Two youth at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility recently became the first two students to earn college degrees at the facility.
M.C. and J.T. both earned their associate of arts/Oregon transfer degree (AAOT) from Rogue Community College.
New Bridge High School, located at their facility, has long offered robust high school, GED, and vocational training programs, but expanding up its college offerings became more of a priority in recent years.
This term, 11 youth are enrolled in college at New Bridge, with one set to earn their associate’s in the spring. Overall, the students there have earned 195 college credits this school year.
All the schools inside Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) facilities offer college courses. It’s part of OYA’s emphasis on education as one way to prevent recidivism and keep communities safe.
All youth in OYA custody are required to attend school until completing their GED or high school diploma. If they wish to go farther, that’s where college or vocational training programs come in.
Research shows 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.
Congratulations to Rogue Valley’s new college graduates!
Finding a job after incarceration can be a tough challenge for many, but not for M.C.
He applied for a position while still at Rogue Valley, completed two interviews before his release, and did the final interview the same day he paroled. He started working soon after as a Certified Recovery Mentor (CRM) at a treatment/recovery center in Portland.
“My main position is working with individuals who are coming out of incarceration, or with those who are coming from the street and wanting mentorship while seeking sobriety,” M.C. says.
CRMs use their own experiences with recovery to help others. It’s a position where having a history of incarceration is not only welcome, it’s often listed in the job requirements.
M.C. says school was “not that big” of a thing for him before he came to OYA. That definitely changed over the last seven years. Besides the CRM certification, he earned his associate degree, high school diploma, barista certification, and even got some training in welding.
He attributes his interest in college to New Bridge’s former principal, Lynn Eccleston.
“When Ms. E brought up college, I told her I’m not really college material. I didn’t have the confidence that I could actually excel in college. But she made the push, and so I did it.”
M.C. is excited about his new job, but also plans to continue his college studies and work toward a bachelor’s degree in the near future.
J.T. doesn’t shy away from the question, “What do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to start a nonprofit called WISE: We Influence Someone Every day,” he says. “There’s a lot of youth within impoverished communities that turn to gangs to have a feeling of family. I want to recreate everything that’s attractive about gangs but in a positive way, through positive relationships and social events where people can interact with their community and build pro-social skills.”
Fascinated with learning why people do what they do, J.T. focused his college studies on psychology.
“It was my goal when I was probably 14 or 15 to get a degree in psych, but I gave up on it because I dropped out of high school and started doing bad stuff,” he says. “When I had the opportunity to do it here, I decided to go for it. It was good to know that it wasn’t too late.”
Like M.C., J.T. also became a Certified Recovery Mentor. He plans to continue his training to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) and also plans to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in social work.
“In my culture (he’s a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma), we always talk about how your feet have to match your mouth,” J.T. says. “I tell people they can do better and do good things, but I also feel like I have to set the example. With what I’ve done here, it feels good to set that example and help other youth feel like they can also set that example for others.”