‘Just be you’

Five formerly incarcerated young women recently returned to Oak Creek to share their stories and advice.

Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility, which primarily houses young women, did something a bit different this year to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Instead of bringing in notable professionals to tell their stories or to share history, the facility invited back five young women who previously had been incarcerated at Oak Creek.

Organized by Oak Creek staff, members of Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR), and representatives of the Multnomah Education Service District, the event included five brave, strong young women sharing their stories and advice.

The young women had changed quite a bit from when they lived at the facility — several were mothers, a few were using their certifications earned at Oak Creek at community jobs, and one was celebrating six years of sobriety.

The current youth from Oak Creek and the Jackie Winters Transition Program listened closely, and several commented that they were inspired by the journeys of the women at the front of the room.

Here is a sampling of what the former youth shared.

Five young women sitting in chairs

“Without this place, I don’t know where I would be. I definitely wouldn’t be in a stable, healthy relationship. I wouldn’t have a healthy son. This place did a lot for me. I learned a lot about keeping a positive outlook.”

One woman who was working as a nail technician after getting certified inside Oak Creek: “When I got out, it helped me to have something else to do with my time that was positive, that was helping me get money into my pocket.”

“At first I didn’t really feel like I had anybody in my corner, so building relationships with staff, having conversations, seeing their reactions when you do something bad, it had an impact on me personally, because at the time this was my family, this was what I considered home.”

“My success at Oak Creek helped me establish myself in the community because I started working on my own nail business, I have a job, and doing college has helped me get into a nursing administration class that I will be starting next month.”

“Having the staff to talk to when you have no one else to talk to, those relationships definitely made a big impact on my success. After a while, I cared and thought, ‘I want these people to see me at my best.’ It gave me a chance to show everybody that you’ve seen me at my worst, but you’ve also helped build me up to this point that I can show my success.”

“You might think you’re young now, but before you know it you’re gonna be an adult and you’re gonna want an apartment, a car, a job. It’s important to take advantage of your time here and build yourself. Look at the bigger picture because it does get better. Even though you might feel like you don’t have anybody, we’re all rooting for you. You can do it.”

“It took a long time to get the point where I’m not violent and I’m not crying all the time and I’m not trying to direct all my problems at someone else. But it’s worth it to start.”

“What happened in the past is the past, but the way you carry yourself in the present is exactly how people are going to perceive you.”

“Nothing really helps until you make the first choice to improve yourself. You don’t have to know how, you just have to have that will to do better.”

“You just have to learn to say no to stuff and be true to yourself. I imagine this person I want to be, and I work to be that person every single day.”

“Once I started realizing I was worth something, that’s when I started to grow.”

“Find someone that you connect with and hold onto that, feed off that, pick up qualities from them that you want to see in yourself.”

“Don’t lose your spark; don’t lose your spunk. I still have just as much attitude as I’ve ever had, but I’m putting it out there in the best way possible. I’m not taking it out on people or being rebellious. I’m listening but I still do my own thing. Just be you.”

“An important life lesson I learned here was how to create and build healthy relationships. A lot of the things that happened in my life were because of the relationships I had with people. Having healthy relationships and being aware of your surroundings and the people and the energy that you surround yourself with are really important.”

“You can grow anywhere. It doesn’t matter where you are — you can focus on yourself and become the person you want to be. Circumstances don’t stop you.”

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