Correctional facility hosts Rotary's Through a Child's Eyes winter event

by: JOSH KULLA - Coffee Creek inmate Ebony Thompson takes a bite of a treat offered by her son, Glenn Jackson Jr., 3, at the Dec. 16 session of Through a Child's Eyes.  It’s the end of an era at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

And while the prison’s nationally renowned Through a Child’s Eyes program will continue in the future, it’s going to do so without one of its founders.

Held Dec. 14 and 15 in both the minimum- and medium-security wings at Oregon’s only women’s prison, this year’s winter TACE marks the last time Wilsonville resident and Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Ludlow stood in for the big man in red, Santa Claus.

Through a Child’s Eyes was started by Ludlow and fellow Wilsonville Rotary Club members 12 years ago as a means of re-establishing community connections with the Department of Corrections in the wake of a bruising fight to find a site for the JOSH KULLA - Coffee Creek inmate Dez Rocha and her daughter, Ahonie Rocha-Menjivar, 2, receive a gift from volunteer elf Susie Sivyer at the winter Through a Child's Eyes event Dec. 16.

The twice-a-year event allows inmates with clean disciplinary sheets to bring their families and children into Coffee Creek for an informal event replete with food, entertainment, games and lots of precious face time between mothers and their children.

It has proven to be a huge motivator for the women who earn the right to take part. It’s had an equally profound effect on those community volunteers who have grown fond of pitching in to help keep the event running.

“I have a story for you,” Wilsonville resident Susie Sivyer said as she walked by during the event. Sivyer has handed out gifts to the children of inmates for several years now and wouldn’t trade that role for anything.

“I had a little boy use sign language to say, ‘Thank you,’ to me,” she said. “Oh my gosh, talk about melting my heart. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t break down in tears at some point.”

Helping out Santa, who is always busy this time of year, Ludlow donned a red suit and hat and a white beard for that first winter TACE in 2001. He found himself hooked.

Even so, Ludlow said, the demands of his current job as chairman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners have taken over his life to such an extent that he is now forced to slim down the list of outside commitments. by: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville resident and Rotary Club member John Ludlow has helped out Santa for 12 years as part of the Through a Child's Eyes effort mounted by local Rotarians. To Ludlow's right is Linsey Lesperance, 8, while Don McVay and Mike Kane dance to Santa's left.

“I’ll never leave them without a Santa,” he said Dec. 15 during a rare break in the otherwise steady line of inmate mothers and their children queuing to have their photo taken with the North Pole’s most famous citizen. “But after 12 years of doing it and after starting it, I have a new life and it eats up every portion of spare time I have.”

From meetings to work sessions to community events to campaigning for office, it all has added up rapidly during his first year as the county’s top elected official.

“It has really affected my life,” he said simply.

Ludlow said he plans to lead the search for another fill-in, even though it won’t be easy to find the right personality to handle both a prison environment as well as crowds of sugar-fueled children.

“I’m going to start recruiting,” he said. “But it really has to be the right guy. It’s been very rewarding, but now it’s just getting to be too much.”

Coffee Creek inmate Adrianne Crabtree has a unique perspective on TACE. She’s been the event photographer for the past five years, taking posed shots of inmates and their families with Santa at the winter event and more candid snapshots at the summer TACE, held each July. by: JOSH KULLA - John Ludlow said his duties as chairman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners require so much of his time that he is cutting back on outside commitments. He vowed that TACE would never be without Santa Claus, however.

Crabtree said she can’t thank Rotarians like Ludlow enough for putting the event on for more than a decade now. Her role as photographer, she added, also allows her to break through the emotional walls constructed by inmates as a defense mechanism.

“I love it,” Crabree said. “It gives me a chance to see people in a different light. For me, when we live in a dorm we don’t get to see this side of people. You have to be guarded. This brings me to tears every year.”

She showed off the photo printer used for the event. All you do is plug the secure digital, or SD, card from your camera into the machine, select an image and press “print.” In no time at all a full-color print slides into a tray for collection.

“I’ve taken thousands of photos here,” Crabtree said. “I like photos. It really captures people and it just shows them in a real moment. It shows the real emotions on their faces, especially here.” by: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville resident Susie Sivyer directs the handing out of gifts donated by local residents and businesses Dec. 16 at the 2013 winter Through a Child's Eyes event.

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