Nearly two years after three inmates at Oregon’s only women’s prison enrolled in a small business course to help prepare them for life on the outside, and agreed to let KGW document the entire process in depth, all three have been released.
This week, as a follow-up to the Emmy-winning series "LIFE Inside," KGW checked back in with Vanessa Sherrod, Myriah Williams and Amy Lorenzo to see how they’re doing since leaving Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.
After her release in December 2019, Sherrod was thrilled to be reunited with her family, including her three kids Necho, Roxanna and Sophia. In an interview this week, she told KGW she recently received her associate’s degree in social work from Chemeketa Community College in Salem.
“And I just got certified as a PWS. It's a peer wellness specialist,” she said, smiling.
Sherrod, who was sentenced to roughly five years for multiple counts of theft, is now working full time with the YWCA of Greater Portland. Lately, her focus is on the Oregon Legislature and championing Senate Bill 720. If passed, it would restore state funding for the Family Preservation Project, a decade-old program that helps facilitate regular visits between women at Coffee Creek and their children.
Sherrod said she’s fighting for the program and for inmates now, like others did while she was inside.
“You can't take away being a mom. That will never happen,” she said. “That love for your kids does not change just because you made a mistake and went away.”
The last few months of Myriah Williams’ sentence overlapped with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When she was released in July 2020, she had to isolate at home. In retrospect, she was relieved.
“My friends and my family didn't expect me to go to large gatherings, which would have been a lot harder for me,” she said. “I was wearing a mask. Nobody could recognize me right off the bat and say ‘Oh there’s the girl who went to prison.’”
The 28-year-old, who was sentenced to nearly six years for arson and assault, eventually opened up. She’s living in Portland and has been seeing friends and family regularly. She’s also got a job painting and remodeling houses. The man who hired her, she said, knew she had been to prison. Her experience in the LIFE Program, run by Mercy Corps Northwest, taught her to be upfront about her history.
“I said, ‘Look, the only experience that I have, I gained from Coffee Creek and that's the only women's facility in Oregon.’ And he's like, ‘Oh, I know I already did my research on you,’” Williams recalled of that first job interview. “He was a second opportunist and so luckily for me, he hired me right off the bat.”
Williams added she has plans to visit an aunt in Alaska, who works with at-risk teens. She wants to get into that line of work and help kids avoid making the same mistake she did.
“That’s what I want to do,” she said. “And like all of the things that I'm learning with this remodeling stuff… I want to get kids involved in things like this, too.”
Amy Lorenzo was released from Coffee Creek in February 2020, after serving roughly five years for forgery and theft. KGW’s attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.