Earlier this week I was invited to breakfast and a meeting at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.
My host picked me up at my office in Hermiston and gave me a ride to the facility that sits at the outskirts of Umatilla.
We arrived at the prison and went inside for a nice breakfast of French toast, eggs, bacon and slices of cantaloupe and oranges. Oh, and really good coffee (Almost newsroom quality, but more on that in another column).
The meeting was productive and I learned some good things as a guest of my friend, who sits on the Prison Advisory Committee.
And then we left and came back to Hermiston. But there is something unsettling about being taken into a prison like that.
I wasnt worried about me, trust me, I have been on the right side of the law for many, many years.
And the buildings were all very nice and clean, the grounds well kept up. The food was good and hot and the people I met were very friendly and neatly dressed.
No, I think it was the concertina wire atop the 12-foot tall fence surrounding the facility that gave me pause for thought.
And I was going there for breakfast and a meeting I knew was scheduled to end in about an hour.
I couldnt help but think what it must be like to be driven into the grounds in the back of a transport van in shackles, looking out windows covered with reinforced screens and knowing your visit was going to be much longer than just one hour.
I must admit that such thoughts are those of a newspaperman and maybe not those of the general public.
I also wondered why I would be unsettled about just driving into such a place when I knew I had done nothing wrong. I finally decided it was because such an intimidating looking place was unfamiliar to me and I was reacting to fear of the unknown.
But that is exactly the reason for the meeting, to learn more about the prison and how it operates.
One person at the meeting explained that the advisory committee was designed to keep communications open between the prison and the community.
There is a lot that goes on behind those prison fences that we may never know about, or even want to know about. But there are some good things that happen too and that is part of what the advisory committee learns about.
As with all things, knowledge about something has a tendency to dispel most fear. The more you know about something, the less likely you are to fear it.
So we learned about the events and projects occurring inside the prison, like picnics and Christmas parties that give prisoners an opportunity to have some semblance of normalcy with the family who also suffers during their time of incarceration.
We learned about efforts to control or curb certain criminal behaviors by inmates and how workers are highly trained in many areas to watch for signs of such behavior and how they have teams of personnel that quickly respond to such incidents. And we learned that even though the inmates are serving a punishment for a crime they committed against humanity, they are still brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles of citizens who remain productive parts of our society.
There are dedicated men and women on both sides of the fence who are working to make sure a stay for an inmate is not just a span of time. They work to make sure a prisoner has an opportunity to learn from their mistake and they try to give inmates an opportunity to learn how to make different choices in their lives when they are released back into society.
I had an interesting time at TRCI this week and I learned a lot about the prison.
Its a pretty nice place, but I wouldnt want to live there.
Thompson can be reached at (541) 564-4533, or at email@example.com.