Essay Winners Describe Those Who Inspired Them

Three youth in Oregon Youth Authority facilities recently won a writing contest.

Youth in Oregon Youth Authority facilities across the state recently wrote about people who inspire them, in response to OYA’s Leave Your Mark creative writing contest.

OYA’s Youth Reformation System (YRS) team created the contest. They asked youth to describe people who push them to be their best selves, who inspire them to grow and develop new skills, and who truly believe in them.

Sixteen youth entered the contest. Finalists were judged by leaders from OYA Development Services and Facility Services. The winners were:

First Place – Alfonso K., Camp Riverbend
Second Place – Julie W., Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility
Third Place – Josefina R., Oak Creek YCF

Congratulations to the winners! You can read their essays below.

Alfonso K., Camp Riverbend
First Place

Alfonso K. headshot

Dear Mr. Fierro,*

When I arrived at Rogue Valley YCF I was a young minded, stubborn 17-year-old kid who was angry at the world and at the beginning of a five year sentence. I was lost, heartbroken, and scared. I had no idea who I was or even who I wanted to become. Just another clouded mind looking down the dark end of the tunnel with no guiding light. It did not help that I arrived with a bad reputation that stemmed from my actions at Hillcrest, which automatically put me on your radar. You helped me find my guiding light.

I still remember the first words you said to me, “Mr. [K], you can either give up and become what people think of you, or you can fight and be who you want to be.” Now I can tell you when a staff is going off a handbook, but not you. I could hear the compassion in your voice. So I decided to respect you and listen to what you had to say. Come to find out, you were not much different from me, and that gave me hope.

Seeing that you came from close to nothing in one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. but fought your way to a better future and became such an amazing husband, father and mentor – you were everything I wanted to become.

During your time of working with me, I came to see (you) not just as a mentor but a father figure.

I grew up without a dad to teach me lessons about life, but the lessons I learned from you are some of the best I have learned throughout my whole life. You never let me forget that it’s not about how bad your past is but how great you can make your future. That I alone have the power to make my own life.

So I thank you for everything. All the times you kept my stubborn self in line and kept it real with me. Thank you for all the times you let me just come into your office and let out my emotions because you knew how hard it was for me to do it publicly. You were there for me in my darkest times, when I lost two of my best friends in one year, you held me together. If you heard I was having a hard time you would call me and talk to me. You cared.

You helped me become the man I am today. You drove me to achieve so much. I graduated high school, started college, became a certified squad boss for wildland firefighting here at Riverbend, which is a career I can use for my future. Hearing you went back to school has inspired me to re-pursue my barber license. I owe a lot to you and I am forever grateful for the bond and guidance you gave me. I am no longer scared but excited for what my future holds. I know you will touch so many more young minds for the better throughout your career. I know (former Rogue Valley staff member) Wells is smiling down on us both, thank you.

Alfonso K.

*Anthony Fierro is a skills development coordinator (SDC) at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility.

Julie W., Oak Creek
Second Place

headshot of Julie W.

I’m running, running faster than I’ve ever ran before. I can’t stop hearing those awful words swarm through my head. I think “No it can’t be, not him” but I know it’s true. I’ve known for a while. He’s sick. He’s dying. He’s gone. I’m running, running from the truth and the darkness that lies within. I sit alone in my room, looking through old pictures and the memory rushes back.

I’m five years old, running through the back yard of our Tennessee country house. I’m rushing to catch up with my sister at the dock. Already loading up the boat he leans closer to inspect my life jacket. “Safety first,” he says, and we climb aboard. We are headed to our favorite spot on the lake. It’s quiet and hidden enough to play his country music as loud as he wants. We play games in the water and see who can jump the farthest. He wins every time. Just as we start to pack up, we see the rain forming in the clouds as the first clap of thunder surrounds the air. He’s worried. We aren’t supposed to be on the water during storms. He puts the top of the pontoon boat down and we listen to the storm and watch the lightning strike, closer and closer. I’m scared, he sees it on my face, he grabs my hand and tells me, “It will be okay. I’m here.”

The memory ended too soon, fresh tears start to roll down my face and I let myself cry. I cry for him, my papa, my support. I cry for my nanny, for she has lost the love of her life. My papa was a great man, strong and loving, everyone who knew him said he was the light in the dark, their saving grace. Even though he is no longer here, he is forever in my heart. I look up to him because he put others before himself, he never showed weakness, and never showed disappointment. I want to be like him when I grow up. I want to be surrounded by the people I love and never worry about too much. I want to be strong. This is for him, my papa, my support, the man I look up to.


Josefina R., Oak Creek
Third Place

The Key to Life: Inspiration, Motivation, and Hope

Josefina R. headshot

There have been many people that have inspired me through my long journey of misfortune, change, and success. These people have affected my life on a holistic scale, changing not only my mindset but my whole vision and the way that I carry myself. There is a famous quote by Elie Wiesel that reads:

“Even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.”

This quote speaks to me as I was once a person who was imprisoned inside of my own mind long before I became physically incarcerated. Through my mental darkness, I was able to find the light with the help of two people that I would come to know and trust.

One of the people that had a lot of influence on me is an OYA staff named Scott Bigelow. He was the first staff to talk to me when I came to OYA in July 2013. Although I wasn’t ready to open up, I found that he was patient with me and gave me the space that I needed. Eventually, I started reaching out, and we began to get to know each other. Right off the bat, I knew that his intentions were to help me succeed. As I slowly left the old me behind in exchange for a person who was searching for their purpose in life, he encouraged me to read the book “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins. This book is about defying the odds, finding your weaknesses, and dealing with them head-on. Although, at this point in my life, I was already an avid runner competing in various races, a prospective CADC I, and a college student, I still misunderstood the power of the mind. Goggins mentions the 40% rule in his book, which in short, is about when our mind tells us we are done and that we cannot go anymore. This means that we are only 40% done. This method can apply to things such as work, school, working out, running, and anything else that we use our mind/brain for. Bigelow knew that I would take what this book said and run with it (literally!). I started applying this method and the “lectures” that I got from Bigelow as a stepping stone for mental success. He inspired me to be the best me, despite having flaws. Bigelow has also helped me grow in other aspects of my life, but this is one of the moments that I will always remember.

The other person who positively impacted my life is Trevor Pittman, MSW. He is an OYA QMHP, who has also been here for me since I got here. He saw me at my worst, such as, when I was in and out of safe rooms for fighting, self-harm, or other behavioral placements. Aside from that, he has also gotten to see me grow into a young woman with a purpose and mission to help others. However, it took a long transition before I was able to get to this point of self-efficacy, and Trevor was there to help guide me. During my first couple of years, Trevor and I worked intensely on my treatment relating to my charges. He didn’t judge me for what I did like most people had. Instead, he helped me learn to live with what I did and try to make a positive out of it. At the time, I didn’t even know this type of thinking existed; however, as I did more treatment, I knew that this was possible to achieve. As I found my value and purpose in life, I pursued a CADC (Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor) and I eventually passed the test after the second time. In saying all of that, Trevor inspires me to be a better counselor, advocate, and person. He has shown me what it takes and what it means to be a counselor and has helped me install my morals and integrity into the everyday life of the profession. Initially, Trevor and another woman by the name of Sonya James (who happens to be going for her MSW) have inspired me to continue my education and go for a Master’s in Social Work!

Like I said above, there have been a significant amount of people that have inspired me or who have helped motivate the changes within myself. However, these two, in particular, have pushed me to be the best that I can be while in a place of physical confinement and daily barriers. Without the help of them, I would have never pictured myself in the place/state of mind that I am in today. Now, it is my turn to give to others what these people have given to me, inspiration, motivation, and hope.

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