By: H.P., youth at Rogue Valley
Jeena Porterfield has only been superintendent at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility for three months, but staff have already given her a code name: Emu-One.
A staff here was hatching some emus and us youth were in charge of doing the math to make sure that they were incubating at the correct humidity. When the eggs that were doing great hatched, the staff brought the emus in for all the youth on the units to see. Overall, it was a great experience, and all the kids enjoyed it, but especially Mrs. Porterfield. Her excitement led staff to give her the code name.
Mrs. Porterfield’s enthusiasm and sense of humor about the whole experience are part of what staff here have already noticed during her short time at the facility.
“She has a good sense of humor and creates a relaxed and fun environment to work in,” said Tristan White, the facility’s security manager. “She is very personable, very energetic, and brings a lot of knowledge and experience from her prior jobs.”
Having a new superintendent can have a very impactful effect on a youth correctional facility. In her role, Porterfield directs and manages the operations and delivery of services at Rogue Valley. She is responsible for supervising 91 staff, several contractors, and various volunteers.
Furthermore, the facility is an important part of Grants Pass, and the superintendent is responsible for assuring a positive relationship and fostering regular communication with community leaders. Mrs. Porterfield also is responsible for coordinating juvenile intake services, providing evidence-based services for youth with mental health issues, and overseeing any other needs for service with the focus on reducing risk for further criminal behavior.
Mrs. Porterfield has a well-recognized reputation. She entered into this line of work because her two passions are criminal procedureand corrections. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but instead of going on to law school, she pursued her master’s in forensic psychology. She started her work with juveniles and worked for years in Virginia to provide psychological evaluations, conduct mental health assessments, and oversee crisis issues.
After that, she went on to manage highly specialized mental health, medical and restrictive housing units before managing a maximum-security prison for females with 500 staff and 1,200 people in custody.
Mrs. Porterfield explained to me how Virginia is different because many juveniles there who are sentenced as an adult go to adult prisons right away, unlike in Oregon where they start their sentence at OYA’s juvenile facilities.
I asked Mrs. Porterfield about the daily routine for a superintendent. “Come into the office, try to catch up with administrative assistants and assistant superintendents,” she said. “I have and open-door policy where staff can ‘plop down,’ which is when somebody walks in and gets comfortable, and we talk about their comments on improvements, or things they think are running smoothly.”
She continued: “Next, it’s meetings, meetings, and more meetings. I juggle all that while trying to learn more things in between.”
Next I asked Mrs. Porterfield about what she values and what ideas she has for the facility.
“I am a big believer in learning, education, college, and vocational training, and providing opportunities to maximize places youth can go in life,” she said. “I am a big believer in skills — building skills in conflict resolution, etc., and focusing on those areas to make youth more successful when they get out.”
“Community is a big focus, whether you sleep here or [go home and] come back to do your job. Everybody has to do what is needed to make this place successful. In my experience, when having youth and staff focused on the same goal, it decreases conflict greatly. My vision is that we work together, so youth get out and continue to want to learn and benefit themselves and other members of the community. I want this to be a prosocial learning community.”
Mrs. Porterfield said that an instrumental part of setting up incarcerated youth for success is mirroring the real world as much as possible so that youth can develop real-life skills in a developmentally appropriate and accurate way.
Diversity of the staff is extremely important, she said. “It’s not just about race, gender, etc.,” she said. “It’s also about ideas, creativity and accepting others’ ideas.”
She said she loves what she is doing and has been doing it since she was 26. One of my favorite things that she said was, “This is not a job. This is my contribution to make this world a better place. If you could do that with one person, and have a positive impact on that one person, it is still a difference.”
Reflecting on all that she told me, I just thought one never knows how the change they make in a person’s life may impact how that person goes about life now. Maybe they go on to be an inspirational person and change the lives of many more. We never know unless we try.
Mrs. Porterfield told me if she had the chance to do it all over again, she would.
“I kind of did my whole career without a mentor,” she said. “If I could change something, it would be to have a mentor. Corrections can be a very male-dominant field. If I could change anything else, it would be more diversity in the workplace. It’s just honest when I say men and women operate differently in this environment.”
She then explained how she was an outsider, so her knowledge of OYA came from the research she did online.
“In the 20 years of my experience in treatment, operations, and programming, it all dovetails into what OYA’s vision is,” she said. “I am a believer in meeting people where they are — where they’re at developmentally, and where they have come from.” From there, she works together with the person “to see where they can go,” she said.
The last thing Mrs. Porterfield said was this: “We all screw up in life. Some are caught up in the moment, others have made a big mistake. We all have a place in life. Accepting what you’ve done and moving forward is important.
“Education is a universal sign that you did something with your time. People assume you sit around doing nothing [in a facility], but a diploma and vocational education, or a GED shows you did something. It is 100% an investment in yourself. No one can take it from you. It’s yours forever. Education is a universal symbol and working on it shows discipline and commitment.”
I have been at Rogue Valley for three years, and I have seen more positive changes in this facility in the past two months then the whole three years before. Mrs. Porterfield is a critical asset to this facility and a great person to talk to. She has been there every time there is an issue and completes the task at hand. She has an easy personality to connect with and is a great listener. I expect and am confident there will be many changes for the better in this facility as time goes by.
With how long I have been here and not knowing how a facility should run before, I was much like a blind man who didn’t know he was blind and suddenly could see. The facility was fine before, but over time, things should change, and we are catching up on those changes. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store with Mrs. Porterfield as superintendent and to take in all the things I never truly saw.
About the author: H.P. is a 16-year-old who lives at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass. He graduated from high school in June 2022 and is working on his associate degree at Rogue Community College.