Sunday, November 6, 2011

Inside Coffee Creek

I am a taking a small detour from life inside the Followers of Christ church, to life inside Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. CCCF is Oregon’s only women’s prison, and is also the intake location for all male prisoners. Shannon and Dale Hickman arrived for intake last week. For this entry, I travelled up to Wilsonville and interviewed a prisoner from Coffee Creek.

As soon as a sentence is entered, the prisoner is taken to a county jail. The female prisoners are in a big room. They are ordered to take off their clothes and stand naked while being inspected. The prisoner is told to lift her hair, arms, feet, and then bend over and cough twice. If she is wearing a tampon, she must remove it for inspection. She is then given a white jumpsuit to wear, her ankles are shackled, and handcuffs secured by a black box. The prisoners are loaded on a van to be taken to the prison.
The van pulls into the facility at Coffee Creek and drives to the intake center. The gates shut and lock before the prisoners get out of the van. They are taken in through a door and left in a holding cell with a sack lunch. The lunch might consist of: bread, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, lunch meat, peanut butter and jelly packets, and mayonnaise and mustard packets. All of the women are in this large room together – there is a commode in one corner with a low wall blocking the toilet, though you can see the person sitting on it. The women stay in there for hours waiting to be called.
When she is called out, she is issued her “intake clothes.” These consist of: blue scrub pants, blue scrub shirts, navy blue t-shirts, underwear, socks, and sports bras. She is also given a pair of orange flip flops for showering. Then she is taken to the showers and shown the street clothes she was wearing so she can verify that her personal belongings are there. These items are sealed, boxed up, and mailed to the prisoner’s family.
In the showers, a strip search is performed again, then she is told to take a shower and put on her scrubs. She then goes into a room for fingerprinting, a DNA sample is taken, and a picture for her prison ID. She is now taken to a different holding tank, with the other processed prisoners. A nurse takes her into a private room and takes down her medical history, notes tattoos, and scars, and then she returns again to the same holding area.

When everyone is processed, the prisoners are given manila pocket folders containing the following items: a small tube of toothpaste, a tiny toothbrush, a pocket comb, a razor, a small deodorant, a little bar of soap, a small bendy pen, five envelopes, ten sheets of newsprint paper, and any paperwork she came in with that she’s allowed to keep, and a yellow lanyard to the K-Unit (this is the unit where intake prisoners will spend their first few weeks) with her ID card. She also receives her bedroll containing: two blankets, two sheets, a pillowcase, and two towels.
Now she is taken down a “big, scary” hallway where is shown where things are and taken to her unit. She arrives in the K-Unit. It is an open unit with 108 beds – bunk-beds. She will be here for about thirty days. While she is here, she will not be allowed to participate in any activities such as religious services, salon, visiting, etc. She will have two hours every day to spend in the day room or out in the yard. The rest of her time she is to sit on her bunk. At the end of her time here, an intake counselor will meet with her to talk about her Corrections Plan. This plan will explain her custody level (medium security for prisoners with more than four years’ time), expectations, etc.
The inmate I interviewed has been serving for nearly eight years now. She does not want to remember the time she came in because, like Shannon Hickman, she was accused of causing the death of a child. She told me in vague terms about that time, but my questions seemed to bother her. She said that the other inmates were not accepting. They called her a “baby killer” and told her to just kill herself. They wouldn’t allow her to sit with them for meals. She says she was “shunned” by the women.

I remember when Shannon was born – just a few months before my niece, Miranda. I can’t help feeling badly for her. She was powerless to decide how she was raised. She was powerless in her marriage. She was powerless in saving her child. And, for the next six years, she will be completely powerless in raising her surviving children.


  1. I'd be curious to know how the men typically treat another man that is charged with causing the death of his child. I wouldn't however recommend you going to a CF for men to find out. :)

  2. So very sad, on so many levels.

  3. Its very sad however when you do something wrong you must pay the price. I understand how Shannon and the others have no other way of thinking since they have been brainwashed for years and years. THey must own TV, read the newspapers to see that there are Laws, WE ALL HAVE TO FOLLOW LAWS. I have grown up in Oregon City, I know these people they are nice but the women have no rights in a way they are in jail already. In this day and time its sad that they have not stood up to their husbands and said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. What these two parents have done and what others have done is SICK SICK SICK. Maybe during the time they are in jail they might think back and see how their baby looked as he went from pink to gray to BLUE no air no choice NOTHING . At least they have a bed and food in jail that baby didn;t get that chance.

  4. Did the person you visit think twice on the FOC? Or do they usually come out just do continue with the same practices?

  5. This was hard to read. I started crying almost as soon as I started reading this. I do not believe Shannon could have done anything different to save her baby. She gave birth and didn't even hold her baby until he died. This is wrong to have her in prison. I am disturbed by this story.

  6. The inmate I interviewed was not from the FOC church. The inmates there HAVE been watching the news coverage of the trial and this woman did not think Shannon would get any sympathy from the women.

  7. Sad, all around. I commend you for going there and doing the interview. I'm not going to judge this one. A jury has done it and God will do it in time. I haven't lived her life nor do I know what truly happened or what could have happened if the baby had been born in a hospital. Lots of non-secular women choose to have mid-wives deliver their children. The children survive. However, typically, these women have appropriate training. Anyway, I hope that justice, whatever that may be, is done. Shall we arrest the grandparents and the leaders of the church for brainwashing the baby's parents?
    Anyway, I hope that justice, whatever that may be, is done. Beth Garland.

  8. It is really sad that Shannon is going through this, and her children, and her dead baby, and their families. She never had a choice, nor did her children. In that cult it is all on the husband. He is the head of that house, just as Jesus is the head of the church. This whole thing is a result of a bad head, being directed by worse elders. Dale made the choice for everyone involved to suffer all of this. She truly is innocent, but if nothing else comes of this, I hope that young women see that it's no defense in court.

  9. I followed a blog written by the mom of a Coffee Creek inmate several years ago. It's a completely different world in there. Six years is going to be a long time, and my heart aches for her.

    I thought about this today. On the one hand she has an opportunity to discover something inside herself and maybe break from the church. On the other, she's likely signed power-of-attorney over to a member of the church and were she to break, she would lose her kids. What a tough decision. From what you've described of the FOC, however, she's likely to receive significant support throughout her time there. It *should* make things easier. But they certainly can't be there every hour of every day.

    The 30 days of doing nothing but sitting on her bunk, no visitors, no activities, will be trial by fire. I once spent four days in jail in Phoenix with no visitors. I can tell you, it's awful.

    Six I hope she's strong.

  10. This is the text of a letter I sent to the Oregonian:
    I do not condone the beliefs of the Followers of Christ -- or the beliefs of most religious people, as a matter of fact -- but the plight of Shannon Hickman dwells on my mind. Is there no one to come forward and defend her? I think her attorney did not pursue her best interests, and that a mistrial should be declared in her case. She should never have been tried together with her husband, and she could be ably defended by thorough explication of the heavy-handed patriarchal beliefs which shaped her life. On the day her newborn baby died, she rested after giving birth. Is this a person who can rise up against her assembled family, strike out in an entirely new direction, and demand that -- against all of her previous mental indoctrination and steadfast belief -- a doctor be called to attend her ailing baby? Really? Just like that?

    Where are the women's groups? Where are the religious women of Portland? Will this woman actually serve 6 years in prison for not rousing herself in the aftermath of a home birth to defy the wishes of her husband, whom she believes to be her lord and master on earth as her religious savior reigns over them both from heaven? Does it take a heathen like me to point out the injustice of this sentence to the Pharisees and the Sadducees of Portland (and their wives and their daughters)? Whatever, "Christians" -- it wouldn't be the first time that all of you turned a blind eye as injustice was done, nor will it be the last.

    Kate Thornton Scrivener

  11. I totally agree, she had no Control over the situation. The da stated that they never even tried to utilize the religious defense that was available to them. Does anyone know why? Are their lawyers that inept, or was that really an option for them?

    1. I was interviewed to be on that jury...I was dismissed, thank goodness. My impression, granted brief, was that their lawyers were inept. I couldn't believe their questions to was so bad (not insulting..just persistent) that the judge finally had to intervene.

  12. Chris, what's that blog? Sounds interesting!

  13. I agree with Kate Thorton Scrivener
    I think Shannon should get a retrial. I do not think she should have been tried with her husband. I agreed with everything she said. So where are all the women's groups? Lets get Shannon out of prison.

  14. Shannon Hickman should be released from prison. I am a former Follower and she really did not have any choice/say in the matter regarding her son's death. What I remember of her is that she is a sweet, naive young woman that had no 'power' over the males' decisions regarding her son's death. Why aren't her attorneys appealing her sentence?


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