Deer Ridge Correctional Facility: home, not-so-sweet home


Don Iler

The Broadside

Photo by Don Iler

Inmate Education

One of the problems of incarceration is that many prisoners, once they are released and back on the street, have few opportunities or education and find themselves in trouble again. But at Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Madras, instructors from Central Oregon Community College are trying to stop this cycle by helping the inmates get their GED.

The education program, which the department of Corrections contracted COCC to conduct, serves a minimum of 180 inmates a year. Two GED instructors, a welding instructor, and other part time instructors help the inmates achieve their educational goals.

“Education saves lives,” said Cody Yeager, director of education at DRCI, “and the education team here loves their job and love what they do.” Inmates attend classes during the day and those who are on work crews attend classes at night. Besides general education classes to help inmates get their GED, there is also a welding program, a keyboarding class, as well as creative writing workshops put on by The Nature of Words.

“Research says that education and trade skills help inmates avoid coming back to prison,” said programs superintendent Kevin Hormann.

“We have a great partnership with COCC and the education team fits in well with the institution,” said Joe DeCamp, superintendent of DRCI.

“The instructors are here by choice, this is a great work enviroment, and the college is very supportive of what we do,” said Yeager, “The team is great at doing more with less, and there is always a need for more.”

To be a part of the GED program, inmates must submit a letter requesting to be accepted, called a kite. Once the kite is received, Yeager goes to work to get them in classes and learning.

“We are truly helping people improve their lives, you can’t get better than that,” said Dianne Dean, Adult Basic Education director.

“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing the change in their lives,” said Yeager, “to see how big a change education can make in their lives and how it opens up so many things for them.”

The Facility

East of Madras lies a ridge covered with juniper and sagebrush that offers a spectacular view of Mount Jefferson. It’s just the sort of place any Oregonian would love to call home with its fresh air, wide open spaces, and mountain views. But for the 600 men incarcerated at Deer Ridge Correctional Institute, this place is anything but warm and inviting.

Deer Ridge, which opened in July 2007, is a minimum security prison, surrounded by tall fences topped with barbed wire, locking doors, and overseen by armed guards. The walls are made out of cement block, and the doors and guard stations have thick security glass.

The inmates sleep in large barrack-like rooms reminiscent of the kind military recruits sleep in at basic training. Each unit contains 100 inmates, who sleep on bunk beds with thin mattresses, and share toilets with no doors on the stalls. Inmates are allowed to purchase a TV and many of them have one attached to their bed. Each unit also contains a small library with books and puzzles. Inmates are required to be in their bed five times a day for a head count, twice during the day and three times at night.

Next to the buildings containing the sleeping units is a recreation room. Inside there are TV’s, ping pong tables, exercise equipment and a small climbing wall. Behind this building there is a garden where inmates grow vegetables to use in the kitchen.

The inmates have access to a yard and in the middle of the it, there are volleyball courts, horse shoe pits, basketball courts and weight lifting equipment. Next to the garden is a baseball diamond where the softball league plays games with each other.

The education center, located across the yard, is full of classrooms where inmates attend classes to receive their GED or to help them adjust to society when they are released. It also contains a chapel, which attends to the spiritual needs of the inmates.

Next to the kitchen, is a building with a woodshop, sewing shop and welding shop. The sewing shop mends and repairs the blue denim pants and blue t-shirts inmates wear. The welding shop is home to a unique program where inmates are taught how to weld to help increase their chances of getting job when they are released.

Inmates are required by Oregon state law to either work or attend school 40 hours a week, and most do a combination of the two. The kitchen, staffed by inmates, cooks meals for the Madras Senior Center, and the city of Madras uses inmate work crews for projects around town. Work crews have also been used to help improve The Cove Pallisades State Park near Culver.

But concrete walls and razor wire still surround the entire facility and being in prison is still a punishment, even if there is a climbing wall, and the sad faces of the men walking in circles around the yard are enough to convince anyone that they should try as hard as they can to stay out of prison

Welding Program

A flash of light, a burst of sparks, and two pieces of metal are welded together. It is an inspiring sight, to witness hard metal made into something entirely new. But what is even more inspiring, is to talk to the students in the welding program at Deer Ridge Correctional Facility, and see how they are turning their lives around.

The prison is host to a program, headed by Tucker Baumann, to train inmates in welding. The program instructs 10 inmates at a time, with the hope that a new job skill will keep them on the straight and narrow once they are released.

“This program opens up a lot more opportunities,” said inmate Dave Rystedt as he programmed a computer

Photo by Don Iler

connected to a plasma cutting machine. “It helps many who didn’t have job skills before.”

“We use the same curriculum as Central Oregon Community College,” said Baumann. “Currently we instruct them anywhere between six to nine months, but next fall we will begin a new program that will let the students get the same 31 credit certificate in welding that students get at the college in Bend.”

“This is the first chance I’ve had to better myself,” said student Tim Patrick. Baumann built the shop from the ground up. Teaching began in August 2009, and since then inmates have been taught the skills they need in the trade.

“This is a great program for inmates 35 and under because they can build a future for themselves,” said Ed Bess, inmate in charge of maintaining all the gear and equipment. “Years ago, I wish they would have had something like this, because I would have found a different avenue.”

“It’s a real benefit for guys trying to change their lives,” said student Matthew Krupp. “Now I can take care of my family and I have a passion for something.”

“There are so many positive benefits; more education, more skills, more job trades. It benefits us and Oregon cuts down on the number of criminals,” said Rystedt.


  1. I really enjoyed this post, especially the “examples in this post” portion which made it really easy for me to SEE what you were talking about without even having to leave the article. Thanks

  2. I was a inmate out at drci and its really not that great place to do time .Due to buget problems they add about 100 extra “emergence beds” making a prison for holding less than 600 swell beyond its compasity the food budget got no bigger with the extra people.They are slashing almost all programs they have no full time plumbers or welders.They also have no HVAC crew so when the heaters break its some times days without heat. If things need done they wait till there is so many problems that they cant ignor it any longer.The medical out there is a joke they dont do much.I had a case of celulitus on my leg but for over a week the doctor did nothing they waited till I released.Dr.Christopher digilio rarely sees people unless you continusly make your self a nusence or you are about to have some serius medical complications that could be life threatening.all in all it waas a very crappy expience to be there.Then you have the staff who still try to treat like it was not a min security instatution.half of those officers couldnt make it at regular prison.Some that is the reason they are there.Some are ther because they have been assulted because they were disrespectful to inmates.they have like 26 sargents out there.I mean really how many do you need to run a min facility.I wonder how much it costs to have that many there?
    However the education dept. was exellent they have a open door policy so if you want to learn you can go do it without to much resriction. Dr.yeager, Ms weeks ,Ms korner ,Ms bowman are top notch and truely seem to be there to help people!

  3. I can’t argue the general populous’ view-point as far as the whole, “If its so bad-a-place, don’t go there!”
    However, keeping in mind that we’re not SUPPOSED to want to be there. It doesn’t have to mean we should treat all of the inmates like trash and further encourage the spite that inevitably builds up between inmates and corrections officers. for the record, i met some great people while i was living there. (I was there from the day it first opened, helped get the place ready for more inmates and i lived there for 1.5 years)
    of those aforementioned “nice officers” a handful of them would be; CO Stevens,
    Sergeant Platerro, Sergeant Sampson and a few other whose names I can’t seem to recall. (sorry if I butchered your name Platerro) These officers are the few badge-wearing people that allowed me to have any faith in officers as a whole.
    With that said, the’re are most definately officers that give the rest a bad name. I will refrain from listing any of these “other” officers. but the fact that they treat “US” bad makes us want nothing more than to disrespect them in-turn.
    and before i leave this post, i would like to point something out…
    The total project cost is approximately $190 million, which includes construction, studies, design, property and easement purchases, and infrastructure improvements for public services.” that is a quote from the DoC website stating the total bill for that facilities construction. however when i helped open it in 2007, to this date, 4 years later the larger and more “important” medium custody facility still is not running. so for all of those who think that slapping a new prison down on every open space of earth is going to solve all of the criminalistic problems of the world… im sorry to say that putting a handful of men behind a fence and leaving them to be treated horribly, only to then be gifted back to society, will NOT make the men and in-turn, society a better place to live.

  4. While I have not been incarcerated, I know somebody who has. He/she has explained a lot about what goes on in prisons. I understand that DOC has GED programs for inmates which is great. However, getting an GED isn’t enough to get a job upon release. Other educational opportunities need to be available for ALL inmates that are going to be eventually released. In response to “If it’s such a bad place, don’t go there,” the issue is that many people do go there but most will eventually be released with many issues, including no job skills. Therefore, many return to the life of crime and back to prison. It would better for communities if there were sufficient educational opportunities for inmates so that they can become productive and law-abiding citizens.

  5. O.K. folks, here is the skinny… I was an inmate at DRCI. I fully realize prison is a place to go when one breaks the law. I completely agree that the prison experience should be anything but “exciting”. I do not deny as a civilized society we need somewhere for the “unmanageable”. Just imagine this please: District attorneys need convictions. Convictions are what help ensure funding. Prison is one of the most lucrative industries in America right now. That is a fact. Yet we see the word “cutback” every day in the news. Prison Cutbacks. There will not be any cutbacks in prisons until America wakes up and realizes that minimum camps are simply housing sites for individuals that should either be in Medium facilities or not in prison at all. I did not even meet one individual that could honestly say that he was being re-habilitated at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution. Not one. DRCI is housing for the majority of our “sex offender” beefs here in Oregon. It is a safe house for them. Deer Ridge specializes on maintaining their safety in comparison to other Oregon Prisons. If you look at the general population’s charges you will be stunned at the ratio of sexual predators vs. non sexual predators that Deer Ridge houses. Yet, there is not even one form of counseling for them. Let alone psychiatric help. not even one. Although it is a minimum facility, Deer Ridge is no day camp. Regardless of what you may read about it. It is prison, however your tax dollars are going to waste each day as it costs over 30k annually to house these convicts. These men are receiving little or no counseling/help on how to learn to better their lives. I was there about 7 months on a domestic violence charge. I did not even meet my counselor one time. Not one time. When I requested to meet her she denied me that opportunity. There is one 6 month long program that certain inmates are required to take. Inmates that take this course are segregated from the general population and from what I did see do learn some skills to adapt back into the “outside” world. However, if your ACRE score is not high enough you will not be eligible for the program. Deer Ridge is a money pit. The place did reminded me of Marine Corps boot camp and the only differences are that inmates are regarded as less human by society and the guards are only there for a paycheck. There were a few exceptions to that last statement, but only a few. If you think that your hard earned tax dollars are going to any real rehabilitation of Oregon inmates please look at the recidivism rate of the inmates that leave DRCI. All prisons are a revolving door and that is a fact, but don’t believe the hype. Deer Ridge inmates receive little to no one on one counseling that will actually give them direction at a fresh start. Hey… don’t go on what I say, I am a convicted felon. We all know felons blow smoke 🙂 Check it out for yourself. Then contact your congressman and senator and demand for them to immediately release those that never should have gone to state prison in the first place and in doing so make room for the sex offenders, drug dealers and thieves that are attacking your friends and families. Its your money that keeps the lights on 7 days a week, 365 days a year at DRCI’s medium facility which is 600000 square feet and completely empty. Keep in mind, there is not even one inmate in the Medium section of DRCI. I get a strong sense that ODOC thinks it is more important to keep that unoccupied portion of the prison well lit rather than to invest in counseling/rehabilitatoin for our Oregon inmates. Again…check it out for yourself, I am a convicted felon.


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