Heavy machinery training ‘game changer’ for Coffee Creek inmates

SHERWOOD, Ore. (KOIN) — Learning to operate heavy machinery is not that unusual for Meagan Fuller. But the path to this point has been anything but usual.

Fuller is currently serving time at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville for robbery and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. She worries about what happens when she gets out in October 2025. But she’s getting job training from a business owner in Sherwood who is trying to open more doors for women released from Coffee Creek.

Being around heavy machinery is “something I’ve been around my whole life and I was really excited for,” Fuller told KOIN 6 News. “Nobody really wants to give us an opportunity being felons when we leave here, so people standing behind us and giving us this opportunity is a real game changer for us.”

One of the brains behind this game-changer is Elle Harris, who owns Harris Excavation. She mentors the women and calls them “second chance champions.”

Elle Harris. the owner of Harris Excavation, February 2024 (KOIN)
Elle Harris. the owner of Harris Excavation, February 2024 (KOIN)

“It’s a good job, good pay, high demand and most importantly it gives them, the opportunity to get out, make a good wage, take care of their families and hold their heads up high,” Harris said.

Harris bought land that will be eventually used by the women for training, calling it a “land lab.” Baker Technical Institute trains the women, first virtually and then on the machines. The program is currently funded through a grant.

“To see the lightbulb come on, to see them smiling. to have them excited about getting out and knowing they have a job, if they want one,” said Tracie Hightower with the Oregon Department of Corrections.

One requirement for the program is the trainees be close to getting out of prison so the training is fresh.

The inmates at Coffee Creek have to apply to be considered. They have to have their GED and a good behavior record.

Coffee Creek inmate Meagan Fuller is one of the trainees learning to use heavy machinery, February 2024 (KOIN)
Coffee Creek inmate Meagan Fuller is one of the trainees learning to use heavy machinery, February 2024 (KOIN)

The class has 12 women out of 100 applicants in the last round. When the grant money ends in July, ODOT will fund it for the next several years.

Fuller embraced it.

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity. I’ll be able to take care of my daughter and have a whole different life when I leave here,” she said.

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