Note: IMESD runs the educational programs at the Oregon Youth Authority's RiverBend facility near La Grande, and this article from the East Oregonian features RiverBend's firefighting program.
Just as fire burns away slash in the forest, it can also turn a young man’s reckless past into ash.
Minimum security inmates at Oregon Youth Authority’s RiverBend facility near La Grande are getting a chance to reinvent themselves as wildland firefighters. The correctional outpost houses young offenders as they transition from incarceration to home.
Shalon Freeman’s story is a common refrain at RiverBend. Freeman said he took a wrong turn at age 16.
“I was young and mad at the world when I went to jail for robbery and assault,” recalls Freeman, now 21. “I wasn’t thinking about tomorrow or the consequences of my actions.”
He said the fire program is helping him find motivation to change and succeed. As they swing pulaskis and extinguish flame with hoses and bladder bags, the men learn to see the good in themselves.
This week, Freeman and 17 other RiverBend firefighters gathered in the parking lot for a hike to some nearby private land. They would spend the day burning slash piles.