Turning Walls Into Bridges

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Prison Group Organizes Support for Cancer Patients

A generous club within the razor wire, walls and locking doors of Oregon’s Two Rivers Correctional Institution (TRCI) has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer programs at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation (TCCCF). Most recently, the Paradigm Shift Club (PSC) donated more than $2,500 from fundraisers held to benefit cancer patients.

To join the club, an adult in custody (AIC) must have a custody classification level denoting a low risk – which takes a minimum of 18 months to achieve at TRCI, which houses 1,500 AICs. Club members demonstrate an interest in making a positive difference to people both inside and outside of TRCI.

My vision for what I want to do with my life matched with what the club had been accomplishing,” said Damon H., recreation clerk and PSC member. “I really want to continue growing, reaching out and helping other AICs, and be a role model so they can see our darkest hours don’t have to define our bright futures.”

PSC organized fundraisers to benefit TCCCF in fall of 2023, coinciding with breast cancer awareness month. This included selling rubber bracelets for five dollars each as well as an ice cream social with pink toppings, which symbolizes breast cancer awareness. The average single fundraiser donation, from AICs, amounted to twenty dollars. One AIC contributed $1,000 – more than a year’s salary.

“It’s nice to know even though I am incarcerated, I can still give back to my community as well as donate to causes important to many AICs,” said Brandon, a photographer and PSC secretary.

TRCI is a state prison in Umatilla and holds those considered a minimum or medium security risk. Oregon designates it as an education and work facility for people serving long-term sentences – which includes many of the 14 members of PSC.

“I truly believe these have been some of the most rewarding years of my life,” said Michael P., a recreation clerk and PSC member. “The opportunity to affect change, perhaps to convince someone to not commit another crime, not create another victim; I cannot imagine a better way to make use of these years and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”

PSC established as a club in 2020 and has donated more than $50,000 since then, both to local organizations and those with an immediate need, including contributions to the Maui wildfire, war in Ukraine, and tornado relief. The group made two donations to TCCCF totaling nearly $6,400 and intends to designate this as a target cause in late 2024.

Foundation staff visited TRCI to meet with PSC members in early 2024 and learned about their motivation to make an impact through charitable causes.

“This club allows me to positively influence our prison community,” said Michael L., recreation orderly and PSC president. “I care deeply about helping others, learn from my mistakes, and being a beacon of light and motivation for change. I am eager to continue my pursuit of positive transformation, not only in prison, but in society as well.”

The group also raises money for charity by hosting competitions and tournaments in a newly remodeled portion of TRCI that includes pool tables, ping pong, and even gaming consoles. Staff say access to these entertainment items has increased positive behaviors from the AIC community.

PSC’s overall mission is focused on changing minds and changing lives, and group members also solicit donations for their “wall of inspiration,” which displays positive, motivational content in the TRCI visiting room – intended for anyone to take inspiration from.

Club member Michael G. says he joined PSC to continue making a change in himself and others, “I was previously a selfish individual, which only caused more misfortune in my life. Many saw the good in me when I didn’t even see it in myself.” Michael has spent 25 years behind bars and focuses much of his current time mentoring others. “A wise man does immediately, what a fool does eventually. I embrace the wise in me completely.”

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