SALEM, Ore. -- Men move about the workshop, many covered in tattoos, and all sporting blue denim jeans and light blue work shirts.
“Inmate” is printed in a large orange stencil on their clothes.
An inmate works on a piece of furniture in the OCE furniture shop in the Salem maximum security prison.
The Oregon Corrections Enterprises furniture factory in the Salem maximum security prison.
Wood chips and chemical spray float in the air, and the sun seeps in through the windows. The sounds of bandsaws, planers, routers and heavy machinery make conversation difficult.
A heavily tattooed inmate operates machinery in the OCE furniture factory in the Salem maximum security prison.
A couple of officers linger in the corner, watchful, yet staying out of the way.
A guard stands watch over the inmates working in the OCE furniture factory in the Salem maximum security prison.
No man stands idle, all are hard at work. The men prepare to start on furniture for the state hospital.
The men building the furniture are all prisoners in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.
Inmates work on a piece of furniture in the OCE furniture shop in the Salem maximum security prison.
The state hospital is not the first state institution to employ Oregon Corrections Enterprises (OCE), a semi-independent state agency that works to rehabilitate inmates by providing them with a skill set that will help secure employment after prison.
According to William Lorsung, an inmate employed by OCE, the program provides men with an opportunity to hit the ground running upon their release.
William Lorsung, an inmate who works in the OCE furniture factory in the Salem maximum security prison.
Many state institutions support OCE, including the University of Oregon. The prisoners in this program are largely responsible for manufacturing the beds in which the University of Oregon freshmen sleep, and the desks at which the students study; yet virtually no students are aware of this on campus.
“I had the opportunity to work with the University of Oregon, and Oregon State University, to contribute a lot of different projects and it’s neat," Lorsung said. "My first year in ’99 when I first came in we were doing the first dorm remodel. We made 269 beds and wardrobes and chairs. It was like a brand new opportunity ... like a diversion program.”
General population inmates in the exercise yard, aka “the yard” in the Salem maximum security prison.
According to the OCE Web site, approximately 1,140 inmates work for OCE in the state of Oregon. More than 95 percent of these individuals eventually will be released.
The workshop, located within the walls of the prison but separated from the general population, is overseen by civilian supervisors. Michael Kezeor, a supervisor for OCE, said it teaches the inmates life skills.
“A lot of these guys have never had a job," Kezeor said. "It teaches them they need to get up in the morning, they need to go to breakfast on time, [and] they need to go to work on time. The regular values that I guess everybody on the outside has,” Kezeor said.
According to its Web site, OCE not only provides life skills, but strives to help inmates build a strong work ethic and change their outlook on life.
“What a man needs when he has been in here any amount of time is a second opportunity to reintegrate into society,” said Lorsung. For him, and many other inmates, OCE provides them with that opportunity.
An inmate walks from the general population area to the OCE area of the Salem maximum security prison.