James Cambell, left, the recreation specialist at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, presents Agape House director Mark Gomolski, center with a pair of checks for Agape House and Martha’s House on behalf of TRCI’s Paradigm Shift Club on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

A fundraiser conducted by inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Institution has gathered approximately $15,000 for Hermiston nonprofits, including Agape House, a nonprofit food bank, and Martha’s House, a transitional family shelter.

The effort comes from a group of over a dozen adults in custody, or AICs, who call themselves the “Paradigm Shift Club.”

The group’s mission statement is “shifting society’s view of AICs, shifting how AICs look at staff, the way staff look at AICs and trying to get everybody to work together for common causes,” according to James Cambell, a recreation specialist for Two Rivers Correctional Institution.

The fundraiser was meant to be a local effort to help institutions like Martha’s House, which often serves families with loved one that is incarcerated and will occasionally provide discounted housing for formerly incarcerated individuals, Cambell said. The group raised $10,068.79 for the shelter.

As for Agape House, Cambell said that inmates saw on the news that food banks were hurting financially due the ongoing pandemic, so they decided to help out. The group raised $4,750.97 for the food bank.

The group, which started in December 2019, has so far conducted several fundraisers by cooking and selling food to inmates and staff.

One fundraiser brought in $7,000 for a program where inmates train dogs, but that program has since been postponed due to COVID-19.

The group is made up of inmates from a variety of backgrounds. Some are serving life sentences while others are serving just a few years, according to Cambell.

“If I’m going to shift the way I think about adults in custody, part of that has to be saying, ‘Well, yeah, these guys did some things that got them put in prison,’” Cambell said. “But what are they doing now? And what they’re doing now is good works.”

Cambell believes that programs like these help inmates find satisfaction by being a part of something greater than themselves and to improve upon their past.

“I think for a lot of them, there is this idea that the world sees them in a certain way, maybe depicted by Hollywood or a personal view,” Cambell said. “I think there is some satisfaction in saying, ‘Let’s change how people see us.’ And as a staff member I like that concept too, because there’s qualities to these guys. They’re not refuse to be thrown out.”

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