On Monday, about 40 community members and a few others from Port Angeles and Sequim got an opportunity to tour the Olympic Correction Center. According to OCC Superintendent John Aldana, this is an experience that is not offered very often and usually just to high-up Washington state officials.
I actually tried to get out of going, because Monday is my busiest day, but got shamed into it and I am so glad I went.
Upon arrival at OCC, which in case you don’t know is located in Jefferson County, west of Olympic National Park, we had to leave all our phones, keys and cameras, etc. (so sadly I could not take any pictures) at the main office.
Superintendent Aldana greeted us with introductions to some of the staff, many of whom are our friends and neighbors here in Forks. He said that OCC currently houses 374 offenders and can house up to 400. The offenders housed there have committed every type of crime and come from other cities, counties and tribal jurisdictions.
There are five levels of custody. Five is full custody, four is open population, three is medium, two is minimum security and level one is work release.
Aldana said that hopefully by the time they get to OCC they are just about ready to go back into their communities. OCC has the lowest violence rate in the state. At OCC, offenders take classes and connect to their families. OCC has 67 uniformed officers, 48 support staff and 15 contracted employees. The classes offenders take are in partnership with Peninsula College and OCC offers a drug treatment program. Aldana described OCC as its own little city.
Officer Ron Howell introduced one of his community service crew members, Ben Harrison. OCC community service crews (CSC) work around the City of Forks doing painting, yard work, etc., and several have worked on the Habitat for Humanity projects. Harrison said it is an honor for him to work on the CSC. “Everyone wants to be on it,” he added. Harrison said he helped paint all the school buildings, chopped firewood for OlyCAP and the scholarship auction. “It is so rewarding and the amount of pride I get, it is a good feeling.”
When Harrison gets out in a few months he hopes to do more volunteering. Many members of the audience thanked OCC for all the work the CSC does.
Aldana said the CSC helps build a work ethic. “Many guys have never been exposed to work, to be to work on time and learn respect, we see their attitude change while they are here.”
Aldana also shared information on OCC firefighting participation and the fact that currently 30 OCC offenders are working at active fires in the state.
The group was then treated to a slideshow presentation of other activities on the 100-acre OCC site.
We were then split up into four groups and OCC staff member Ginger Price was the guide for our group. We toured the repair shop and the heavy equipment shop where maintenance is done on DNR vehicles and equipment. Offenders help out in the shops and an automotive course is in the works for the future.
We then got a look at the sew shop where offenders sew and repair items such as chaps and packs that are used by DNR crews. It was then onto the saw repair shop. Ginger told us that all offenders are awakened at 4:30 a.m. and everyone has a job.
The stop at the greenhouse was very interesting and the offenders were so eager to answer any questions. Jamie Callie is in charge of the Horticulture program at OCC and has transformed a large area into flower beds and another area will be a future garden spot. Inside the greenhouse it was hot … and they even had a banana tree producing fruit. A rainwater catch system supplies the water for use in the gardens. As a matter of fact, the entire OCC grounds are covered in flower beds everywhere.
Then it was on to meet with OCC staff member Greg Banner in the Wood Shop. Greg said it all started about 20 years ago as a Toys for Tots project where the offenders created simple wooden toys. Items now produced in the wood shop are amazing and detailed. Offenders now create artwork and pieces of furniture that are donated to the Quillayute Valley Scholarship Auction as well as other charitable events like the Cherish Our Children event in December. Several offenders were working on projects, one was a doll house with working windows and doors, and several items were on display for our viewing.
The last stop was the dog program. OCC partners with the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society and dogs get a second chance and a better chance of being adopted and offenders learn so much, too. Over the years, 21 animals that have gone through the program have even been adopted by OCC staff. One offender said it was hard to see them go but it is rewarding to know that they will have a good life. Offenders groom the dogs and teach them basic obedience skills.
After the tour everyone enjoyed lunch and Vicki Adros’ birthday cake (it was her birthday) and then most stopped at the sign that greets visitors to OCC for a group photo.
The sign says to make it a Full Productive Day … and it was.