MADRAS — “16817516,” Cecil Erwin Vorce recites to a correctional officer for the last time.
The sun is shining, and it’s starting to warm up. Nineteen-year-old Vorce is standing behind Deer Ridge Correctional Institution’s chain-link fence.
“Be good,” the officer standing next to him says.
Two clear plastic bags hold his belongings — Crest toothpaste, cotton swabs, multivitamins, a Bible and a pile of letters. Right now, all Vorce is thinking about is getting out and giving his grandma a hug.
“Man, it’s a beautiful day,” he says.
Behind the prison walls, Vorce was the “golden boy.” He followed the rules, he excelled and he was let out on time because of his good behavior, according to his counselor. But outside, being a model citizen will be harder.
The blond, hazel-eyed teenager is the first inmate to complete the alcohol and drug treatment program at Deer Ridge. The recidivism rate for those who have completed similar programs throughout the state is 12 percent, according to Kevin Hormann, assistant superintendent of transitional services. That compares to the general prison population’s rate of 30 percent.
“He has a lot of things working against him: his criminal history, his youth, his lack of work experience,” Hormann said. “But going through this program has opened his eyes to the possibilities and opportunities open to him to choose a different path. A lot of these guys revert to alcohol and drugs because they think there’s no other option. Once you get into another environment, where it’s more positive and supportive, you see other options, and I think that’s what he has going for him.”
The program lasts six to seven months, and inmates are in class for the majority of the day. They learn about their addictions, about criminal behavior and how to break old habits. Since it’s a residential therapeutic community, the inmates are encouraged to help one another, and at times the staff acts only as facilitators. Inmates are selected based on the role substance abuse has played in their criminal activity, and they can earn good behavior credit if they participate.
At first, Vorce didn’t want any part of it.
A Redmond native and a high school dropout, he now realizes he has to overcome a long history of family drug abuse.
“I didn’t want to be there at all at first. The general (prison) population told me it was just to learn how to narc on people,” he said. “But I opened up right when I got there. … I started opening up to my primary counselor, and she asked me questions. I told her my family history and what brought me to prison. … The tools I got from that program, learning about my negative habits, will help me.”
Cycle of drugs
Vorce makes the obligatory stop at the community justice building in Bend.
“I’m here, reporting from prison,” he tells the woman behind the glass panel.
Vorce is en route to the nonprofit Shepherd’s Inn in La Pine. For 18 months, he will go through a program designed for Christians who have just gotten out of prison. He said he chose the program because of its religious component but also because it would help him stay away from his drug buddies.
The couple who founded the program, Fred and Pam Clark, picked up Vorce from Deer Ridge. From Madras, they went to Bend, where Vorce had a chance to hug his grandmother, Delores Carroll, on her 15-minute break from work.
“Hey bro, how you doing?” his grandmother asked as she embraced him, tears welling up in her eyes. “Your dad says, ‘Hello.’ Your mom says, ‘I love you.’”
“I can’t see him, you know. I can’t see Dad,” Vorce told his grandma, who works at the Department of Human Services. “I’ve got to create boundaries.”
“Yes, yeah you do,” said Carroll, who raised Vorce off and on throughout his childhood.
Before Vorce visits with the parole officer, he must complete a worksheet given to him by the woman at the front desk. It starts out with the standards — name, date of birth, height and weight. Vorce flips the page over, and the next question asks him to list relatives with a criminal record.
He writes: grandpa, Robert Carroll; uncle, Glen Carroll; father, Robert Vorce; mother, Brenda Carroll; and aunt, Jamie Carroll.
“They have the generational drug cycle going,” said Mona Brown, a counselor in the drug and alcohol program at Deer Ridge.
The 10½ months Vorce spent incarcerated was the longest time, he said, he’s spent drug free since he was about 8 years old.
He remembers the first needle he found, at age 6. He remembers his first six-pack of Coors, at about age 7. And the first time he tried crystal methamphetamine, at 14. He remembers the adults in his life being up for days, waking him as a little boy to show him the sunrise.
He spent the early part of his childhood traveling in semi-trucks with his mom and random drivers. They rode from Texas, California and Nevada through Oregon and Washington as she hitched different rides with different truckers. Now, he’s not sure where she is. Up until a month ago, though, his father was in Deer Ridge with him.
“What I’ve seen my mom do, my grandpa, all my parents and their friends,” Vorce said, “I’ve mimicked.”
Shortly before he was sent to the county jail and later Deer Ridge, he was living in Redmond, paying $750 a month in rent. He shared the apartment with a few buddies and his father. They were selling crystal meth and using it as well. Days were spent making runs to Portland to get the meth and stealing whatever — copper, video games, clothes — could potentially help pay the rent.
With his father living in the apartment and several friends he had known his whole life, Vorce said he felt powerful. He felt like he was part of a Central Oregon drug family that had the right connections and understood the dope game.
“I was glorifying it, like, ‘This is my family and friends, this is what we do, we have the upper arm, and now, I’m the next generation, and we have to keep it going,’” he said.
What actually landed Vorce in prison was stealing a car.
But there were several stolen cars, some from Bend, others from Redmond. Often, while he was high, he would join his friends for a “hustle,” where they would walk around opening car doors until they found one unlocked. If the keys were in it, they would steal the car. If not, they would take whatever they could.
There were possession charges, a couple of them. There were high-speed chases, where he escaped from the cops while driving stolen cars and high on at least three drugs. That happened not once but twice.
When he reported to county jail to serve a 10-day sentence for possession, the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle charge was also levied against him. He’s still not sure what particular car it was that put him in Deer Ridge. But he does remember that when the judge — who had sentenced his grandfather and father before him — told him, this is your chance to do good, he was thinking, “You’re right.”
A reminder from prison
It’s close to dinnertime when Vorce finally pulls up to his new home in La Pine. He’ll have his own room but will share the house with three other ex-convicts. He has his aftercare program, with lists of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups he must attend.
A letter he wrote to himself while in prison sits next to him.
“I am writing this letter to myself,” it begins. “As a reminder for being in prison and never forgetting how easy it was to get here … Remember in your heart your family loves you so very much. They want you to break the old family lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and criminality … Remember when you first came to prison, on the chain to Coffee Creek, looking over at the chains on your father’s ankle … and the cuffs … and wondering why you did, what you did.”