square bulletEighteen and Unaware

May 29, 2019

From Tonya Jones, MSW Intern, Trauma Informed Oregon

My name is Tonya Jones. I am an MSW intern at Trauma Informed Oregon. I identify as a person with lived experience with trauma, addiction, and mental health. I would like to take some time to share my lived experience with the correctional system, to bring more attention to a growing problem within this system.

As a young adult, I made some unhealthy decisions that afforded me the great opportunity of intersecting with this system (sarcasm). I was 18 years of age and pregnant with my second child when I was sentenced to five years, with a two-and–a-half year minimum.
I can remember how I felt entering the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center. I was scared, overwhelmed, and confused; I felt all alone and very unsafe. I was locked in an isolated cell for about four to five hours, maybe longer. I couldn’t tell the time because there was no clock on the wall. My turn finally arrived for my intake, which included an invasive strip search. After being exposed and violated, I was given a minimal amount of hygiene products and several articles of clothing branded with a big orange sticker that looked like a sheriff’s badge with the words “Property of Oregon Women’s Correctional Center (OWCC).” During this process, I felt confused, frightened, and extremely overwhelmed because no one informed me of the process; no one spoke to me. It was as if I was a piece of cattle being herded to the slaughter, with no choices or ability to protect myself.

The good news is the facility took pregnant women to see an outside doctor for checkups. Of course, I was excited to get out and see the world and people. My excitement soon faded when I did not get to change into regular clothes and when they shackled my feet and handcuffed me with belly chains. The shackles hindered my ability to walk. If I had fallen I would have had no way of bracing myself because my hands were cuffed to my side, the belly chains pressed hard against my skin, my unborn child and I were at risk. I was put in a position where I had to rely on the very people that had violated me. Once again, I was scared and uncertain of what this trip was really going to look like. Once we arrived in the institution van, I hung my head low with shame and embarrassment. I watched the other patient’s facial expressions as they looked at me. The lack of transparency and communication were consistent in this situation as well. If someone had taken the time to tell me how this trip was going to go down, it would have allowed me to have some choice and power over the situation. I do believe if trauma informed care (TIC) was available back then and implemented in OWCC, my experience would have been a little better.

I left the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center more damaged then I went in. I internalized the whole experience. This is the reason why I spent the last 6 months reading and researching the intersection of TIC and the justice system, ultimately creating an infographic: Corrections/Trauma Informed Care. I created this infographic because of my own experience and the experiences of so many others. My hope is that this will shed light on a how detrimental correctional facilities are to the most vulnerable populations. I want to inform the “powers that be” that there is a way of providing empowerment, safety, and support. It would be nice if we could do away with this system all together. Until this can come to fruition, below are some strong suggestions and models of TIC implementation in corrections. The infographic is for informational purposes only. Each heading has detailed information that I believe is important to know, for corrections and anyone that is interested in this matter. If you are interested in how to implement TIC, please go to the Road Map to Trauma Informed Care.