Living life on the outside
Tiffany was living in a vehicle when she asked a friend to store some of her belongings, including an ultrasound image and baby pictures of a son she gave up for adoption at birth.
She says the friend went through her stuff, keeping some items but throwing away the rest — including the images of her son.
"She got rid of it — tossed it like it was nothing," says Tiffany, 49, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
When Tiffany went to confront the woman at her house, she says the woman grabbed hold of the sleeves of a sweatshirt she was wearing, making her feel trapped. Reflexes from her history of being a victim of domestic violence kicked in, and she lashed out at the woman.
"I ended up in trouble again because I beat this girl up," Tiffany says.
She already had a history of being in and out of the Jackson County Jail.
"It used to be my second home," she says. "It was like, 'Just forward my mail. You know where I'll be.'"
But this time, Tiffany was sentenced to Oregon's prison for women, the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, and spent almost a year behind bars.
Later she served another sentence in prison, living there for a year and five days, before returning home.
"The first time, I was the only one going up from Jackson County at the time. I went alone. I felt very alone. It was like these people had their own little world," Tiffany says. "The second time was like a refresher course for why I didn't want to be there. It's a whole different ball game. It's not as scary as people think. These people are making a life in this place. Some have to because they will never get out. Some of these people are actually comfortable there. I didn't want to get comfortable there."
As in many prisons, they tended to self-divide into groups by race and ethnicity, with white, black, Latina, Native American and Asian women hanging out together, she says.
"I made friends, but I didn't want to be a part of any clique," says Tiffany, who is white. "I liked people of different groups."
She says she focused on finishing her general equivalency diploma, walking on a track, playing pickleball and staying out of harm's way.
"There is violence in prison. I've seen it. Some of these girls in there are ruthless," Tiffany says. "Outside, I've never seen six people gang up on one person. There was violence over the littlest things."
When she wasn't in jail or prison, Tiffany says she was dealing drugs.
"That was my 'job.' That's what I did. That's how I made my money," she says. "I started selling to pay for my own use so it wasn't costing me money out of my own pocket — because I didn't have any money in my pocket."
But Tiffany was growing increasingly tired and frustrated with her troubled lifestyle.
Then she got paired up with Jackson County Senior Deputy Parole and Probation Officer Tira Hubbard.
Hubbard is helping to lead a change across the state in the way the criminal justice system handles women. Oregon is recognizing that female criminals have different needs than men. Women are more likely to have lower incomes, child-rearing responsibilities, addiction and mental health problems, difficulty finding stable housing and a history of trauma from abusive relationships.
"My P.O. is changing things in the criminal justice system for women," Tiffany says of Hubbard. "In the past, I got treated just like I was one of the guys. I am a female and I do require different things than these guys."
While on probation, Tiffany went through the Moving On program, which helped her build healthier relationships, take personal responsibility for her life and improve her skills.
Women who have led hard lives, moving in and out of jail and prison, responded to a collage-making session where they focused on art. The relaxed setting helped them open up and talk about their personal problems, Tiffany says.
"It wasn't like a group where they ask you questions and you're in the hot seat," she says.
Hubbard has enlisted Tiffany's help in training probation officers from other counties in how to assess female offenders' needs and the risks they face. Tiffany played the role of a female offender while a male probation officer from Klamath County asked her about a broad range of needs and risks.
"She taught him how to listen to women and ask hard questions," Hubbard says of Tiffany.
After years of drug dealing and addiction, Tiffany now has a full-time job at a gas station and convenience store. She sometimes puts in 52 hours a week, filling in for people who miss shifts or show up late.
Tiffany says she loves the busy pace. Describing herself as a "people person," she says she enjoys working with the public. Eventually she hopes to become the assistant manager.
She is living with a friend and has a vehicle, insurance and a driver's license.
Hubbard says Tiffany and a friend she made in the Moving On program have become mentors for younger women in the group.
During a seminar about drug addiction and mental illness, Tiffany and her friend met a woman who needed transportation to a medical detox program in Eugene. They arranged to pick her up in Alba Park in downtown Medford.
"She said, 'Thank you for showing up. I didn't think anyone would show up,'" Tiffany says.
Hubbard notes the two friends' action was entirely voluntary.
"It wasn't part of their probation," Hubbard says. "It was just women helping women."
Knowing what it's like to be confined in a facility without personal possessions, Tiffany bought the drug-addicted woman travel-size shampoo, conditioner and deodorant before dropping her off at the Eugene detox program.
"We felt good about it," she says. "It was empowering."
Tiffany says her own drug addiction and criminal actions cost her dearly, from the simple things in life like spending time with her dog, to getting to raise her five children. But she's determined to stay focused on her job and helping other people.
"It's my life," she says. "I want to live it on the outside."
— Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.