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Deer Ridge inmates led beyond walls to forgiveness

Former prisoner helps them leave 'emotional cage'

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- When people get sent to prison, you don't often hear them talk about who they want to forgive. A former inmate is meeting with others still behind those walls and bars, encouraging them to talk about things they've never shared, and find a sense of freedom in the process.

"Today will be challenging for a lot of you," said Rob Corbin, addressing prisoners at the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution east of Madras earlier this week.

Corbin calls himself a guidance coach, speaking on the power of forgiveness.

"Imperfection is a part of all of us," he said.

Deer Ridge is a minimum-security state prison where inmates live out the last four years of their sentence.

Corbin knows what it's like to be behind bars. He served time in a Level 3 federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

"We're talking about years, not months," Corbin said.

Corbin's father committed suicide in 2008. He said it was a wake-up call. Corbin felt the best way to honor his father was to change his path in life. For the last six years, he's been changing other people's paths, as well.

People like Matthew Dorminy, Brendon Day and Shane Dibavand, who are finishing their sentences of three to six years at Deer Ridge.

"I want you to change your mind about being unworthy. Because every one of these other men disagree with you," Corbin told an emotional Dorminy.

Corbin said many prisoners serve a double sentence. They live in a physical prison, and lock themselves in an emotional prison.

"To hold the grudges, the guilt, the shame, it's so taxing," Dibavand said.

Corbin said many prisoners take these feelings with them to the grave. So his message is deep, yet simple.

"The past is not what defines them as human beings. It's what they decide to do about the past," Corbin said.

To help the prisoners understand that, Corbin has them fill out a "truth letter." It includes what they've done, how they've been hurt, and who they want to forgive. That's when the journey begins.

Inmates stand up in front of the group and share what they wrote. It can be a very difficult and emotional process.

"It's not something I've ever really talked about with anybody in my life," Day said.

The prisoners don't go through it alone. Other inmates are there, offering support every step of the way.

Corbin said the biggest battle a prisoner faces is not on the battlefield, but in his own heart. Sharing such personal information can feel like they're at war. It's a war that quite often ends in a victory.

"Today, I fought a battle and won," Dorminy said.

The final step called for the prisoner to throw away his truth letter in a trash can. Corbin likes to call this the "emotional cage."

"Symbolically, that represents leaving that emotional cage, the part of them that was never intended to live with forever," Corbin said.

Corbin said forgiveness leaves guilt in the past, and brings hope for the future. It’s something many inmates always wanted, but never thought was possible.

"Twenty-three years' worth of just emotional crisis and pain lifted off of me," Day said.

Dibavand even called this an "emotional baptism."

"I don't even think rejuvenating is a good enough word. It's like rebirth," Dibavand said.

All of them called it a turning point in their troubled lives.

"Being alive for maybe the first time in my entire life," Dorminy said.

Corbin said it takes two to hurt, but only one to forgive. He said forgiveness allows humans to be emotionally free and live with joy and peace. And Corbin said that’s something everyone, even prisoners, deserve.

Deer Ridge currently houses 950 prisoners. Officials estimate 95% of all prisoners in state correctional facilities will eventually be released back into our neighborhoods.

To learn more about Corbin and his mission, you can visit his website at

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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