Coffee Creek inmates provide valuable community service

by: JOSH KULLA - Coffee Creek Correctional Facility inmate Shannon Thompson (in sunglasses) hadnt been outside prison walls in 11 years before July 26, when she joined 16 other inmates to set up the Wilsonville Kiwanis Kids Fun Run. It takes all kinds of help to organize and run a large community event.

That’s why the Wilsonville residents working behind the scenes to put on the annual Wilsonville Kiwanis Kids Fun Run are grateful for the assistance offered each year by inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

For the past seven years, inmates assigned to the prison’s physical maintenance plant and parks crews have chipped in to help set up the dozens of tents, tables and other accoutrements that make the fun run possible.

This year, an inmate work crew supervised by Coffee Creek facility maintenance staffer Kathleen Fitts was on hand bright and early at Wilsonville High School July 27 to start the process once again.

“They’ve just been invaluable,” said Kiwanis member Gary Wappes, who served once again this year as the fun run event chairman. “They help us with all the setup stuff and they’re exceptionally good workers. They’re nice people to be around and we’ve really enjoyed it, so anything we can do to show our appreciation, they’re just a really a good group of people.”

It’s high praise considering the track records of those it is being bestowed upon. But it’s exactly that sense of redemption that inmates such as Shannon Thompson are seeking when they volunteer to be a part of these field trips, as they call them.

“It’s actually very valuable for the simple fact that we want the community to know we do change,” said Thompson. “We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve moved on.”

It actually was a momentous day for Thompson, who is studying to become an electrician as part of the prison’s physical plant maintenance crew.

“This is my first time outside the gates in almost 11 years,” she said, admitting to being slightly overwhelmed by the sights and sensations, including her first car ride since before coming to prison.

“It is overwhelming,” she said. “But it is really cool. It shows me what it’s like out here, and it helps integrate me back into the community. I get out in two-and-a-half years, so I need to do this even though it’s a little nerve-racking.”

On July 26, Thompson and her fellow inmates pressure washed the bleachers at Randall Stadium and packed hundreds of lunches for the following day’s runners. They also helped set up chairs, tables and tents alongside nearly 30 members of the Wilsonville High School football team, who took part in the setup in lieu of its regular summer morning weight training session.

“When I worked at the community center, they would come and serve lunches to the seniors,” said Kiwanis member Mary Ann Creason as she helped inmates pack and organize the lunches donated by the Wilsonville Albertsons. “It’s mostly women who are getting ready to be released, and they have no problems with them. It’s an opportunity to get out and contribute, and I think it’s a pretty unique opportunity. I don’t think many correctional facilities do this kind of thing.” by: JOSH KULLA - Inmates helped clean Randall Stadium at Wilsonville High School, prepare lunches and set up tents for the Kiwanis Kids Fun Run.

Not only is the community service a practical help, said Fitts, the women taking part in the field trips away from Coffee Creek also get a chance to finally let their real personalities shine through.

“You see the real person more often,” she said. “They’re just more themselves, I think.”

To qualify, an inmate has to be “gate cleared,” which means an absolutely clean disciplinary record, among other things.

“The inmates are very excited about these,” Fitts said. “It’s a field trip to get away from the institution, and for some of them this is their first time out. Generally we’re working with the physical plant crew to do these projects, but today we were a little shorthanded so we recruited the parks crew.”

The latter also has become known in Wilsonville for the work they do in maintaining a sizable rose garden at Town Center Park. It’s part of the Korean War Memorial, and a point of pride among both Coffee Creek inmates and staff.

More recently, the rose garden has been dedicated to Coffee Creek staffer Susan Marlin, who is battling pancreatic cancer.

“Susan Marlin, that’s been her baby,” said Wilsonville Rotarian John Ludlow, who is known for his work on behalf of the prison’s Through a Child’s Eyes program. “She’s got a bunch of books on caring for roses and she taught the women how to care for them too, and they’ve done a great job. They also put the tents up there for the three events (Festival of Arts, Kiwanis Kids Fun Run and Fun in the Park) and it’s very helpful for the community. These women know how to work.”

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