Somewhere in the purgatory between jail and prison I was convinced that prison would be a land of opportunity. I was told of advanced education, treatment, activities — glorified misperceptions by people who had never been to prison, whose closest experiences were TV shows, fictional books and the misleading DOC [Department of Corrections] websites.
After a year in jail I was excited to move up in life, into the prison atmosphere. I was ready to start building a life for myself in my naïve beliefs that correctional facilities are designed to help the individual. It felt like a major defeat when I saw my institution counselor and her most encouraging statement was “there’s nothing here for you except work.” I wasn’t eligible for treatment or programs because my “ACRS” [Automated Criminal Risk Score] was too low. Which means I have a very low chance of recidivism.
Well then, what am I doing here?
I continued to ask myself that exact question as I found my place in the boring, monotonous, day-to-day routine of work in the kitchen and later work in the call center. I maintained clear conduct by keeping to myself, just going through the motions to get by.
Three and a half years into my sentence I was miserable at my job and my recreational time wasn’t much better. I needed to change. What I wanted the most was to attend beauty school. There is one at my institution, but I was scared that I wouldn’t be accepted because there were only ten positions and somewhere close to 1,000 women incarcerated here.
My counselor’s words kept creeping their way into my head. “There’s nothing here for you. There’s nothing here for you.” With low confidence, I submitted an application. I was excited when I had a formal interview and was ecstatic when I was accepted into the school.
I’ve now been in cosmetology school for eleven months. Since I started, time doesn’t just consist of doing time. Now I’m doing something I love. I wake up every day with a purpose. I am surrounded by a group of amazing, fun talented women. I have a teacher, who is also a mentor. She is so compassionate, motivated and encouraging. She does all that she can to ensure that her students are successful.
In fact, the cosmetology program has done so well that we are in the process of expansion. We are upgrading to a larger salon and our class is doubling in size. I am so excited to be part of this change and that an additional ten women will be able to achieve their dreams in a place where there’s nothing for them.
Carrie Ames is serving 10 years for manslaughter and assault in connection with the deaths of a California couple in an alcohol-related traffic accident.
Carrie Ames #16147583
24499 SW Grahams Ferry
Wilsonville, OR 97070