Building Something New: The Portland CRCI Circle

The UO PEP has expanded our “satellite campuses” to include Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland. This minimum-security prison has become a space for current UO students as well as UO alumni to come together to offer workshops and book discussions. We are now committed to meeting at least once a month, and to diversifying our program offerings to best serve repeat participants, as well as engage new ones.

All inmates at CRCI have less than three years remaining on their sentences. For some people, this means they received short sentences and will not be in prison for long. Others are completing the final months of their sentences after having been transferred from higher security prisons. Both populations offer us a chance to engage with people who are anticipating their return home in a short period of time, and who are eager to advance their chances of success on the outside.

A small group of insiders have come forward as college students who are eager to help recruit other participants and to help guide our program choices at CRCI. For now, we’re calling them the CRCI Circle. Other “official” outside members include three UO alumni, two of whom now call Portland home. Two of the PEP interns have traveled all the way from Eugene to participate in workshops as well.

In the long run, we hope this will not only be a thriving site of academic opportunities for inside participants, but also a space that fosters a network of UO students and alumni who are interested in continued engagement with prison education. Already we’ve been able to offer networking suggestions for those planning to head to Portland after graduation from UO.

One of the best things that comes from this kind of program is the community of curious, engaged people. When we are in the prisons, this takes the form of dialogue circles, collaboration, leadership by inside people, and a chance to bring our most engaged selves to the work. We witness insiders building new programs on the inside that leverage skills they foster through our programs. And many of us on the outside connect strongly with one another, gaining professional development, friendships, and an ever-expanding vision for what we can create together.

Expect more news from CRCI in the not-too-distant future!