“This is my second time on the inside. I know I need a bridge to a successful life on the outside, and I have one year left to figure it out.”
Shelly epitomizes energy and motivation. Not only is she taking part in a second round of the LIFE class with Mercy Corps Northwest, but in her time at Coffee Creek she has also been part of the welding and carpentry programs, the firefighting team, the puppy training program, eyeglasses program, Portland Community College classes, a Habitat for Humanity tiny house construction program, and she created a self-directed program building furniture from shipping pallets.
Shelly works as a resource clerk, connecting other inmates with outside resources like student financial aid, drivers’ license reinstatement information, and potential employers. She receives postcards from women she has helped, letting her know that they’ve found stability and success on the outside.
She is currently preparing to give a Ted talk, and a speech at the Governor’s Talk at Lewis and Clark.
Despite her many skills and knowledge, Shelly is anxious about her post-release future. She said, “If you’ve lived a criminal lifestyle for a lifetime, it’s very hard to know what comes next when you get out of prison. I blew my chance the first time around.”
For this reason, she is an impassioned advocate for tradeswomen and pre-apprenticeship programs for women in prison.
She said, “The easiest thing to do to feel like you are moving forward upon release is to start a college program. A lot of women aren’t ready for that, and so they take on student loans, spend the money, and end up dropping out of school and ending up in debt. Journeyman programs that allow you to learn a trade while earning money are a really important alternative for women like me.”
Shelly plans to take the knowledge from her two LIFE classes to build two businesses: she hopes to return to past work in parking lot striping and painting as her primary work, hopefully in partnership with her son. She also has ambitions to continue creating simple, well-crafted furniture as a side business as well. “They auctioned a couple of the pieces I made—dog houses and Adirondack style chairs, and they went for really good prices that were donated to the programs here. I would like to keep doing that kind of work.”