LIFE after prison: Class teaches skills for post-release success - KPTV - FOX 12

LIFE after prison: Class teaches skills for post-release success

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WILSONVILLE, OR (KPTV) -

Finding a job can be difficult enough, but it's especially difficult when you're a felon. However, a special class, the first and only of its kind in Oregon, aims to give women in prison a better shot at success when they're released.

The women in the LIFE program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility learn business and communication skills, money management and other tools that help to set them on the right track after release.

"We're just moms, sisters, wives, girlfriends," said inmate Janet Roby. "And we've made mistakes."

Roby, serving a sentence for aggravated theft, says the women in the class are learning from their mistakes.

"This class gives us life skills," she told FOX 12. "You walk out of here with skills I may not have had entirely before."

"It gives the women here confidence, whereas they didn't have that before," Nicole Harris, a fellow inmate and classmate.

Harris, convicted of manslaughter in the second degree in 2005, says her years behind bars haven't gone to waste.

"There's been a tremendous change," said Harris, thanks in part to programs like LIFE, which stands with Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs.

The program started about five years ago, developed by Mercy Corps Northwest and taught by volunteer instructors.

"It's helped them find work and navigate life back into society effectively," said John Haines, executive director of Mercy Corp Northwest.

Haines said so far, some 100 women have graduated the 32-week course. Not everyone gets to take the class. The inmates have to be interviewed, selected and serious about change.

"I would like people to know the women in here are trying," said Harris.

"We see a lot of motivation, frankly, and a lot of dedication," said Haines. "They come ready for this class every single week."

Haines says the majority of women who passed the program have either found work or gone back to school following release. He said the rate of recidivism among women in the program stands at about 3 percent, compared to the rate of 27.4 percent among female inmates in Oregon overall.

"I think it's saving the state money in the long term," said Haines.

As part of the class, students complete a business plan and a re-entry plan for life after prison.

"Even though I'm a felon, you can achieve your dreams," said Harris, who says she has a little more than two years at Coffee Creek. She says "hopeful" is the one word she would use to describe her future.

"There are opportunities," said Harris.

"I know there are going to be people willing to give us a chance," echoed Janet Roby, who expects to go home as early as June.

She says she will take with her perseverance, determination and self-confidence -- skills LIFE helped teach her.

"I have the confidence that if I want to walk out the gates and save my money for a couple of years, I can be successful at business," said Roby.

In addition to Coffee Creek, LIFE is also taught to inmates at Washington Corrections Center for Women.

For more information, click here.

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