New leader at Coffee Creek hopes to promote honesty, pride
One day, atop a tower overlooking the Oregon State Penitentiary, Paula Myers pretended to shoot bullets at Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton.
The 2001 comedy-drama "Bandits" was filming at the penitentiary in Salem and enlisted prison staff like Myers to play a small roll in the film, which is why Myers' aimed her empty automatic weapon at the two star actors as they rammed a cement truck through the front entrance.
"It got your heart pumping a little bit," she said.
As the prison's security manager, the escape made Myers blood curdle a bit. But, looking back on the experience, she said the fact that a major Hollywood motion picture didn't derail the prison's functionality is a testament to its orderliness.
In Myers' new role as the superintendent of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the state's only women's prison, she hopes to foster a similar level of organizational aptitude.
"I'm happy to be here at Coffee Creek. I think we have great staff and volunteers that make this place run like a well-oiled machine," Myers said.
Following her stint as the security manager at OSP, Myers served as the superintendent of the Columbia River Correctional Institution and South Fork Forest Camp and then transferred to Santiam Correctional Institution and the Oregon State Penitentiary minimum facility in 2011.
Myers was most recently the deputy trial court administrator for the Marion County Circuit Court for five years before taking the gig at Coffee Creek in May.
Myers said Coffee Creek appealed to her because it includes minimum, medium and maximum facilities for women and an intake facility for both men and women.
"You get a flavor of all things corrections, which appealed to me," she said.
Myers said one of the central challenges she hopes to address is attracting qualified staff in specialized areas. She said putting the prison in a positive light through initiatives such as a recent lip sync video — where staff strutted around the facility to the tune of "Happy" by Pharrell and "If I Was You" by Meghan Trainor — can help.
"We want to have our staff take pride in the work they do and develop the culture (here)," Myers said. "We want to showcase what we have to offer and encourage people to apply."
Myers and fellow prison officials will visit Norway soon to examine the country's prison system, which is heralded for its low recidivism rate.
Coffee Creek currently provides programs for inmates to nurture butterflies, style hair, remove tattoos, train dogs and, in conjunction with Wilsonville Rotary, time to spend with time with their children via the Through A Child's Eyes program.
These programs are designed to help inmates acclimate to society upon release.
"Our goal is for people not to come back (to prison)," Myers said. "It's looking at how do we set people up for success: education, housing, job skills, overcoming bias (against people who are incarcerated)."
Since her last stint as superintendent, Myers appreciates that correctional facilities are more willing to allow transgender inmates to establish their gender preference and are more cautious about putting inmates in isolation. She would like these trends to continue.
"There's been work done in terms of making sure inmates are kept in isolation for the least amount of time as possible," Myers said.
She would also like to form an umbrella committee that oversees the various committees within the prison such as the intensive management unit. Myers said one of Coffee Creek's challenges is that the facility's lone death row inmate and those dealing with mental health and behavioral problems are all housed in the same area.
Hanging in Myers' office is a framed quote from Laura Ingalls Wilder: "The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures, and have courage when things go wrong."
The quote indicates one of Myers' tenets as superintendent: she accepts mistakes but not dishonesty.
"As a human being you're going to make mistakes," she said. "It's when folks aren't honest ... that goes to their integrity."