Many get into the criminal justice field because of some personal experience, sometimes traumatic, that shapes the way one perceives reality. I’m no exception. I grew up in a single-parent household frustrated by many social ailments including poverty and a complex artifice of estrangement. I started my undergraduate studies at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) with the goal of being a police officer. Indeed, I had a somewhat naïve image of helping and protecting those who needed and wanted it. Perhaps comical, looking back I realize I was heavily inspired by the Andy Griffith Show; the idea of solving intricate social problems without the use of coercion or violence. However, during and post-undergraduate study it became apparent law enforcement is confrontational and that officers rely heavily on coercion. While in some respects necessary, I found myself less interested in catching the “bad guys” and more interested in understanding what factors (individual and environmental) contribute to criminal behavior and how these complications can be ameliorated. This maturation, along with a developed connection to corrections/juvenile justice faculty at EKU, motivated me to pursue a Master of Science degree in Correctional and Juvenile Justice Studies.
After graduating with my Master’s I briefly interned with the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), an affiliate of the Council of State Governments (CSG), as a research assistant working with Dr. Matthew T. DeMichele on what would later be known as the Pew Center on the States (2009) One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections report. As a partner on the project the APPA, a non-profit organization, assisted in the collection of state probationer and parolee per diem rates and related data. During this time I also continued working intermittently with former professors at EKU on various juvenile justice projects through a private research organization known as Commonwealth Research Consulting (CwRC).
My first full-time professional position was within state government. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and Kentucky Court of Justice (KCOJ) exposed me to a wide variety of practicing professionals in the justice system (e.g., judges, pretrial officers, drug courts, court interpreters). Though I have since returned to the APPA as a full-time research associate I still greatly value the experience and many individuals I met while working for the AOC. A publication with the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ (NCJFCJ) Juvenile & Family Court Journal continues to serve as a positive reminder of my time there.
At the APPA I work on a variety of grant-based projects ranging from the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) anti-gang initiative to interagency information sharing. I have also been exploring interests in probation/parole officer stress and police-probation/parole partnerships, topics I plan to weave into my doctorate study at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) as well. While continuing to work for the APPA, I am currently pursuing my doctorate in Criminology.
For those looking to enter the field of corrections (whether as an officer, researcher, or any other role) I encourage you to be persistent, vigilant and patient. May a famous quote by Ursula K. LeGIin serve as lasting inspiration: “it is good to have an end to journey towards: but it is the journey that matters in the end.”