The kids weren't identified, but their ages were 16, 10 and 8, and they were reportedly wearing life vests.
"We just thought it was some kids screaming until we seen their two heads bobbing in the water with the canoe upside-down," crew member Nelson Pettis told KPTV. "They were coming down over flooded Salmon Creek. It was raging pretty fast."
See river rescue video from Canoe & Kayak.
Pettis took off his jacket and dove into the frigid creek, letting the current take him down until he could get to a spot where his feet hit ground.
"They actually came to me right there," he said. "Right then, the current swept me from underneath my feet and I grabbed on to the kids and got them to a little island in the middle of the river."
They were able to get to a pile of wood debris in the middle of the creek. Larry Bohn, another crew member, helped the 16-year-old to shore and went to help Pettis with the younger boys and waited for a rescue crew.
"They were really scared," Bohn told KPTV. "They kept telling us, 'Thank you, thank you' all over again."
Vancouver firefighters and a Clark County technical rescue team arrived to bring the boys safely to shore. The inmates reached shore on their own. All were taken to a hospital with mild hypothermia.
The three inmates are serving time for non-violent crimes at the Larch Corrections Center.
"People are trying to say we're heroes. I don't think we're heroes. I think we did something that any good person would do," said inmate Jon Fowler, who helped the crew carry one of the brothers from the boat to shore. "You see three helpless kids in a river, you help. That's what you do. Just because we're incarcerated doesn't mean we're bad people. We made some bad choices in our lives, but we're still, we're just like everybody else. We're just paying our debt for what we did wrong."
Fortunately on Wednesday, they did everything right.