WILSONVILLE, Ore. (KOIN) — There are drug dealers and murderers at Oregon’s only women’s prison, but there are also hair stylists and knitters.
Tammy Kennedy has kept Coffee Creek Correctional Facility’s cosmetology program running for 15 years. With her at the helm, only 6 students have ever returned to the prison.
“I spent a little time with the woman who used to do the program and I was just inspired by it,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been doing it for quite a while now, and I think it really does work if they’re willing to put it all in.”
Kennedy said the program is in such high demand that the number of students participating has doubled from 10 to 20 just within the last 2 years.
Kyle Black ended up behind bars 22 years ago after being convicted of aggravated murder. Today, she is one of the prison’s nearly 1,300 female inmates.
“Tammy gets that, she gets struggles that women go through and really tries to help women and girls that come in here grow into who they are meant to be,” Black said.
Student Carrie Ames said she’s always had dreams of being a stylist, but those dreams were sidelined when she was sentenced for a deadly DUI crash.
“I’m very determined to stay on this path and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go to school here,” Ames said. “I hope to give back to the community and be a positive influence on those around me.”
With about 3 years left in prison, the 28-year-old not only received her cosmetology license, but is a master educator who has put in nearly 2 times the required hours.
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility offers 10 pages of work rehabilitation programs for things like textiles and barista training as well as theater, running and book clubs.
Diana Bunch is just one person who’s proven the programs work. The 31-year-old got her cosmetology license and landed a job even before leaving Coffee Creek where she served 5 years for drinking and driving.
“If you play your cards right and if you take the opportunities given to you, you’re set for life,” she said. “The only thing I know what to do is better myself every single day.”
Bunch has been out of prison for 2 years and insists she’ll never go back.
Research shows inmates who participate in rehabilitation programs have 43% lower odds of going back to prison. Coffee Creek executive assistant Vicki Reynolds told KOIN 6 News Oregon has the fewest numbers of re-offenders in the U.S.
This year, 11 women graduated from Kennedy’s cosmetology program at Coffee Creek. If the research proves to be right, those women won’t be back, either.
“It’s moving to see someone change their life so dramatically,” Kennedy said.
Inmates need a GED to be accepted into most rehabilitation programs. The cosmetology program is 24 months long and participants must pass 4 tests to finish.
This year, the program is adding training for eyelash extensions and blowouts.