(Above) Monique Runyon, a juvenile parole/probation officer for Oregon Youth Authority is hugged by Jordan B., a 19-year-old who recently was terminated from OYA custody after making significant strides toward rehabilitation.
A crowded courtroom on a Monday morning in January is pretty common. But the laughter and applause erupting Jan. 13 from the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas, Oregon, was unusual.
Jordan B. was appearing before a judge for the last time. Her request to leave OYA custody was approved, and many adults who helped her along the way were there to witness it.
The 19-year-old had been in Oregon Youth Authority custody for four years, and Monique Runyon, her juvenile parole and probation officer (JPPO), said she wouldn’t have believed Jordan’s transformation if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.
“She seemed to me like a lost, sad, and desperate 15-year-old that felt like she had no control of her life,” Runyon recalled about first meeting Jordan. “Like many of the youth we work with, there were circumstances beyond her control that contributed to her going down the road she was headed.”
After being committed to OYA, Jordan spent time at a foster home and a couple residential programs, most notably Northwest Youth Discovery in Bend.
“Although these placements did not end successfully, the seeds that were planted there stuck,” Runyon said. “Jordan will say that they (NYD) felt like a family to her. Jordan felt cared about and started to accept that people cared about her.”
But another setback caused her to be sent to Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany. Five months later, shortly after moving to the neighboring Young Women’s Transition Program, Jordan ran away from the program.
While she had faced many ups and downs up to that point — Runyon said “her downs were severe and heartbreaking” — the time she ran away was when Jordan says she hit rock bottom.
“Being alone with yourself and your mind — I didn’t like it,” Jordan said. “So I turned myself in (five days later). No one likes to be locked up, but I came to realize that the people there (at Oak Creek) actually cared about me.”
From that point on, Jordan worked on improving herself.
“In the end, everyone provided the opportunities, but she’s the one who did all the work,” her attorney, Matt Jarvis, said at her termination hearing. “She put forth the work and it shows.”
Through all her struggles, her grandparents gently made it known that when she was ready, she had a home with them.
“They have shown Jordan unconditional love,” Runyon said. “They never gave up on Jordan. She pushed them away every time she had one of her downs. The shame in facing them again was easier to avoid. They never pushed; they waited until she was ready. She was shocked and I think finally understood what it means to not give up on someone.”
In May, Jordan left Oak Creek and moved to Hermiston with her grandparents, Russ and Paula.
“We told her, ‘Don’t let the past define your future. You made those choices, but you always have a home here,’” Paula said.
Jordan, who had earned her high school diploma at Oak Creek, decided to start taking courses to become a certified nursing assistant.
“Out of 10 in the class, she was one of two who passed (the state exam),” Paula said.
The program saw potential in Jordan, and she was able to get a job at the affiliated facility, despite her history. She now works nights, mostly serving those in long-term care who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“There’s definitely something new every day,” Jordan said about the work. “It’s emotionally harder than anything I expected.”
But she’s determined to continue her nurse training. In addition to getting her CNA in the past six months, she’s also earned her driver’s permit and recently purchased a used car. And now that she’s terminated from OYA, she plans to move out on her own in the coming weeks.
When Jordan had her termination hearing to leave OYA custody in January, Runyon, who Jordan has called her “pseudo-mom,” wanted to make sure the send-off was extra special.
Runyon invited to the termination hearing the many people who had been a part of Jordan’s life at OYA. About a dozen came, including staff from Northwest Youth Discovery, the superintendent and staff at Oak Creek, and JPPOs who assisted with Jordan’s casework.
“I have never seen a person more resilient and knowing her now, it is hard to imagine the hopeless, struggling girl she was before,” Runyon said. “She is now an incredible story of success and why we all do the job we do.”
The celebration moved from the courthouse to a conference room around the corner, where guests enjoyed food, a scrapbook Runyon made for Jordan, and lots of hugs and tears of joy. Runyon even took the time to present Jordan with her Coin Award, an award given internally to OYA staff who have made a difference. Runyon said she wouldn’t have received that award if not for Jordan.
“I want to thank her for teaching all of us to never give up hope,” Runyon said. “This is my proudest case of a young person in my 20 years (with OYA). She has taught me more than she knows.”
Jordan’s advice for others in OYA custody?
“Make the most out of the time. You get out of it what you put into it.”