved to MacLaren and started maturing, he began to think more about what education might mean for not just himself, but for his family.

“None of them have ever been to college,” he says. “My mom finished going to school in fifth grade. My dad stopped going to school in second grade. It was just an ongoing cycle, and I wanted to stop that.

“By going to school, I feel like I’m completing what my parents wanted for me. The main thing is creating a new mindset so that I won’t continue living the lifestyle I was living when I was out. That’s the best thing — ending the cycle.”


Justin

Name: Justin H.

Age: 20

Degree: Associate of Arts Oregon transfer degree, Chemeketa Community College

Facility: MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility

If you ask Justin how he’s changed since coming to OYA, he struggles to answer. Instead, he lets his actions of the past four years speak for him: He became a certified wildland firefighter, earned his high school diploma, learned to play guitar, and ran a marathon.

This year, he earned his associate degree from Chemeketa Community College and turned right around to start working on his bachelor’s in psychology at Eastern Oregon University.Justin

His ultimate goal: to go to work at his aunt’s therapy practice as a marriage family therapist. “I’ve always been a big fan of psychology and how the brain works and helping people,” he says.

Justin’s family has been one of his biggest inspirations while he’s been at OYA. “They encourage me to do great things,” he says.

But the other MacLaren youth earning college degrees this term also inspire him. All three live on the same unit, Fossil, and Justin says they make him want to work harder.

“I see them on unit, they’re just on their Chromebooks, typing away, getting their work done,” he says. “The environment is encouraging in a way, because you see them working and it’s like, ‘Ah, I’ve gotta work, too.’ It’s just a cool environment to feel and be a part of.”


Michael

Name: Michael C.D.

Age: 22

Degree: Associate of Applied Science degree in computer information systems, Portland Community College

Facility: Camp Tillamook Youth Transitional Facility

Michael loves figuring out new ways to tackle old problems. When other youth at his facility wanted to play the Magic card game but couldn’t afford the cards, he created an online program where they could play virtually — no equipment necessary.

Michael didn’t know anything about computer programming until taking a Portland Community College course on it. He fell in love with the idea of using coding to solve real-world problems.Michael

The fact that programmers can do their work from anywhere — including their own living rooms — also appealed to him as he thought about the employment barriers he will face when he is released from custody.

“Even if people have these preconceived notions about me because I’m a criminal, I can say, ‘Hey look, yes I did go to jail for some stuff, but while I was in there, I did groups, I got my degree, I’m a professional,’” he says. “I can prove to you that I will work just as hard as anyone else, if not harder.”

Michael says school was his sanctuary when he was younger, the place where he could feel safe from a difficult home life.

With his love for school, it’s not surprising that he plans to continue his education in the information technology bachelor’s program at Oregon Institute of Technology.

“I wouldn’t have the prospect of doing this without going through my education and getting my degree,” he says. “I would still be kind of floundering toward the future instead of steadily striding toward it.”

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